Dad always pretty much followed a set game plan when tackling this dish. I go a little more improvisational based on what the market has and what kind of mood I'm in. There are a few key concepts in making a good pot roast or any braised dish for that matter. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Tough meat makes tender pot roast. This is not the time to break the bank on the whole tenderloin. Chuck makes a great pot roast. The fat and connective tissue dissolve during the long cooking process ending up in a succulent finished product.
- Aromatics make the sauce. You need a good collection of aromatic vegetables to cook along with the meat to make the cooking liquid very flavorful. Remember the cooking liquid will be you final sauce. A great mixture is carrots, onions, celery and garlic. Leeks work great too. If you are feeling a little wild, bacon or pancetta are great additions.
- To deglaze is devine. Browning the meat and the aromatic vegetables will leave lots of very flavorful bits stuck to the bottom of your cooking vessel. These are known as suqs or fond. Adding a liquid to the pot and scraping these off is known as deglazing. Some good liquids to use for deglazing are wine(my favorite), vinegar(old school and Dad's choice), or even apple cider. I like to use a liquid that is a little on the acidic side to cut through the richness of the dish.
- Stock up. You can make a great pot roast using water as you braising liquid, God knows Dad did, but I like to use a good stock. Veal stock is the bomb here, but it is time consuming to make at home and hard to find in stores. Home made beef or chicken stock work great as well. If using store bought, be sure to get low sodium so you can control the seasoning level. You don't have to use just stock, in fact it's better to mix things up a bit. I use stock and wine, but stock and water works great as well.
- Veg out. This tip is two fold. You have to have patience making a pot roast, it may take 3-5 hours to get it perfect. So rent "The Seven Samurai" from Netflix and pull up the comfy chair. The second meaning is discard the vegetables that cooked with the meat when there is about one hour of cooking time left. Those veg have given their all and there isn't much left to them at this point. Throw in the vegetables that will accompany the dish now. Carrots and pearl onions are classic. Peas work really well as do mushrooms, but these you would add just before serving.
So in a more linear fashion, here is an attack plan for your pot roast.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Heat up vegetable oil in a dutch oven or other large cooking vessel with a lid.
Brown pot roast well on all sides. Remove to platter. Pour out most of the fat.
Sweat you aromatics in the pan until soft.
Put roast back in pan along with any juices that accumulated on the platter
Add braising liquid(s) until the liquid level is 1/3 to 2/3 of the way up the roast.
Bring to boil
Cover and place in oven
After one hour remove from oven and flip roast
Cook additional 1-2 hours checking on roast every 30 minutes. Cook until a fork will go in fairly easy, but meets some resistance.
When the meat is at this point, strain the cooking liquid, retaining the cooking liquid.
Add the liquid back to the pot along with your new vegetables.
Cook until a fork easily goes into and comes out of the meat with no resistance.
Thicken cooking liquid with flour, a beurre manie(butter kneaded with flour, my preference) or corn starch mixed with water.
It's best to let the pot roast sit a few hours or even overnight before serving.
Serve with mashed potatoes, boiled potatoes or buttered noodles and a nice red wine.
It might take a try or two to get the procedure down, but it's so worth it. Thanks Dad, still miss you.