Eric Akis: Pot roast to please the winter palate — and the budget

Eric Akis

Last Sunday morning, I stepped outside for a moment — the wind was howling and the rain was coming down sideways. I hurried back inside and checked the weather forecast. Snow was predicted for later in the day.

I smiled, not because I’m a fan of inclement weather. The day before, I had bought all the fixings to make a pot roast for Sunday dinner. It’s the perfect kind of comfort food to enjoy on a stormy day. As a bonus, it fills your kitchen with a wonderful aroma as it cooks.

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If it has been a while since you made a pot roast, it’s ideal for budget-friendly beef roasts, such as chuck, blade and top round. When slowly braised, these tougher but deeply flavoured roasts become mouthwateringly tender.

Braising means to slowly cook food, such as meat, in a covered cooking vessel surrounded by a flavoured liquid, but not completely covered by it as you would when stewing. As the meat cooks, the liquid starts to bubble and steam and eventually tenderizes it.

In today’s recipe, the braising liquid for the pot roast was thickened beef stock spiked with wine and other flavourings, such as thyme, mustard and garlic. If you don’t wish to use wine, the options part of the recipe will guide you on what to replace it with.

Before adding the roast to the braising liquid, sear it in hot oil until it’s richly browned, to ensure the exterior is nicely coloured. Before searing the meat, pat the roast dry with paper towel. If you don’t, the moisture will sputter and steam when it hits the hot oil and create a barrier that will prevent the meat from properly searing.

To make my pot roast a complete meal, I surrounded it about two-thirds of the way into the cooking process with a generous mix of vegetables, including carrots, rutabaga, shallots, potatoes and celery.

My pot-roast recipe yields six servings. I presented it elegantly on a large serving platter that can be set right on the dinner table. If that’s too much fuss, you could simply dish up the pot roast, once sliced, from the kitchen.

If six servings are too many, the leftover pot roast and vegetables will freeze well. I like to do that in individual portions. Next time you get a craving for pot roast, simply thaw your pot-roast dinner and warm it up.

Hearty Pot Roast for a Winter Night

Deeply flavoured, slowly braised beef sliced and served with a generous mix of vegetables and the sauce it’s cooked in.

Preparation time: 45 minutes

Cooking time: About three hours and 15 minutes

Makes: Six servings

1 (3lb.) chuck, blade or top round beef roast (see Note 1)

• salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

2 Tbsp olive oil

3 cups beef stock or broth (divided)

1 cup red wine (see Eric’s options)

1 tsp dried thyme

2 Tbsp Dijon mustard

2 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce

1 bay leaf

3 large cloves garlic, halved and thinly sliced

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

2 medium carrots, peeled and cut widthwise into 1-inch pieces

2 medium ribs of celery, cut widthwise into 1-inch pieces

1 (about 1 lb/454 gram) rutabaga, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes

5 medium shallots, quartered lengthwise (see Note 2 and Eric’s options)

12 fingerling or miniature white potatoes, halved (see Note 3)

• chopped parsley or thinly sliced green onion, to taste

Pat the roast dry with paper towel, then season with salt and pepper. Place oil in a large Dutch oven or large, deep-sided oval roasting pan over medium-high heat. When oil is hot, set roast in the pan and deeply brown on all sides. Remove roast from the pan and set on a plate.

Preheat oven to 325 F. Drain oil/fat from the pan and then set back over heat. Add 2 1/2 cups of the stock (or broth), wine, thyme, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, bay leaf and garlic and bring to a simmer.

Put the remaining 1/2 cup stock (or broth) and flour in a small bowl and whisk to combine. Slowly whisk stock/flour mixture into the simmering mixture and cook two minutes, until the sauce lightly thickens. Taste and season the sauce with salt and pepper.

Set the roast back in the pan, cover and cook in the oven for one hour and 45 minutes.

Uncover roast and turn it over. Now set the carrots, celery, rutabaga, shallots and potatoes around the roast. Cover and cook in the oven 75 minutes more, or until vegetables and beef are tender.

Remove pan from the oven, lift roast out, set it on a cutting board, tent with foil and let rest 10 minutes. While meat rests, cover the pan and keep vegetables warm in the oven.

When meat has rested, slice beef and arrange the slices in an overlapping row down the centre of a large serving platter (see Eric’s options). With a slotted spoon, lift the vegetables from the pan and set on either side of the meat.

Ladle some of the sauce in the pan over the meat and vegetables and sprinkle with chopped parsley (or sliced green onion). Set platter on the dinner table. Put the rest of the sauce into a sauceboat, serve it alongside the meat and vegetables, and enjoy.

Note 1: Some grocery stores sell their prepackaged roasts wrapped in netting that, when the roast is cooked, is very difficult to get off without pulling the meat apart. That is especially true for pot roast. Before you cook it, remove the netting and tie the meat with butcher’s twine.

Note 2: Shallots are sold in the produce section of most grocery stores. The ones I used in the recipe were about three inches long and 1 1/2 inches wide.

Note 3: Waxy fingerling potatoes, which hold together well when cooked, are sold at some grocery stores.

Eric’s options: If you don’t wish to use wine, replace it with one cup more beef stock (or broth). Or, if you want a wine-like taste, replace the wine with 1 cup unsweetened grape juice and 1 to 2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar. One large onion, halved and sliced, could replace the shallot in this recipe. If you don’t have a large serving platter, set the slices of pot roast, vegetables and sauce directly on dinner plates.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

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