|Wow, that's ugly! But so, so good.
I understand that the words “pot roast” may inspire about as much excitement for you as the words “stool softener.” I get it, I do. Believe me. I was a vegetarian for sixteen years—in fact, Michael and I met when we were both living in the kind of hardcore vegetarian co-op where you had to have a house meeting every night about rennetless cheese. I get it. But then something happened to me, and no—it wasn’t bacon, although yes, bacon also happened to me. But what happened was that I got pregnant with Ben, at which point I leaned out my car window and bit into a passing cow. After sixteen years, the first meat I ate was no microscopic bit of lard in a can of pork and beans—it was a roast beef sandwich, at Berkeley’s Café Intermezzo, which may be, ironically, the most famous salad restaurant in the world. Sure I immediately regurgitated it onto the sidewalk of Telegraph Avenue—but that would have happened with the chickpeas and romaine lettuce.
Anyways, where was I? Oh. Pot roast. I won’t go into the politics (go read Michael Pollan if you like, or Barbara Kingsolver, or a PETA pamphlet), but it’s true that we eat meat about once a week, most of it grassfed, local, and organic. Plus, I keep my eyes open at Whole Foods, because even though they like to charge me ten dollars for a thimbleful of spelt, they occasionally have fantastic meat sales: like $2.50 a pound (last week), for chuck roast.
This recipe, which is an adaptation of Ruth Reichl’s Mother’s Brisket, originally published in Gourmet magazine, works great with other cuts of meat besides brisket, such as a nice chuck roast (top chuck or bottom? leather or lace? I don’t know). I fed nine people with a three-pound roast, the key being to slice it nice and thin so that everyone feels like they’re getting tons. I realize it didn’t photograph so well, what with it looking first like a person’s severed torso and later like a platter of Dinty Moore. But, oh, the smell that filled the house! Like comfort itself, vaporized. And my children love long-cooked meat, the kind that falls apart on your fork—as opposed to steak, which they also love, but which Birdy masticates doggedly before spitting out a strange lump of white muscle fibers like it’s a wad of chewing gum.
We ate the pot roast with friends and their kids—along with Yorkshire pudding (another recipe for another week?), and salad, and we slurped the last of the gravy with spoons and were perfectly happy.
Classic Pot Roast
Yes, this cooks for hours and hours—but you’re only spending about 30 minutes holding its hand, so please don’t be put off. Make it on a Sunday and eat it all week. You won’t be sorry.
a 3-6 pound beef roast (brisket or chuck)
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 or 3 large yellow onions, sliced
2 or 3 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper
1 cup red wine (or white wine, if that’s all you have)
2 cups chicken broth
2 tablespoons tomato paste
Heat the oven to 375°F.
In a Dutch oven or another heavy, lidded, ovenproof pot (maybe you could also do this in a roasting pan and then cover it with foil?), heat a tablespoon of the oil for 10 minutes in the oven. Don’t trim the meat; just pat it dry with paper towels and season it with salt and pepper, then roast it in the pan, uncovered, for half an hour.
Meanwhile, heat the rest of the oil in a large frying pan over medium heat and cook the onions, stirring, until they’re turning soft and gold, then reduce the heat and cook, stirring every now and then, for another 20 minutes, at which point they should be nice and deeply golden. Add the garlic, paprika, salt, and pepper, and stir for a minute or so, then add the broth, wine, and tomato paste, and bring to a boil.
Now take the half-hour-roasted meat out of the oven and pour the panful of onions and brothy wine over it, then return it to the oven and cook it, with its lid just barely ajar, for 4-5 hours, depending on how big and tough it was to begin with. Check it now and then to make sure the liquid hasn’t all cooked off—you’ll need to add a cup of water every half hour, or hour, or so (if you positively need to abandon it in the oven, then start with 3 cups of water stirred in with the other liquid, but it’s better the other way). Also, flip it half way through baking if you think to.
After a long time, the meat will be a nice dark brown and will feel very yielding and compliant when you stab it with a fork. The gravy will be dark and delicious.
Now you have choices. Simply let it rest a while, then slice it (though it will fall apart) and serve it with its juicy onions. Or do the following: let it rest in the pot until it’s just barely warm, then wrap it in foil and put it in the fridge while you prepare the gravy. Scrape the onions and pan juices into a measuring cup, skim any visible fat, add water to make 3 cups, then puree it all in a blender or food processor. Taste it: if it’s not perfectly salty, tangy, sweet, and delicious, add salt or very wee amounts of sugar or balsamic vinegar until it is just right; try the salt first. Now trim any obvious fat from the chilled meat, then slice it against the grain (it should be cool enough to fall apart less now), and arrange the slices in a large, shallow baking dish. Pour the gravy over it, and heat it in a 350 oven for half an hour. (This is a compromise: the original recipe has you chill the meat and gravy, separately, overnight. Only the Jews would develop a recipe that actually requires you to reheat something the next day.)
Serve the pot roast with noodles, boiled or mashed potatoes, or crusty bread. Heaven.