For us, pot roast is winter. It offers such a bang-for-your-buck flavor-wise, with its warm, rich flavor, its rib-sticking meatiness and it’s just so simple to prepare. It is truly the perfect Sunday dinner, on a cold winters day. And not to be forgotten, the house smells fantastic and you can spend the afternoon doing a jigsaw puzzle. Jigsaw puzzles are a winter past time from my childhood. My father loved to do them and I always gave him at least one for Christmas. They had to be at least 1000 pieces and the more challenging, the better. At this time of year, we throw a puzzle on the coffee table (yes Virginia, you can still serve hors d’oeuvres on top of a puzzle) and people who say they don’t enjoy doing puzzles will slowly, but surely succumb to their seduction.
My mother’s pot roasts were legendary, so I learned from the best. We had a wood-burning range in the kitchen and it was perfect for pot roasts. She would sear the meat, then add a small amount of water (we didn’t do wine in those days), cover the Dutch oven tightly and push the pot way to the back of the stove where the fire was low, so the meat cooked slowly, releasing all the flavor it had to give. It would be meltingly tender, with just the right amount of fat running through it. She would toss carrots and onions around the meat and they simmered in the juices until they too, would melt in our mouths. She would skim the fat and make gravy, which too, was legendary. This is, more or less, her recipe for Pot Roast, since she never really used a recipe.
My Mother's Perfect Pot Roast
- 4-6 pound chuck roast, tied
- medium onions, quartered
- mushrooms, left whole if small; halved or quartered if large
- 1 cup red wine
- 3 bay leaves
- 5-6 tablespoons fat from the roast
- 3-4 tablespoons flour (for gluten-free, see NOTE)
- 5-6 cups of skimmed roast “juices” and water or beef broth
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1-2 tablespoons ketchup (don’t panic! It’s fine.)
In a large heavy-bottomed Dutch oven with a good tight-fitting lid, heat the a couple of tablespoon of oil. When hot, add the roast and brown on all sides. This will take about 10 minutes total. Remove the roast and set aside. Add the onions and mushrooms to the pan and sauté for a few minutes. Return the meat to the pan, pushing aside the mushrooms and onions; drop the bay leaves around the edge. Pour the wine around the edge (not over) the roast, cover and pop into a 325°F oven. After about an hour, remove from the oven, carefully turn the roast over; check the liquid level. There should be about 1/2-1 inch of liquid; add liquid accordingly. Recover and pop back into the oven. Let the meat continue to roast for about another 1 1/2-2 hours. When done, the meat should be almost falling apart. This is where the strings from the tying come in handy, as it makes moving the meat around much easier. When ready to serve, remove the meat from the pan. You can pull the mushrooms and onions out, too (using a slotted spoon works great), but I left them in. Loosely tent the meat (and veggies) with foil. Pour the drippings into a container; a 4 cup glass measuring cup works pretty well.
For the gravy: Skim as much fat as possible off the drippings. You may need to add more broth/water/wine to the drippings to get to the 5-6 cups of liquid required to make the gravy.
You’re going to make a roux. Return 5-6 tablespoons of fat to the Dutch oven; turn the heat to medium-low. Add the flour to the hot fat and whisk the roux together; this will become paste-like. Continue to cook over medium-low heat for a couple of minutes (this cooks the flour and reduces the raw taste). Now start to SLOWLY add, about 1/2 cup at first, the skimmed drippings back into the mixture, whisking constantly. The mixture will seize a bit, so keep whisking and adding the liquid in 1/2 cup increments until you have loosened the roux up, then add all the liquid. Whisk until smooth. Whisk in 1 tablespoon of ketchup. Taste and correct the seasoning level. You may wish to add the remaining ketchup. Ketchup helps to balance the flavor by adding a bit of sweet and a bit of acid. No one but you will know it’s there. If you want to return the onions and mushrooms to the gravy do so and warm them through.
Slice the meat; scatter the onions and mushrooms over and serve with mashed potatoes, roasted carrots and parsnips, some good bread and enjoy revel in what you have created.
NOTE: For people with gluten intolerance, you may omit the fat from the recipe and make a slurry with cornstarch/arrowroot/rice flour and an equal amount of cold water. In the Dutch oven, heat the skimmed drippings to boiling and then simply whisk in the slurry. Continue to whisk and cook until the gravy thickens.
My Mother’s Perfect Pot Roast Recipe©Marcia Lahens 2014. All rights reserved.
This is what the beast looks like after I browned it. When I use larger onions, I make certain to leave the root end intact when I trim them; cut into quarters or thirds going through the room end. The onions will hold together better that way. I had large mushrooms, so I quartered them.
This is what you’re looking for at the end of cooking. You can see that the strings have popped up a bit as the meat shrinks during cooking. Meat has water in it and this evaporates, thus shrinking the meat a bit. You can see that the onions have softened and we have some nice brown wonderfulness in which to make gravy.
As I mentioned, my mother knew gravy; gravy is a thing of beauty. It’s a reason to eat pretty much anything, but there was always an ample amount to drench your mashed potatoes, as well as the beef. In order to make fantastic gravy, is you need to have some fat, not too much. So we will remove as much fat as possible, but save it…remember, fat is necessary for great gravy. If you have one of those fat separators it makes this process easier.
Then you need to return some of the fat back to the pot. Whisk in the flour; it will combine with the fat to form a paste. This is a roux. Learn how to do this well, as it is an invaluable piece of info to have at hand. It is the basis of sauce making. Remember the béchamel? Same thing, but with dairy. We don’t want lumpy gravy, so make certain the fat and flour have commingled well. Then begin adding the hot (skimmed) drippings (and broth) back into the pan, whisking constantly. It’s easier if you start slowly, adding about 1/2 cup at a time until the roux loosens up a bit. Then you can add the remainder in one fell swoop. Whisk it well and let it come to the simmer. Cook the gravy for a couple of minutes. Now, if you need to, add more liquid. I usually add some beef soup base (and water) from The Spice Mill. It’s a fantastic flavor boost. The bases will keep for at least a year in the fridge, but if you cook at all, you’ll use them up long before that.
Now this is the part that most people, even my mother, get freaked out at. I add ketchup to beef or pork gravy. Not much, just a tablespoon or two. My mother was a convert when she tasted the gravy. It adds a hint of sweetness and a hint of acid. Our taste buds are designed for just such nuances. Whisk it in, taste for salt and pepper and you may need to add a hint more ketchup, it you feel the gravy isn’t quite there…tasting is the key. Taste and correct the seasoning.
See how smooth this is…those are mushrooms, by the way, not lumps. The Middle Son made the gravy and he does a bang-up job. It was delicious.
That’s all there is to it; slice the meat, toss the onions and mushrooms over and serve with heaps of mashed potatoes (that’s tomorrow’s post), roasted carrots and parsnips and good bread. I roasted some broccoli and spring onions to serve, but I don’t know that we really needed them. I usually roast the carrots and parsnips separately, as I like them caramelized a bit, but my mother was all about expediency and putting them around the roast, also flavored the gravy and only one pot to wash!
And now, the perfect Sunday dinner is served! Enjoy.