A childhood favorite for many, pot roast was something I’d rarely eaten. Maybe once or twice growing up then again in culinary school during the braising lesson, and finally a few weeks ago at Nookies, a neighborhood restaurant featuring standard breakfast and lunch fare. It was one of the featured specials and seemed like a good idea as I slowly peeled off my hat, gloves and heavy winter jacket, still shivering from the frigid and blustery weather just outside.
Sadly, that pot roast was a disappointment (I’ve got to stick with pancakes there). The beef wasn’t tough but certainly wasn’t as tender as I’d been expecting, and the broth was extremely bland even after I’d added salt, something I rarely do at restaurants. At least the winter vegetables were alright.
I figured with all the talk about pot roast being a comfort food that it had to be better than this – surely I could do better. Now that I’d issued myself a challenge, I set out to do just that. And boy did I.
I did my best to keep the ingredients simple and use mostly what I had on hand – celery, onion, garlic, sweet potato, a few new potatoes, thyme, and a Roma tomato (this was a last minute substitution as I was certain I had canned tomatoes but didn’t), along with chicken broth and red wine. The key was to build flavors by slow cooking and then letting the ingredients sit together overnight, which would make the beef melt-in-your-mouth tender and bursting with flavor.
Despite the long cooking time, this is an easy one-pot meal that is best made in advance. It is rustic in nature so you don’t even have to spend a lot of time precisely chopping the vegetables. There are no excuses with this dish and it shocks me that my standby neighborhood restaurant could get it so wrong.
Here’s the recipe:
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 1/4 to 2 1/2 lbs. boneless chuck roast
Salt and pepper
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 small sweet potato, peeled and chopped
1 russet potato or 2-3 new potatoes, chopped
1 Roma tomato, cored and chopped
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped
1/2 bottle (about 1 1/2 cups) red wine such as merlot
2 cups chicken broth
Preheat the oven to 300F. Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in an oven-proof pot just wide enough to hold the meat. Season the meat on all sides with salt and pepper. Add the meat to the pot, fatty side down and cook until browned, about five minutes. Brown the remaining sides and then remove the meat from the pan leaving the oil behind.
Decrease the heat to medium then add the onion and garlic to the pot. Cook, stirring often, until onions begin to caramelize. Add the celery, potatoes, tomato and thyme and cook one minute. Pour in the red wine and stir, being sure to scrape up any brown bits from the bottom of the pot. Simmer the wine for five minutes, then return the beef to the pan and add enough stock to cover. Bring the stock just to a boil, then turn off the heat. Cover the pot and place it in the oven. Cook for 1 1/2 hours, then turn the beef over. Cook for an additional 1 1/2 hours.
Once the meat has been cooked through, remove it from the pot and set aside to cool. Use a slotted spoon to remove all the vegetables; set aside. Return the pot with the liquid to the stovetop and turn the heat to high. Simmer the liquid until reduced by half, about 20 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside to cool.
Slice the beef into 1/4-inch thick pieces. Refrigerate the beef and liquid together overnight; refrigerate the vegetables in a separate conatiner. Reheat before serving and enjoy.