Monday, October 17, 2011

Apricot-braised Pot Roast

The string makes it look like a real roast, doesn't it?

Ben said, on Saturday, “This is the kind of day, if you could bite it, it would be crunchy.” And it really was. True fall: crisp air, dazzling sun, blue skies, rolling banks of grey, sheeting rain, rolling banks of grey, blue skies, dazzling sun, pink stripes, moon. It was amazing. We spent the day with friends in that kind of wonderful one-thing-leads-to-another drifting togetherness that is the hallmark of a really good date: a child’s birthday party that turned into a post-storm bonfire that turned into hot dogs roasted on sticks that turned into mugs of hot and boozy cider under the stars. I only realized how late it had gotten when Birdy finally leaned against me and sighed, “I think I’m ready to go home.”

I am in full fall cooking mode, which may be my very favorite: roasts and stews and soups, but with fresh herbs still. It’s the best of all possible worlds for me, especially right now, when the romance between me and root vegetables is still young. I’d still pick them up at the airport, if you know what I mean. “Turnip!” I’d cry. “I missed you so much!” Not, “Oh, can't you just catch the shuttle when you get in?”

I’m re-posting a favorite fall recipe that ran on, but kind of buried (it wasn’t part of my column). I’m going to be trying to move some of that lost content over to this blog in the next few months. This is just a take on my standard pot roast (lamely, my own photo captions over there just made me laugh), but the apricots make the gravy so succulently tangy—it’s the perfect foil for the rich, falling-apart meat. Yes, it’s a long haul in the oven, but mostly you’re ignoring it while it exhales its divine aromas into your house. Plus, I know that some of you will be doing this in a Crock Pot and will thus be entirely ignoring it. Until its flight gets in, at which point you will run towards it while the swelling music plays.

Apricot-braised Pot Roast
Serves 8
Active time: 35 minutes; total time: 5 hours

This luxuriously tender sweet-and-sour roast doesn't need a lot of attention during its long braise in the oven. The dried apricots dissolve into a luscious velvety sauce that makes you want to lick your plate (and then lick it).

a 4-pound beef roast (chuck is perfect for this)
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 yellow onions, sliced
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper
1 cup red wine
2 cups chicken broth
2 cups water
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup dried California apricots (Turkish are too bland for this)
1 tablespoon sugar

Heat the oven to 375.

In a Dutch oven or another heavy, lidded, ovenproof pot, heat a tablespoon of the oil for 10 minutes in the oven. Pat the meat dry with paper towels and season it well with salt and pepper, then roast it in the pot, uncovered, for half an hour.

Meanwhile, heat the remaining 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 occasionally, for another 20 minutes, at which point they should be deeply golden. Add the garlic, salt, and pepper, and stir for a minute or so, then add the broth, water, wine, tomato paste, apricots, and sugar, and bring to a boil.

Pour the panful of onions and and liquid over the roasted meat, then return it to the oven and cook, with its lid just barely ajar, for 4-5 hours--flipping the roast after 2--until a fork can easily pull it apart. Check it now and then to make sure the liquid hasn’t all cooked off; if it has, then stir in another cup of water every now and again.

Let the roast rest in the pan for half an hour or so, then slice it (it will fall apart) and serve it with the apricot gravy from the pan (skim off any visible fat). Or chill the roast overnight, slice it the next day, and arrange the slices in a large, shallow baking dish, then pour the gravy over it, and heat it in a 350 oven for half an hour. Serve with noodles or mashed potatoes or, shown here, kugel.

This looks so good to me, even now, when I'm full of weird Trader Joe's wasabi seaweed snacks.

Hard as it is for me to concede, it's really high time for the flash.

If there were ever any leftovers, they would doubtless be great.


  1. Kathy2:32 PM

    If you put it in the Crockpot, do you need to brown the meat first? I bought a "beef bundle" from a local farm and am flush with - beef!

  2. kathy, i think it's always good to brown the meat first! enjoy your beef bundle. xo

  3. This looks amazing! Do you lower the heat from 375 for the 4-5 hr marathon in the oven? I have never had luck cooking beef well - this might just work for me!

  4. Caroline, you'd think you would, but you don't--you leave it at 375. Weird, I know.

  5. Perfect for fall! Thanks~

  6. That sounds wonderful. I will have to try it after my cooking for others strike is over next week. I am cooking exclusively for myself and hoping (perhaps foolishly) that my children and husband will get on the bandwagon. Right now, I'm hearing jars snap. I used up a gallon of green tomatoes to make Green Tomato Mincemeat for the winter. I can now rip out my tomato plants. It's 80 degrees today. Tomorrow, it's supposed to be 60. So, fall is coming. Finally.

  7. Yum! I'm looking forward to trying this. Here's another pot roast recipe you just might enjoy.

  8. Angela4:38 PM

    Catherine, is your oven a convection oven or a conventional one? Mine is convection, and I always have to turn it down a bit, or take cakes out quicker than in your recipes. Or should I check my thermostat?!?

  9. Tina G7:38 PM

    Last fall, I made your beef stew and I experienced some sort of beef nirvana.....I cannot wait to make this- I am drooling over the picture! Thanks, Catherine : )

  10. Catherine,

    I recently found your work through Brain, Child and systematically devoured all your Ben, Birdy columns during stolen moments after my baby and preschooler were asleep at night... then was bereft to reach the 200th... then discovered the ones on Wondertime!!! Yahoo!!! I am working my way through those while reading current blog entries. Thank you for your work.


