Foodie Friday: Dad’s Recipe Pot Roast

My mom did most of the cooking in my house, so it was only here and there that my dad made dinner.  He only did a few special dishes, and this is one of the top five or so.  I’d come home from school and the whole house would smell savory and mouthwatering (making that 6pm dinnertime seems awfully far away!).  The carrots and onions were my favorite, along with the meat that often couldn’t be sliced because it would just fall apart under the knife.  I’ve made this dish more times than I can count and it never disappoints!

Since I’m on a somewhat snug food budget at the moment, I’ve been looking for ways to help eat out less.  (Have I mentioned that there’s a lot of really good restaurants in Columbus?)  One of the biggest temptations for me is when I get home from a particularly brain-heavy day at work, and all I want to do is stare at a wall for a few hours.  If I don’t have anything I can make very quickly, of a tasty enough calibre to beat out the temptation of the several dozen wonderful places I can walk to from my house, I end up taking the walk.  So my theory here was to make a mongo batch of pot roast, enjoy dinner and then freeze dinner-sized portions of the rest.  This recipe also works just fine with normal amounts of food, so give it a try!

You start with a nice piece of pot roast beef.  This is something like a bone-in chuck roast, I believe. You can choose bone-in or boneless, whichever you prefer.  Chuck, blade, rump – they all make great pot roasts.  Don’t get too fancy (sirloin, strip steaks, tenderloin) or it’ll just dissolve into mush.  A good fat marbling is ideal, as it will melt away during the cooking and lead to a wonderful gravy.

a cut of beef suitable for a pot roast

You will also need some veggies.  I usually stick with the traditional mix of carrot, onion and potatoes, although this time I threw in a big turnip that was patiently waiting in my fridge to be used.  Other things that would probably be fine: shallots, mushrooms, parsnips, rutabagas, sweet potatoes(?).  Things that I would probably not put in here: celery [root], brassicas (broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, cabbage, etc.), or anything that’s going to get horribly squishy after being cooked for several hours.  Prep your veggies into nice chunks – bigger than you’d make for a soup or stew:

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“Lyz, you’re cutting onions on stove burners! What on earth are you doing??” I have a downdraft stove, and I turn the fan on when chopping onions to suck the eye-watering onion fumes away from my face. If you have a hood or downdraft, try it!

All right, let’s go!  Season your beef generously with salt, pepper, and garlic powder.  You can use other seasonings here if you prefer – something like a steak seasoning or rub might do lovely things.  Once it’s seasoned, rub flour into both sides (or all sides, if you have more three-dimensional pieces of meat than I do here) so it’s well coated:

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Now you need some bacon grease.  Every time I make bacon, I pour the fat into this unassuming ceramic jar that lives in my fridge.  It’s full of smooth bacony browning magic:

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If, for some reason, you don’t have bacon grease, you can use another high-heat oil or fat.  Vegetable oil, lard or shortening would probably do the trick (with less flavor).  Don’t try using olive oil or butter – they’ll burn before they get hot enough to do what we’re going to do here.

Melt the bacon grease in your cooking vessel over high heat.  Now, since I’m making pot roast to feed myself, my spouse, and future us × 6, I am using the largest roasting pan in my house situated over two burners on my stove.  Since you are likely making a more reasonable amount, you’ll probably want to use a dutch oven or similar pot.

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Once your grease is good and hot, put your beef in there and brown it on all sides.  You want a nice brown crust – you can just start to see it on that top piece I flipped over.  (Oh, yes, I’m making a really large quantity of pot roast here.)

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Since your browning is going to take a few minutes, you can mix up the pot roast magic sauce while you’re waiting.  My secret ingredient is this fabulous stuff:

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But you can use bullion, those nifty stock packets that some stores carry nowadays, or even a carton/can/jar/homemade beef stock. I don’t often make beef stock (unlike chicken stock), so I keep this handy stuff around.  For a normal sized pot roast, start with about two cups of beef broth and add in about 1/4 cup of those dried minced/chopped onions, some worcestershire, steak sauce (I prefer A-1 style to the Heinz-style), and a little bit of mustard.  Feel free to play with what you put into it – a sweet BBQ sauce could make a nice change, or you could put in other seasonings that make you smile, up to and including beer or wine.  (I have a lovely sweet chipotle hot sauce that I’ve used before, but be careful how much spicy-hot you put in, because the long cooking will multiply its effects.)  Mix all that together.  It doesn’t look particularly great, but this stuff is magic:

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Once the meat is done browning (on all sides!), you get to the good stuff.

