Pot Roast Perfection

Super-moist and delicious pot roast!

Last week my friend Aaron asked me about pot roast. He loves pot roast but every time he cooks it he has the same problem. His complaint, which is pretty common, is that it comes out dry and tough. If you have a similar problem, there are a several reasons why this might be the case.

First, you might simply be cooking an inferior piece of meat with not enough marbling (intramuscular fats) or connective tissue. The fats in any piece of meat are responsible for a good deal of the flavor in the final product; also the connective tissues break down with slow cooking and exude collagen and flavor into your sauce. For a slow-cooked dish like pot roast you need both fats and connective tissue in your roast to help keep it moist and flavorful. If you’re uncertain about your roast, it’s helpful to befriend your meat guy, wherever you shop. For this recipe I recommend a three-pound chuck roast.

Another common mistake is using a pot that does not have a tight-fitting lid. When you’re braising you’re relying on a relatively small amount of liquid to help distribute heat (through the liquid itself and through steam) throughout your pot, as opposed to stewing, which utilizes lots of liquids that surround and cover the meat being cooked. If your lid doesn’t fit snugly, you might have steam escaping during the cooking process, which means you’ll have less and less liquid to braise with as the cooking continues. Also, steam loss means heat loss, which means your temperature is not constant. Slow, low, and constant heating is the right way to braise. If you don’t think you have a tight-fitting lid, try tightly covering the pot with aluminum foil to get a good seal.

Also a typical problem that might result in a dry pot roast is trying to cook the roast too fast at too high a temperature. Pot roast needs a minimum of three and a half hours cooking time for a moist, tender result. I know some people cook pot roast on a stove top, but it’s very hard to gauge what temperature you’re cooking at, and since the heat is localized on the bottom of the pot you’ll undoubtedly have uneven cooking temperature inside your pot. You can mitigate this problem with a heat diffusion plate (a metal square or disk that helps disperse direct flame on the stove) but your pot will still be subject to fluctuations in the temperature of your kitchen. This dish, in my opinion, should be braised in the oven at a fairly low temperature. I cook mine at 275 degrees F for between three and four hours. This requires a good, heavy-bottomed pot with a tight-fitting lid that is oven-proof (no plastic handles).

If you’ve got a pot like that, let’s cook a pot roast!

Find a good piece of chuck roast.

You will need:

1 3-pound chuck roast (Look for something with decent marbling.)
kosher salt (or fleur de sel) & cracked black pepper
3 tablespoons of olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, cut into a medium dice
2 stalks of celery, diced
3 ounces good quality tomato (half a small can)
1 cup very drinkable red wine
1 cup beef broth (I recommend homemade, but by all means use the low-sodium canned stuff.)
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 fresh bay leaf
1 pound small yellow potatoes, peeled
2 or 3 carrots, peeled and cut into big rounds
2 tablespoons flour
pinch of sugar
chives and/or parsley for garnish

It’s very important to brown your roast very well on all sides. A lotta flavor comes out of the browning phase.

Now do this:

First, you need to allow the roast to come to room temperature, on a plate covered loosely with plastic wrap, for about an hour. Season the roast generously with salt and pepper. And now preheat the oven to 275 degrees.

Heat your pot over high for about five minutes and then add the olive oil. When the oil smokes add the roast and brown very well on the first side, about six minutes. Flip and brown well on all sides. Remove the roast and set aside on a plate.

Cook the tomato paste into the veggies.

Keeping the heat on high add the butter, the onion, and the celery. Season with salt and pepper. Stir and cook for about three minutes. You want some nice browning on the veggies as well. Turn the heat down to medium high and add the tomato paste. Using a wooden spoon stir the tomato paste into the veggies and occasionally scrape the bottom of the pot. Cook the paste for about a minute and then add the red wine. Using the moisture of the wine to loosen the the crusty bits on the bottom of the pot, scrape the pot with a wooden spoon. Cook wine for about a minute or until the acridity of the the alcohol dissipates.

Now add the beef broth, the fresh thyme, and the bay leaves. Put your roast back into the pot. When the liquid in the pot just comes to a boil, put the lid on and put the pot in the preheated oven.

Add your potatoes and carrots in the final hour or so of cooking. That way they won’t be mushy!

After two and half hours remove the pot from the oven. Your roast will be somewhat tender, but not really ready yet. Add the potatoes and carrots, put the lid back on, and put the pot back in the oven for another forty-five minutes. Remove the pot from the oven and put on the stove-top for about twenty or thirty minutes, covered. Take the lid off of the pot and gently remove the roast. You can season it with a little salt and pepper now, if you’d like. Allow the roast to cool on a cutting board for about ten minutes, or until it’s cool enough to handle and to slice.

Now that is a good-looking roast, with lots of great sauce!

Put the pot on a burner. Now, add the flour to a quarter cup of water and whisk together. Add this flour “slurry” to the liquid in the pot and stir it in. Turn the heat to medium-high and bring the liquid to a low boil. Add the pinch of sugar. Boil gently for a few minutes or until the sauce thickens slightly. In the meantime, slice your roast, against the grain if possible.

Remove the roast from the sauce to cool for slicing.

To finish, serve the slices with veggies and douse with the luscious sauce. Top with a garnish of parsley or minced chives. If you start with a salad, you have a perfect meal! Oh, be sure to drink a glass of killer red wine with this!

Thanks for reading, my peeps!

And Aaron, you’re welcome!

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