Sunday Pot Roast (a.k.a. Beast in a Pot)
Before I start, I have to say: This is not the most photogenic dish. That aside, it’s hard to argue with a good, homemade pot roast—also known as “Beast in a Pot” here at The Mouse House.
Pot roast is stick-to-your-ribs, winter home cooking at its coziest. It’s also an economical way to feed a crowd when you’re on a budget. All you need is a big hunk of beef, an even bigger pot, a handful of ingredients, and a little patience.
This particular recipe gets its rich, deep flavor from the combination of red wine, tomato puree, and beef broth. The sauce is infused with fresh rosemary, thyme, and bay—not to mention a hefty amount of garlic. Fresh fennel adds spicy, licorice undertones.
Pot roast is inexpensive. It’s also not fast.
Pot roasting is basically braising—that magical technique of cooking food slowly in liquid in a tightly covered pot—which transforms a tough hunk of meat into a sublimely tender, melt-in-your-mouth meal.
Low and slow cooking breaks down all the fibrous, connective tissue in the meat—those gristly ribbons that you’d never in your life want to chew on—leaving you with meat that practically falls apart when you wave a fork over it.
What kind of beef is best for pot roast?
Good question. These days, most butcher’s cases are packed with all manners of meat marked “roast.”
Ina Garten’s original recipe is dead on (of course!), and calls for chuck roast—the King of Flavor where beef is concerned. It comes from the shoulder section of the cow. Because this area gets a lot of exercise, it’s very flavorful but also very tough.
Top and bottom round roasts (which come from the hindquarters of the animal), are also good choices for pot roast. Brisket works well, too, though it’s a little flat for slicing.
Basically, buy a roast that looks good to you (bright red flesh, clean white fat) and is reasonably priced. You shouldn’t pay a lot for a hunk of pot roast meat. That’s part of the beauty of the dish.
I didn’t like the look of the chuck at the market, so I opted for this boneless top round instead.
Most roasts will come pre-tied with butcher’s string. This isn’t essential, but helps them keep their nice, plump shape as they cook (which makes for easier slicing later). If yours isn’t tied, tie a few loops around your beast with kitchen twine. Or skip it entirely. It’ll be just as delicious.
Beast in a Pot, with Fresh Herbs
For this recipe, I used herbs from my kitchen container garden, which I recently moved indoors before the first real frost of the season.
My kitchen container garden, shortly after planting this summer
So far, my plants seem to be really happy indoors, in our sunny library.
I also used bay leaves that my dear friend Mrs. Toast brought me from her two huge bay trees the last time she visited. Fresh bay leaves have a wonderful flavor. If you can’t find them, though, you can definitely substitute dried leaves.
Sunday Pot Roast
Adapted from Ina Garten’s Company Pot Roast
1 (4 to 5-pound) boneless top round or beef chuck roast, tied
2 cups carrots, chopped
2 cups onions, chopped (about 2 onions)
2 cups celery, chopped (about 4 stalks)
2 cups fennel bulb, chopped
7 large garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
2 cups red wine
1 (28-ounce) can tomato puree
1 cup beef stock
4 – 5 sprigs of fresh thyme
2 sprigs of fresh rosemary
1 large bay leaf (fresh if you can find it, dried if you can’t)
1 Tbls. butter
Prep the veggies for the pot roast
Before you start on the meat, get all the veggies (carrots, onions, celery, fennel) chopped. For the fennel, chop up the white bulb and stalks. Save the green frond-y parts for another use.
Put them in a large bowl and set it aside.
Gather your fresh rosemary and thyme together…
And tie them into a bundle with kitchen twine. This makes them easier to fish out and remove at the end.
Set the herbs aside and grab your roast from the fridge.
Sear the meat
Preheat your oven to 325 degrees.
Drizzle a little olive oil into a large, heavy-bottomed, oven-proof pot. (I used my Big Red Pot, a 7-quart enameled cast-iron dutch oven that I’ve had for years.) Set it on the stove over high heat for a minute.
Sprinkle the meat on all sides with kosher salt. When the oil is hot, put the meat in the pot.
Cook for a few minutes on high heat (throw open a window, there’s going to be some smoke), until the bottom has a nice brown crust, like this:
Repeat this browning process on all sides, until the meat is wearing a lovely brown jacket.
Transfer the meat from the pot to a large plate for a minute while you deal with the veggies.
Assemble the sauce for the pot roast
Start by cooking the vegetables. Dump your chopped veggies (carrot, onion, and fennel) into the same pot that you used to brown the meat.
Saute over medium-high heat for about 15 minutes, until they’ve started to soften and brown a little. Stir occasionally, scraping at the bottom of the pot as you go to loosen any brown bits. (As they cook, the veggies will let off juice which will help deglaze the pan.)
After about 15 minutes, pour in the wine.
And the beef stock.
Add the tomato puree to the pot. Stir to combine everything well.
Toss in the herb bundle, bay leaf, and chopped garlic. Stir to combine.
And finally, add the browned meat back to the pot.
Spoon a little of the sauce over the meat.
Cover with a tightly fitting lid. Pop the pot into your pre-heated 325 degree oven. Cook for about 2 1/2 hours.
Carve and serve the beast!
Yank the pot out of the oven after about 2 1/2 hours. Give the meat a test. It should be so tender that it comes apart when you pull at an edge with a fork.
To serve, transfer the meat from the pot to a platter or large plate. Cut into thick slices, across the grain. (I don’t have a good picture here, but take a peek at my Deli-Style Roast Beef recipe for a decent explanation of how the grain runs in a piece of meat.)
Fish out your bundle of herbs and the bay leaf. Pitch them (they’ve given up all their flavor).
Toss the butter into the pot and swirl it around. For a thicker sauce, puree half the sauce in a blender and return it to the pot, stirring to incorporate it.
Ladle the sauce over the sliced meat. I like to serve this pot roast with thick hunks of garlic bread.