Sunday Dinner Any Day of the Week

What I’m talking about here folks is good old fashioned Pot Roast.

You know you love it. Unless you’re among my vegetarian readers, in which case you’re already clicking your back button. See ya later, in a veggie post.

Pot roast has some unexplainable mystique surrounding it. As if it’s difficult, or expensive, or otherwise unattainable. Let me tell you, it is not. I think it’s funny (and sad) when old fashioned ‘make do’ arts become new fashioned high ticket items. Like quilting. Invented to use up scraps, therefore as thrifty as you can get. Now if you go into quilting, you’d better hope your hubby doesn’t do the books! (Let alone the woolly arts my friends. You know what I mean.)

But back to the reason our vegetarian friends left– meat! I hope you have found a source for locally raised humane meat. If you have, you certainly can’t afford steaks! Hamburger is of course your cheapest option. But second to that, go pot roast! Pretty much the cheaper the cut, the better (of course, I mean a cheap cut, not cheap meat.) All that gristle and fat melt into the meat for a succulent roast. It’s a thrifty revelation!

You’ll find lots of dressed up fancy pot roast recipes, but like I said, this is down home food. Here’s how I cook pot roast, actually about as simple as dinner gets. The only catch is you have to start early, pretty much right after breakfast, which can be a hard leap to make. If your meat is frozen, you have to start after breakfast the day before, by taking it out to thaw. But then, the trade-off is that you’re good to go come 5:00. Just keep working on whatever project you got going till you feel hungry!

Calamity Jane’s Down and Dirty Pot Roast

  • one piece of otherwise undesirable tough, gristly meat, 2-4 lbs
  • onions, 1 or 2 or 3
  • carrots, my family can eat an unending supply of meat soaked carrots, so I do ’em up big
  • potatoes (quickest and easiest to cook with the meat, but I prefer ’em cooked seperate and mashed myself)
  • celery
  • stock of some kind, preferably homemade

Throw it all in the crock pot, carrots then taters then meat then onions and celery. Pour in enough stock to come about halfway up sides of meat. Cook on high 3-4 hours, or low 6-8 hours. It should be tender. If you need a knife, it ain’t done. As my Dad likes to say, “You should be able to cut it with a stern glance.”

circa 1958, this original Crock Pot doesn't even have a removable dish-- it's all one piece. You have to carefully wash the damn thing as is!

Calamity’s Slightly Fancified Pot Roast

Throwing it all cold into the crock pot makes a fine roast. But I think the flavor is much more spectacular if you do a few extries. It’s still one of the easiest dinners I make. Just brown the meat, caramelize the onions, and deglaze the pan with a little stout beer, and you’ve got yourself a roast worth Sundafying.

It’s important to brown meat the right way if you want all the lovely complex caramely flavor to come out, which you do. Heat your big cast iron skillet till it’s almost smoking. Add a splash of oil and real quick throw the meat in there. The authorities say to pat it all over first with paper towels so the surface is dry, but I have fine results forgoing this wasteful practice. You do have to not crowd the pan. You should see lots of bare pan around the edge of your meat. This allows moisture to escape and keeps the pan hot. If you crowd a pan of browning meat, you’ll just gray it instead, as it boils in it’s own juices. Not the end of the world, but no caramely deep flavors.

Proper browning just takes a few minutes on each side. You're not even remotely cooking it, just getting a nice deep chestnut-y brown crust.

When you’re done browning the meat, add a good knob of butter (especially big if you’re meat is wild) and saute the onions. Caramelizing onions is a lot like browning meat, caramelizing happens at a higher temperature than boiling water, so if you crowd the pan and trap the steam, it won’t happen. I like to start with the stove at medium high, then as the onions start to brown, turn it down to a lowish medium. You might have to turn it down even more. The object is a deep golden brown color, but don’t let them burn! This will take awhile. 10 or 15 minutes, so wash up or cut carrots or something, just don’t forget to stir once every few minutes.

Dump carrots into your vessel of choice. Set the roast on top and cover liberally with salt (better yet celery salt) black pepper, garlic powder, thyme, and/or whatever blows yer skirt up, honey. Dump celery on top. By now your onions should be perfectly caramelized. Scoop ’em out and throw into the pot.

Keep the empty onion pan on the stove, and turn the heat up to high. When it’s good and hot, throw in a third or half a dark beer* and let it roil and boil like crazy for two or three minutes. Scrape the bottom of the pan with a fork or something to get off the sticky bits (loving dubbed “fond” by the Frenchies). Now pour in your stock, bring the lot to a boil, and pour all this lovely goodness into the roast pot.