  11. dale in denver1:25 AM

    I'm hoping your "fallencholy" has passed. If not, hopefully this column will give you a chuckle. (I trust you won't be offended by the language since you've been known to drop an f-bomb yourself a time or two). I don't know why, but it is one of those columns that makes me laugh every time I think about it...


  12. Allyson1:38 AM

    Ok, this is definitely on my list for next week. It looks so good. Would it work with brisket? I have an enormous brisket in my freezer at the moment. And if my brisket is closer to 5 1/2 pounds than 4, do I need to increase the other ingredients by half? Or should I just let it be?
    Tonight was chilly and a little melancholy, so on a whim, I decided to make your gingerbread recipe from a few years back. This is one of the things I love about your food-- less than an hour after the mood struck me, I was sitting down with a warm, profoundly comforting piece of homemade cake. Perfect!

  13. Green tomato mincemeat! Wow!

    My oven is conventional. Are my temps too high? Let me see if I can figure anything out.

    I *love* that gourd season article.

    And a brisket: it would definitely work great. I would maybe up the liquid and seasoning, but not worry about the onions and apricots.

  14. Catherine, I've been a vegetarian for more than 20 years, and that first picture made me drool. I have no words, other than to say that I'm going to a quiet place now for deep self-reflection. :)

  15. But your pot roast (which is famous at my house) couldn't possibly get any better! Or could it? ... will definitely try this soon. Sounds divine!

    Since I've made your traditional pot roast about a thousand times, I can say that mine usually cooks much more quickly than the recipe (in my conventional oven), usually within 2-2.5 hours, but every so often I'll get one that cooks longer. Maybe it's the cut of meat?

  16. This looks wonderful. I cannot wait to make it. How would the cooking instructions change if one cooked it in the crockpot?

  17. Robin1:11 PM

    Thank you, Dale in Denver, for the highlight of my week: that gourd article from McSweeney's!

  18. On a completely unrelated note, your caption about flash got me thinking. I don't know what you shoot with, but if you don't have an external flash, but want to *look* like you do, go right out and buy a Light Scoop. It connects to a DSLR with a pop-up flash and magically turns that pop-up flash into a wonderfully diffused ambient light. But you absolutely *must* put your camera settings as the instructions say, or else it won't work.

  19. Stupidly, I committed the cardinal sin of not reading the recipe first and was up until midnight last night waiting for this to be done (for tonight's dinner!). However, I enjoyed every minute of the smell. And felt happy, almost like I had invited you for dinner, Catherine. Can't wait for tonight! (If you happen to be in Madison, Wisconsin, you ARE invited.)

  20. Oh my. :burp: excuse me.

    This was fabulous.
    Thanks so much Catherine!

  21. AnythingforBenBirdy9:03 PM

    Your traditional pot roast recipe made me eat beef again - my mother's method of leaving it in the oven with no prep or seasoning until resembles shoe leather turned me off beef many years ago. I made it for my brother too and he nearly fell of his chair - so this is what people talk about! I'll try with apricots soon - well, once we're through our half pig - any chance you have ten excellent recipes for pork chops that leave them melting in your mouth?

  22. Allyson10:23 PM

    One more question, Catherine-- I have a beautiful pork shoulder roast in the freezer from my CSA-- can I use the same technique as for the beef? I know the apricots would be lovely with pork roast.

  23. It smells like a holiday in my house right now. Can't wait to taste it tonight! Thank you.

  24. Anonymous8:44 PM

    Hi Catherine and friends,

    The roast looks sooo good. I'll be making it soon. You asked about books last week, but I haven't had a chance to post my two most recent favorites, first, Luka and the Fire of Life by Salman Rushdie, so funny, clever and beautifully written, and even appropriate for your Ben, and my Adam (11.5 years). It's marketed as a book for everyone. Then second, Ann Patchett's State of Grace, which I thought was interesting becuase of her discussion of Amazonian cultures, but still not as good as Patchett's Bel Canto, based on an actual incident several years ago in South America. I seriously loved that book and Rushdie's.

    Have a great week, all! - Diane

  25. Angela5:16 AM

    Thanks, Catherine - no, if your oven is conventional then that explains it, I can just factor it in! (Takes a way the uncertainty that THIS will be the cake that is underdone, etc ;) )

  26. Rebecca5:09 PM

    does the oven temp. stay at 375 for the whole 4 to 5 hours?

  27. Rebecca5:10 PM

    oops, just saw the same question & answer in the comments

  28. Anonymous1:32 AM

    Made this for dinner tonight and the whole family LOVED it. THe kid down the street loved it, too. :-) I also wondered about leaving the oven at 375. It cooked in 3 hours, faster than I expected; the top burned, actually, but it made for a nice flavor. Fell apart very nicely. Thanks for the recipe! Personally, I'm going to lower the temp just a bit next time. Definitely a keeper.
    ~Kathy, from Michigan

  29. I didn't think this could possibly taste as good as it smelled, but it did! Yum! I made it in the crock pot. Browned the meat, then cooked the onions and garlic and deglazed with wine, then added everything to the slowcooker in the morning and cooked on low for about 9 hours. It was perfectly cooked, made the house smell amazing and was easy. I'm sure I'll make it again and again.

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  31. Anonymous4:03 PM

    How long would you recommend cooking it if you have to cook on high in the crockpot? Won't have 8-9 hours to wait around on low. Also, do you brown all sides for just a cpl minutes before putting it in the crockpot? Thanks - looks delicious!

  32. Many years ago, my mother made something like this, and it was a favorite of mine, I would ask for it for my birthday. But I never got the recipe from her, and now she is gone. I was thinking about it the other day and decided to see if I could find a recipe that sounded like what I remember. This does the trick, and I can't wait to make it! Thanks so much!