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The Venerable Beef Pot Roast

(Shared recipe submitted by Fred Fenlon.)

Fred writes: "In going through my recipe files I found this, The 'Venerable Pot Roast'. It's sort of a 'how to'. I wrote it several years ago. I re-worked it and added to it a bit. I thought I would pass it along as you and your readers might find a use for this very old favorite."

Not only is the Pot Roast venerable it is very versatile. First, it is as American as apple pie and hot dogs. Its origins in the USA are New England, where the frugal Yankees named it, "Yankee Pot Roast". Yes, frugal but not cheap. The New England Yankees learned they could take less costly and less desirable cuts of beef (chuck, bottom round) and make then into great family 'Sunday dinners'. And there would always be enough left over for a second pot roast dinner or beef hash during the week, a true frugality --- two great meals for the price of one!

Take some red wine; add some herbs and spices or Herbs de Province and the humble pot roast becomes very French. After searing the roast in a hot sauté pan or the pot itself, deglaze with the red wine and the herbs. Cook the meat in the traditional slow moist way and your pot roast becomes, 'Boeuf à lá Mode' or 'Boeuf en Daube' ('Daube' in French comes from 'daubier' meaning braising pot).

The Meat

Let's pick out the type of beef before we talk about slow moist cooking in a covered pot---called braising.

   Remember the most desirable cuts like sirloin and tenderloin are by far:
  1. The most expensive,
  2. The most tender,
  3. By far, not the most flavorful.
   The less costly cuts are:
  1. The least expensive,
  2. Not very tender,
  3. By far, the most flavorful.

There is another simple axiom to learn and that is the actual location of the meat/muscle on the animal, that is, the actual muscle movement that will definitely decide the flavor and tenderness of the meat. The meat/muscle that is involved in the most movement is the least tender. Thus, the chuck that comes from the fore quarter, i.e., the neck area is the least tender. Conversely, the tenderloin that lies behind the steer's rib cage hardly ever moves, therefore it is the most tender, and certainly is the most expensive, yet flavor wise, it needs help.

Therefore, what we need is a less expensive cut; not the most tender and a cut with good flavor. It could be chuck from the neck area, but that doesn't serve or cut well (great stew meat!); a top round roast, but that's too expensive and should be used for traditional roast beef. The eye of the round is very close to our needs but is still too expensive. By process of elimination we arrive at the bottom round roast. It is ideal. There are often great sales on bottom round for less than $2.00 per pound (at the time this was written). You can buy two or three as they freeze well.

The Cooking

The cooking method that is used is slow moist heat called braising. We define braising as a method of cooking in which the meat is browned in hot oil or fat and then cooked in moist heat in a covered vessel (Dutch oven) at temperature just barely above the boiling point.

  1. The first step is to brown the meat. The brown paper bag trick will do nicely. Take 1/2-cup of white flour or so, season it with salt and pepper. Put this flour mixture in a large supermarket brown paper bag and place in the bag a bottom round, 3 to 5 pound, roast. Close the top of the bag and shake well. The meat is now well flour coated. Shake or dust off the excess flour.
  2. Place a large sauté or frying pan on high heat and add 2 or 3 tablespoons of peanut oil or other oil in the fry pan and brown or sear the meat on ALL sides. It may smoke a little but the meat must be well browned on all sides. Put the meat in your heavy gauge pot, with a tight fitting cover. Now add 1-1/2 cups or so of canned beef stock or water. Scrape the pan well with a wooden spoon. This deglazing process is important to capture the entire good flavor from the browning process.
  3. Turn your oven on to 325° F. Pour the hot liquid over the beef. Put the cover on and put the pot on a stovetop burner and bring to a slow boil. This pot roast is not cooked on top of the stove. The very even dry oven heat surrounding your pot will slow cook your pot roast to perfection. Put the pot in the 325° oven and roast for about 20 minutes per pound. Do not overcook or you will end up with a mass of stringy meat fibers suitable only for the kennel.
  4. Checking for doneness is not difficult. Put a fork into the meat, if the fork meets with resistance it needs to be cooked longer. If the fork goes into the meat easily the pot roast is done. A sure fire way to insure for doneness is a meat thermometer. Put it into the roast and when it reads 170° it's done. Take the pot roast pot out of the oven and let it sit for 10 or 15 minutes with the cover on. Then take the cover off and let the pot roast rest for another 10 minutes. Remove the meat to a platter. It is now the time to make the gravy or as the French say --- make the sauce.
  5. The gravy making is the easiest of all. Simply, put 3 or 4 tablespoons of white flour in a covered container with a cup of cold water (a blender does a nice job). Shake or mix well. Put your pot with the meat juices back on a burner and bring to a slow boil. Slowly add the flour and water mixture until the gravy reaches the desired thickness and texture. Stir constantly.
  6. Cut the meat into 1/4 inch slices and serve with the gravy. Step back and await the applause that is sure to come!!

Variations

Boeuf à lá Mode: To make that special dinner party, make Boeuf à lá Mode. In step 2 above, reduce the beef stock or water to one cup and add one cup of hardy red burgundy wine. Then in step 5 add 1/2 cup of the red wine.

New England Pot Roast Dinner: This is an easy method of creating a great family Sunday dinner. In step 4, while the Pot Roast is cooking in the oven, peel enough whole potatoes, carrots and onions for your family. Parboil them, all in one large pot, about 15 or 20 minutes. Then, just before the last half hour of cooking of the pot roast in the oven add the parboiled vegetables and continue to cook until the Pot Roast is at about 170°.Remove vegetables in a serving platter and keep in a warm oven. Now proceed as in steps 4 and 5 above. (Note: The reason you do not place raw vegetables in the pot roast pot is that they will absorb most of the liquid in the pot so that little would be left for the gravy.)

About Fred: I have really enjoyed reading Fred's recipes. They are well written and his instructions very thorough. Fred's e-mail address is FredFJ@comcast.net.

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