A few “ifs” at this point. If you used too much oil/grease, this is the time to pour it off.  You can remove the meat and just pour it out (not down the drain!) or you can hold a paper towel in a pair of tongs and sop up the excess oil.  Also, if you are going to cook this on the stovetop (a perfectly reasonable option), you’ll want to put a small rack in the bottom of your pot.  If you don’t have one, throw in a few all-metal forks, spoons, or other utensils.  You just want the meat off the bottom of the pot so the heat doesn’t overcook the bottom of the meat.

Ready?  Stir up and pour that lovely broth-sauce over the meat – right in the pan or pot. The little dried onion pieces will be all over your meat.

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Then toss in your veggies.  They’ll get very well cooked if you add them at this stage; if you’re not so much a fan of that, add them about an hour before the roast is done.

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Yes, that very large roasting pan is totally full.  I also used multicolored potatoes – they were beautiful!

At this point, your job is to cover this thing, set it to a very low heat, and walk away.  You have a few options.  One is to turn the heat under the pot way way way down and leave it on a slow simmer.  Another option is to transfer the meat into a crockpot and add the broth-magic and veggies to the pot, and cook on low all day.  The third option, and the one I employed here, was to put it in the oven at 300° F for a few hours.  They all have pros and cons; if you opt to use your stovetop, you’ll want to check on it from time to time to make sure there’s enough liquid in there – if it all boils off, you’ll have an awful roast.

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This roasting pan just *barely* fits in my oven.

Your abode will begin to smell wonderful after about the first hour, and will proceed to smell more and more awesome until everyone in the house comes and asks when dinner is.  (If you live in a space with shared walls – apartments, dorms, condos – your neighbors might come by, too.)  Give the roast at least three hours.  Mine probably ran 3-1/2, because I was playing a new [to me] video game and didn’t want to stop.  It would have been fine going to 4, but after that and the veggies would have started to lose their structural integrity.

Open up your pot/crockpot/dutch oven/foil and take a look at what you’ve got:

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Look at that gravy!  It’ll probably be on the thinner side, but you can always put it over the stove, add a sprinkle of flour, and whisk until it thickens up some.

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If you’re into serving things in serving dishes (I’m not, but I’m also not gonna judge), you can put the veggies in one dish, the meat in another (it’ll probably just fall apart on you, but you can [try to] slice it if you’d like, or if your roast is thick enough to merit it), and the gravy in a third – which does give you a good opportunity to thicken it up some if that makes you happy.

ImageThis goes particularly well with a green salad and some bread or rolls (to dunk in that wonderful gravy), but it’s also a pretty solid one-plate meal.  Makes awesome leftovers, freezes well.  Great for cold weather, and better for you than many cold-weather meals (mac & cheese, creamy soups or pastas, lasagna, etc.)

Anything you tried, loved, hated, found confusing?  Leave me a comment and let me know!  I’m especially interested in your variations on the broth-magic.

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4 thoughts on “Foodie Friday: Dad’s Recipe Pot Roast

  1. There are so many tips in here I don’t even know what to do with myself. I’m definitely trying to vent my onions next time. The last few times I’ve had onions to chop they have made me react so bad I am literally unable to open my eyes. I hope this is the solution I’ve been looking for!

    Also, I will definitely make this. This seems completely do-able as well as delicious. Thanks, Lyz!

  2. Anthea, somebody told me once to cut off the root end of the onion first. That doesn’t take away ALL the smell, but it definitely helps.

    Lyz, DITTO to what you said about Better Than Bouillon. I get twitchy when my kitchen runs low on those beautiful little jars of wonderfulness.

    Have you tried sweet potato in pot roast? I think it would way get too mushy. Also, when I’ve used rutabagas in pot roast, they never seem to get done. I’ve taken to par-boiling them before adding them with the other veggies. (Anthea, if I’m freaking you out with my vocab, “parboiling” would mean that you’d cook the rutabagas for about 1/4 to 1/3 of the time necessary to boil them done-done.)

    I have come to learn that one secret of a really awesome pot roast or beef stew or beef soup MUST include a little turnip and probably also a little parsnip. They just add so much that carrots and potatoes don’t quite have on their own.

  3. I love all the veggies you use, Susan! There are so many options so you get to play around a lot and/or use up whatever you happen to have in your fridge. I’ve never tried sweet potatoes – I usually use those in shepherd’s pie or stew instead of pot roast. I agree they might get too mushy, but you can always throw them in a little later on and it might work out well.

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