I think every home cook goes through a period of complexity. I partly blame Pinterest, but I’m sure there’s something deeper, too – superiority complex or need for change or something like that. I’ve gone through my own period of complexity, thinking that every dish needed to be new or different. And don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy trying new things and playing around with flavors. But lately, I’ve found myself aching for simplicity. Not just with my cooking, but life in general.
Long-time readers know that blogging is not “what we do.” It’s a side-gig. Jules focuses on being a mom (and rocks the house at it, I might add) while taking a few marketing and writing jobs on the side. I spend my days as a mild-mannered marketing guy for a home care research firm. The end of the year typically slows for me at work, but 2014 has proven to be different. Last week I found myself working from 7am until midnight several days in a row, trying to finish projects before members of my team head out of town to spend Christmas with their loved ones. We built a baby gate on Saturday, and while the gate itself was quick and simple, finding the right type of boards required a lot of driving between small Idaho towns and ate up most of my day. It was just one of those weeks where you feel like your time is spent fulfilling demands, and those weeks are exhausting. You know how that goes.
So Saturday night, after the girls were in bed and Jules was on her way there, I decided to go to the store and buy a few things to make a pot roast for Sunday dinner. I don’t know why pot roast specifically, though I’m sure it has to do with simplicity. A lot of recipes nowadays go too far in their quest for uniqueness, I feel. I honestly love the fact that, after a long and difficult week, my appetite was begging for simplicity. This recipe is exactly what I needed, and maybe it’ll be what you need at some point, too.
This is enough for 6 people. Here’s what you need:
• 3lb Pot roast
– quick note on choosing a roast. it’s important you pick something with a lot of marbling. when you cook a pot roast, it cooks for a long time – well above the 165 “well done” point. if you use a lean roast, you’ll be serving jerky for dinner. the fat slowly melts as the roast cooks and keeps it moist and tender. my favorite cut for pot roast is the chuck (pictured above).
• 12 red new potatoes
• 3 leafy celery stalks, finely chopped
– I like the inner stalks for pot roast because the stalk itself is slightly bitter, but the leafy parts have a more fresh flavor. the combination is perfect with a slow cooked beef roast.
• 2 large carrots, peeled and quartered into 2-3 inch lengths
• 1 onion (I used white), diced
• 2 sprigs of fresh rosemary (you can use dried, but it’ll be a lot better with fresh)
• 1 tsp dried fennel seed
• 1 tsp dried oregano
• 1/4 tsp dried thyme (careful with this – thyme can easily become “too much thyme”)
• 2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
• 1 quart beef stock
• 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
• 2 Tbsp tomato paste
• kosher salt & black pepper
• 2 Tbsp cooking oil
The first thing you do with any pot roast is sear it. You’ll hear people often say this is to “lock in the juices,” but that’s not correct. At least not for pot roast. Searing locks in juices when you’re using a dry heat cooking method like roasting. But a pot roast cooks in liquid, often past the point of 200 degrees. No amount of searing is going to lock juices in from that. As mentioned above, the key to a moist, tender pot roast is choosing the right cut of meat.
Why the searing, then? Flavor. Texture a little, too, but mostly flavor. You sear the meat in the pan first, then you cook your onions in the drippings from the beef, building flavors all over the place. A good sear sets your pot roast up for success.
Preheat your oven to 300. Then heat a decent sized pot (one with a lid – I prefer cast iron for pot roast because of how well it holds heat) on medium heat. Before searing, pat the roast down with a generous amount of salt and pepper. Not completely coated, of course. But for a 3lb roast, you’ll use 1-1.5 Tbsp of kosher salt. Once the pot is heated, add your cooking oil and sear the meat well on each side.
Once seared, remove the roast and set aside. Kick the heat down to medium low and add the chopped onion to the oil. Add the dried spices and garlic, and sauté for 5 minutes or so, stirring things around frequently to prevent burning. Add the beef stock, balsamic vinegar and tomato paste and whisk together. Bring to a simmer and let it boil for another 5 minutes.
The next step is optional, but I recommend it. After the onions simmer in the stock for awhile, I use my immersion blender to blend it all together until smooth. The reason I do this is because I think it creates a more velvety sauce. But if you don’t have an immersion blender, you don’t have to do this. The flavor will be the same.
Taste the sauce and add more salt and pepper if necessary. You’ll know it’s seasoned properly when it tastes like it could pass off as a soup. Next, add your chopped celery to the cooking liquid, then your beef roast, carrots, rosemary, and potatoes. Cover the pot with a lid and put it in the oven for 5 hours. Before going in the oven:
The smell of rosemary will reach every corner of your house, in the best way imaginable. The potatoes are silky, the carrots tender, and the beef… well, it will take you home.
As Jules can tell you, the way of taking care of people that I’m best at, is through food. I like cooking meals for people, and boosting their spirits. We all need it from time to time, and it just so happened that the person I needed to cook this for this weekend, was me. And though I can’t be there to cook for you and your family, I hope you’ll allow us to come to your home, through this recipe, so we can spend a meal together.
Happy Holidays, friends. And Merry Christmas.
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