Pour broth to about halway up sides of meat. As it cooks, it'll make more juice and submerge itself.

When the roast is done, an essential part of the work is still to come. What’s roast without gravy? Fish out the meat (it should be falling apart) and all the veggies, put ’em in a covered pan and keep warm in the oven (200-ish). Make a rich brown roux*, and gravify the juices. Generally speaking, 1 Tablespoon butter : 1 Tablespoon flour thickens 1 cup liquid. I like to make it a little thin, then boil hard till thick enough, this intensifies the flavors. Num, num.

As I said, I like to serve with mashed tater-aters. Do not mar the perfect heaviness of this meal with something like a steamed vegetable or salad. Enjoy it for what it is, a meat glut. Eat your veggies tomorrow.

What to Cook In

A slow cooker works a treat (read crock pot) but also great, if you’re running one, is a woodstove. If you don’t have either of these, the oven is next easiest (make sure you have a good sized oven proof pan with good fitting lid).  The oven unfortunately is fairly inefficient energy-wise, lots of lost heat. You can do it stovetop, it will just take a much closer monitoring. You don’t want it to boil, just the tiniest whisper of a simmer.

I know, you want times! But it’s all so variable, your method and temperature of cooking, how big and what type your meat is. I’ve only ever roasted wild game, which I suspect takes longer than beef, but maybe not longer than good grass fed, free roaming beef…?

I’ve only just started using a slow cooker, always did it on the woodstove at home. I got a book which said 8 hours on low would be okay (ie: you can start it and then go to work and have dinner ready when you get home, of course they never count transport time…), but that it would be done really before that. I’ve found that on high, it takes somewhere’s round 4 hours, but then again, that is wild game…

Cooking on a woodstove takes some practice, and intuitiveness. I can’t tell you how long it will take, because it depends entirely how hot you run your stove. On our stove back home in Cordova, which we run pretty cool, it takes a full day, and sometimes I have to move it to the kitchen stove to get it done before dinner. Mess around and see what your stove takes.

With the oven, according to my Joy (of Cooking) a 3-4 lb roast at 300 – 325 should take 3-4 hours. But Paula Wolfert, queen of ultra slow cooking, has recipes which roast meat for like 12 hours, at temps as low as 250. So obviously, there is a wide range. Again, just play around. Generally the slower the cooking, the more succulently tender your meat will be.

As far as planning your day, my advice is, start early. A roast is easy to hold warm for up to an hour, or even rewarm. But if you have a hungry family waiting for tough meat to cook, you’d better give up and order pizza!

*Roux

I tried to find a good tutorial for any of y’all who’ve never made a roux, but they’re all unnecessarily complicated. Roux is just a mix of fat and flour, for thickening gravies and sauces. Here’s how I do it:

Melt butter in small skillet over medium heat (oil works too), add flour and whisk. Keep whisking, make sure you’re getting in the corners too and all that. If you’re making roux for a white sauce (like mac n’ cheese) just cook a few minutes. For meaty gravies and such, it makes a good deep flavor if you cook your roux to a rich brown. This takes 5 or 10 minutes over medium heat. You do have to stand there and whisk the whole time (ok, I do cheat, but I also sometimes have to throw out a burned roux) and when it starts to color, watch carefully. If you’re using a cast iron skillet, remove from the heat before it’s as brown as you want, the heat of the pan will keep cooking it another minute. When you’ve got the color you want, the tricky part comes. Slowly pour in about half your liquid in a steady stream, whisking vigorously as you do. When you’re sure there’s no lumps, pour in the rest of the liquid. Continue heating and whisking until boiling vigorously. If it’s not as thick as you like, boil it down some. If it’s too thick, of course add more liquid. It might be good to check out some photos from a tutorial (just google it) if you feel unsure of yourself. It does take a little practice. You’ll get the hang of it.

sorry this is such a disgustingly bad photo, but I thought you should know what it looks like while it's cooking. No, it should not be this baby poop green color. My kitchen has horrible light stove-side.

4 thoughts on “Sunday Dinner Any Day of the Week

      1. Alas, it is only beef. Moose would be 100 times better, but we have none in the freezer. Hubby is just learning his hunting skills and didn’t manage to get one this year, but next year he’ll have another chance! We always get lots of Salmon (of course), but Moose and Caribou are high on our list of wants. Wouldn’t it be nice to not have to buy ANY meat at the grocery store?!

  1. This looks awesome… I have always like pot roast and used to make it 20 mumble years ago… I keep telling my husband I should make pot roast, well think you have tossed a little fat on my fire :-) love your blog and look forward to reading more..

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