Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Perfect Pot Roast

I was never a huge fan of red meat.  My dad is a meat and potatoes guy, and growing up I remember him being so excited to grill up steaks for dinner.  My mom was awesome at making us a homemade dinner each and every night, and you could always rely on it being some combination of meat, starch, and vegetable.  Once I ventured out on my own, I found that I ate meat much less frequently - my diet focuses mainly on other sources of protein, like fish, beans, nuts, quinoa, and lentils. I think it was a combination of price, ethical and environmental concerns, and a lack of understanding of how to cook red meat that kept me away.   

A few years ago a friend told me about the blood-type diet, in which your blood type determines the types of foods your body needs.  According to my blood type, I should be a vegetarian, so I embarked on a month long experiment to eliminate meat from my diet.  I only lasted three weeks, at which point I was craving meat so much I would have done anything for a burger.  I hadn't noticed any benefit to avoiding meat, and my body was very clearly telling me that it wanted it.  Instead of cutting meat out completely, I decided that it was better to incorporate meat into my diet in a healthy, responsible way.  I primarily eat chicken or fish and enjoy red meat only occasionally.  When I do buy meat, I make sure it's ethical, humane, and environmentally responsible, even if it means spending a bit (or, let's face it, a lot) more.  

Since I've embraced meat as a legitimate part of my diet, I've branched out a bit more in ways to prepare it.  Appropriately, I've gone to The Pioneer Woman for many of these ideas, since she does live on a ranch and all.  After seeing her episode where she makes pot roast for her family's Sunday dinner, I knew I had to make it right away.  I had always thought of pot roast as an inedible meal from the 1950s, but Ree's version was so moist and tender that I was converted.  This dish cooks in the oven at a very low temperature for several hours, so when it's done you can literally flake the meat away with a fork.  

When you go to the grocery store, the cut of meat you need to look for is chuck roast.  For reasons that I will probably never understand, they're not labeled as "pot roast."  According to Ree, you should look for a cut that has lots of fat marbled throughout to get the best flavor.  I repeat, fat is good in this case!  

Another important choice is the pot you're going to use.  It has to be able to go from the stove to the oven, so a dutch oven is your best bet.  But I don't own one, so I used a big stock pot that's oven safe at low temperatures.  It worked, but the high sides made it difficult to flip the roast over.    

To start, liberally salt and pepper your roast on each side, like so:

Pour 2 - 3 tablespoons of olive oil into the pan and heat it on the stove over medium to medium-high heat.  Once it's VERY hot, almost to the point of smoking, place the roast in the pan to sear it.  Let it brown for about one minute, then flip to sear the other side and let that brown for another minute.  It's important to have the heat very high while you do this so that the meat will brown quickly without cooking the middle of the roast.  Remove the roast from the pan and set it on a plate.  It will look something like this:

Now prepare the vegetables.  Halve and peel two onions.

Add more oil to the pan if necessary and add the onions to brown them as well:

Once they're nice and brown, remove the onions and set them aside. 

Do the same for the carrots.  You can use about 6 - 8 whole carrots sliced in large pieces, or one bag of baby carrots.  I used baby carrots, since I forgot to pick up normal ones.  It worked out well, as it meant I didn't have to do any slicing!

Remove the carrots from the pan and set them aside in a bowl.  Take one cup of beef broth and add it to the pan to deglaze it.  Scrape up any brown bits so they can add their delicious flavor.  

Return the roast, carrots, and onions to the pan along with 2-3 cups of beef broth and some rosemary and thyme.  You should really use fresh herbs, but if, like me, you forget to buy them at the store, you can use dry herbs in a pinch.  I used about one tablespoon of each.  The broth should cover the roast about halfway.  


Cover the pan and put it in the oven at 275 degrees.  For a 3 pound roast, cook for about 3 hours, and for a 4 - 5 pound roast, about 4 hours.

Once it's done, the roast will practically fall apart when you pick it up.  Very carefully, place it on a cutting board.  I use one with grooves along the edge, to catch any juices.  

Using two forks, flake the roast into bite size pieces.  You might encounter some areas of fat, which you can just discard.  


Remove the vegetables and broth and set them aside in separate dishes.

Serve the meat and vegetables over mashed potatoes, with the juices poured over everything.  Enjoy!

Perfect Pot Roast
Adapted from The Pioneer Woman

1 3-4 pound chuck roast
2-4 tablespoons olive oil
2 onions, peeled and halved
6-8 carrots or one bag baby carrots
3 - 4 cups beef broth
3 sprigs fresh thyme, or 1 tablespoon dried
3 sprigs fresh rosemary, or 1 tablespoon dried
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 275 degrees.  Generously season each side of the roast with salt and pepper.  Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a dutch oven or oven-safe pan over medium to medium high heat.   Add the roast, and sear each side for 1 minute, then remove and set aside.  Add the onions for 1 minute or until brown, and set aside.  Repeat for carrots.  Pour one cup beef broth into the pan to deglaze it, stirring to scrape the bottom of the pan.  Turn off the heat and return the roast, onions, and carrots to the pan.  Add the thyme and rosemary, and enough beef broth to cover the roast half way.  Cover the pan and bake for 3 hours for a 3 pound roast or 4 hours for a 4-5 pound roast.  Remove roast, carrots, and onion from pan. Serve over mashed potatoes, with broth on the side.  
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