If you think of pot roast as dry, tough, and tasteless, think again.  With the right cut of meat — a well-marbled chuck roast is best — and a few flavorful accompaniments, it can be soft, succulent, and richly satisfying.

Unlike sirloin and rib roasts — tender cuts of meat cooked quickly in a hot oven — pot roasts are tougher cuts, cooked slowly at a lower temperature, partially covered with liquid.  This low and slow, moist-heat cooking method is called braising.  The long cooking time and gentle heat break down the connective tissues that bind the muscle fibers, rewarding the patient cook with a tender, delicious, and economical supper.

I like to braise beef in wine, or beer and vinegar, or with other acidic ingredients (like tomatoes) that stand up to and cut through the richness of the meat.  Though you can cook a pot roast on the stove, I prefer the even heating and fine temperature control of the oven.  Never let a pot roast boil, and don’t overcook it — it’s done when a knife or carving fork slides easily into the center of the meat.

Pot roast with onions and beer

Yield:  Serves 6

For braising:

2 tbsp. canola oil

3 1/2 – 4 lb. boneless beef chuck roast

Salt and freshly ground, black pepper, to taste

2 lbs. yellow onions, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced lengthwise

1 bay leaf

1 tbsp. finely chopped, fresh thyme leaves

1 12-oz. bottle dark beer

1 c. chicken stock or beef broth

2 tbsp. apple cider vinegar

For thickening sauce:

2 tbsp. butter and 2 tbsp. all-purpose flour

or

2 tbsp. cornstarch and 2 tbsp. cold water, stock, or broth

Preheat oven to 250 degrees.

Warm a large pot with a tight-fitting lid over medium-high heat.  Season beef all over with salt and pepper.  Drizzle oil into pot.  When oil is hot but not smoking, add beef and cook, turning occasionally, until well-browned on all sides, about 10 minutes.  Remove to a large plate and set aside.

Reduce heat to medium and add onions and bay leaf to drippings in pot.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are very tender and browned, about 25 minutes.  Season lightly with salt and stir in thyme.  Pour in beer, raise heat to medium-high, and stir, scraping up browned bits from bottom of pan.  Stir in stock or broth and vinegar and return beef to pot.  Bring to a boil, cover tightly, and put pot in the oven.

Cook for about 3 hours, turning beef once after an hour or so and checking periodically to make sure braising liquid is at a bare simmer.  If it’s boiling, reduce oven temperature by 25 degrees.  Pot roast is done when very tender — you should be able to pierce it easily all over with a carving fork or knife.  Let meat rest in the pot for 30 minutes, then remove to a cutting board.

Skim fat from surface of sauce.  Taste, and season with pepper and additional salt as needed.  If you’d like a thicker sauce, you have two options:  a beurre manie or cornstarch slurry.  To make beurre manie ( or “kneaded butter”) work butter and flour together with your fingers until evenly combined.  Bring sauce to a simmer and add beurre manie in little pieces, stirring to dissolve.  Cook gently until sauce is lightly thickened.  To make a slurry, whisk together cornstarch and cold water, stock, or broth until dissolved.  Bring sauce to a boil.  Stir in slurry and cook 1 minute or until thickened.

Slice or shred roast and serve with onion sauce, mashed potatoes, and green beans.  Refrigerate or freeze leftovers in sauce.

Make it gluten-free: Use your favorite gluten-free beer, or use 1 1/2 c. white wine instead of beer and omit the vinegar.  Thicken sauce with cornstarch, or make a beurre manie with sweet rice flour instead of all-purpose.

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