While we’re starting to feel the effects of spring around here, there are still some chilly, rainy, dreary days hanging around. Now is the time to squeeze in all those wintery comfort foods before it gets too warm around here to truly enjoy them. I think I need to whip up a few more soups, one last pot of chili, and get to roasting as many winter vegetables as I can, before I wake up and realize it’s too late! But first, one key “winter” dish must be executed: pot roast.
I’m sure there are way too many pot roast recipes already, so I hope you’ll bear with me as I share my version. You see, as much as I can grill a steak with ease or whip up a pumpkin soup in no time, my pot roasts, in my opinion, have always left something to be desired. Too dry, too bland, too mushy…you name it, I’ve done it to a pot roast. So over the years, I’ve tweaked my techniques and recipes, making notes along the way. And now, I think I finally have it.
What did I discover that improved my pot roast? Here are a few tips/tricks:
- Some fat=flavor here. I have tried to make a pot roast with a really lean cut before, and it just wasn’t the same. Dry and uninteresting. Chuck roast is my preferred cut. I make a point to skim off the fat before I serve, both to balance flavors and to cut back the fat content in the finished dish.
- Don’t skimp on the salt. While I don’t heavily salt any of my dishes, I’ve found that proper amounts of salt really brighten the flavor of the meat. I salt in two stages – once before I brown the meat, and again once I’m finishing the dish and checking for seasoning balance. What’s the right amount of salt? That varies, depending on whether you’re using a store-bought stock or homemade. (I don’t salt my homemade stocks) It also depends on personal preference. What tastes salty to me might be bland to you. (I’m actually rather salt-sensitive – I have used such a light hand on salt at home for so long, that when I eat in restaurants, many dishes taste very salty to me!)
- Browning the meat before braising is essential. It’s an extra step, and so therefore takes some time, but the flavors are so much deeper when the meat is browned.
- Remove the potatoes from the pot roast, and instead serve mashed potatoes on the side. I just dislike the mushy texture of the soggy potatoes after they’ve cooked in the pot roast all day.
- Using alcohol as a flavor booster. You’ll see in this recipe that there are two kinds of alcohol. While this is not a requirement, I found that the combination of red wine and brandy added a depth to the dish that I couldn’t replicate otherwise. And with 6-8 hours in the slow cooker, I can’t imagine a smidgen of alcohol content remains.
- Taking advantage of that no-fuss, hands-off kitchen appliance: the slow cooker! When I compared the slow cooker to using my dutch oven, the slow cooker created a more tender, moister pot roast. The added benefit of reduced energy consumption (when comparing the slow cooker to the oven) definitely helps too.
So while this is a bit more involved than most of my slow cooker recipes (which are more of a “dump-and-go” routine), it’s worth it. And as with any slow cooker dish, the aroma that permeates throughout the house is wonderful. It definitely brightens any dreary, rainy day!
What makes a good pot roast, in your opinion? Do you have any secret ingredients in your recipe?
Slow-Cooker Pot Roast
1 3 lb chuck roast
salt and pepper
1 large onion, sliced
1 celery stalk, sliced
5 carrots, peeled and cut into 3-inch lengths
2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
1/2 c mixed mushrooms (or button mushrooms), sliced
3-4 sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
2 c homemade chicken or beef stock
2 c full-bodied red wine (I used a dolcetto)
1/3 c brandy
1-2 T cornstarch
1/4 c chopped fresh parsley
Pat the roast dry and season with salt and pepper. In a skillet at medium-high heat, brown the roast on all sides. Place the onion, celery, carrots, garlic, mushrooms, thyme, and bay leaves in the slow cooker, and lay the roast on top. Pour the stock, wine, and brandy over the roast. Set the slow cooker to low and allow to cook for 6-8 hours.
Remove the roast and vegetables with a slotted spoon and set aside. Strain the leftover juices, and skim the fat off the top (or use a gravy separator). Place the juices in a small saucepan. Spoon about 1/2 c of the juices in a small bowl, and whisk in the cornstarch. Pour this slurry back in the saucepan and bring the juices to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and stir until juices thicken into a gravy. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary. Place the roast and vegetables back in the slow cooker, and pour the gravy over. Turn on high and rewarm for about 15-20 minutes.
Serve on top of mashed potatoes, garnished with parsley. Serves 6.