UnFoodie Conquers Pot Roast

By Karen

Cool weather inspires my more adventurous cooking. The paper had a recipe for “Perfect Pot Roast” and Food Lion had boneless chuck roast on sale for $2.59 a pound, so I decided to take another whack at it.

The recipe wasn’t “perfect” for me. It called for red wine, which I avoid because it gives me a runny nose and headaches, and fresh sprigs of rosemary and thyme. No point in blowing $6 on herbs that would mostly rot in the fridge.

So I started with a well-marbled 2.5 lb. roast, 2 onions, 3 carrots, and Swanson unsalted beef stock. But there had to be some seasoning… What to do, what to do?

My last packet of Lipton Onion Soup! It even had a “Country-Style Pot Roast” recipe on the box, calling for carrots, potatoes, and water. Close enough.

The Perfect recipe needed a Dutch oven I don’t have, and the roast was too small for the crockpot, so I used Lipton’s stovetop cooking method, although boiling beef sounded like a recipe for disaster. But my previous attempts in the oven had only yielded gray slabs that could pass for paving stone, so what the hell?

First I browned the onions and carrots – the carrots “about a minute,” per Perfect.

I learned that carrots don’t brown. And after simmering in stock for several hours, they don’t get too soft, either.

Searing the roast in olive oil went without a hitch, but I skipped deglazing the pan for “tasty bits” because it was nonstick and there were none.

Next, I heated the stock to a boil and threw in the dry onion soup — and then noticed the box said, “Best if used by June 12, 2007.” Hmmm… too late now.

Back in went the onions, carrots, and meat to simmer for 2.5 hours.

Dinner, or something I'll use to repair my front walk?

The Lipton recipe said to add the carrots and chunks of potato during the last 30 minutes, but I’m glad I didn’t. The carrots would have been like rocks. Instead, I roasted the potatoes doused in olive oil and Emeril’s Essence separately.

As the house filled with cooking smells, I felt a little Ruth Reichl coming on…

Carrot-colored leaves fall as beef and iridescent onions laze in a rich Jacuzzi of juices, making the senses swim in their succulence.

After I fished everything out of the stock, my crowning achievement was a batch of lumpless gravy, which I made with cornstarch instead of the flour Lipton recommended.

This pot roast wasn’t falling apart but, for the first time, it WAS moist and tender, without that dry, chewy finish, even upon reheating the next day.

Success at last!

Next time, I'll skip the carrots.

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15 Responses to UnFoodie Conquers Pot Roast

  1. trixfred30 says:

    That looks better than mine – I had to cook mine for so long (7 hrs) that I didnt get to bed til about 1 in the morning and now we are going to have to spend the whole week eating it because there is so much…

  2. catsworking says:

    Welcome, trixfred30! I think mine would have come out more tender if I’d let it cook longer, but the recipes both averaged about 1 hour per pound, so I stuck with that. I really expected the carrots to turn into mush, but they certainly didn’t. That turned out to be a good thing, because I hate mushy cooked carrots anyway. In fact, I hate cooked carrots, which is why I’ll skip them next time.

    I’ve had the roast for dinner 2 nights now and I’m still upright, so apparently the “use by” date on Lipton soup is just a number.

  3. adele says:

    Funny, I was trying to tell a friend how to make gravy out of pot roast just Saturday/ I don’t make pot roast much any more, because I really don’t digest beef all that well, but yours looks very good.

    I’m not a big red wine drinker for the same reason you aren’t, Karen, and in any case,I hate to open a bottle when just a cup or so is called for. Around Chi. you can buy pint-BOXES of wine; they’re cheap; they last a long time in the fridge,and they’re very handy for cooking. Whenever I see them, I buy a couple.

    The pot roast recipe I used most of the time, called for some tomato juice. The acid in the tomatoes served the same purpose as wine; it helped deglaze the carmelized stuff in the pan, and it helped tenderize the meat — yet the completed dish was not overly tomato-y. I’ll look for the recipe.

    Even though you may not eat the carrots (I love cooked carrots, but I know most people don’t), they do add some flavor to the roast and gravy, so I say leave them in.

    I just threw out a bunch of stuff that was well past its expiration date — glad to hear that you weren’t felled by the Lipton’s.

    Did any of the Cats Working staff show interest in the pot roast?

  4. adele says:

    P.S. Loved your haiku.

  5. catsworking says:

    adele, this morning I drank a glass of orange juice that should have been drunk by September 24. Unless the product stinks, gets fuzzy, or feels slimy, those “use by” dates mean nothing to me.

    This roast left NOTHING in the pan to deglaze.

    Fortunately, Food Lion had loose carrots so I could buy only what I needed, and I used fewer than called for. On the other hand, the roast was smaller than called for. If I’d had to buy a bag of carrots, I might not have done it. I’ll usually eat a couple like Bugs, then the rest sit there until they get bendy and I toss them. Same with celery.

    I ignored all the instructions for the gravy and did my own thing learned from Wok with Yan. Mix a few tablespoons of cornstarch into about half a cut of cold stock, then add it to the hot stock in the pan. I let it boil down for a while because there was a LOT of liquid left. After it had sat in the fridge overnight, it turned to a nice brown jelly like you get with Egg Foo Yung, not separated and yukky. It had some onion bits in it, too. Can never have enough onion.

    Now that you mention it, none of the cats, including Max the Mighty Mouth (that little guy can put away some vittles!) showed the slightest interest. It was probably the onions.

    I don’t know if we have pints of wine here. I know it’s impossible to get a pint of fat-free milk. Grrr… I have seen wine in 4-pack bottles, like beer. I could have gotten those, but when the Lipton recipe called for only water, I figured using all beef stock would give it enough flavor, and it did.

    PS: My haiku was supposed to be a tweet!

  6. adeley says:

    My mother always used cornstarch for her gravy, and I have to say it was very smooth. I rarely make gravy, but I alternate between cornstarch and flour.

    I buy loose carrots, too, and I’ve been known to break a celery bunch in half at the store, because unless I’m making a lot of potato salad, I never use a whole bunch of celery. I buy quarts of Organic Valley Lactose Free Milk, which seems to last forever, but one milk company here, does make pint containers, so if I need milk to bake, I’ll buy a pint of 2% ‘cuz the Organic Valley is expensive,and I don’t like to waste it in baking.

    Alice and Dorothy think it’s so cute that Max is such a growing boy. Dorothy is less ravenous now than when she first moved in, but for a couple of months, I think she would have eaten 1/4 of a good-sized bag of dry food at a sitting, if I’d let her. Now she knows it isn’t going anywhere, so she’s slowed down.

  7. Marilyn Ritter says:

    Dear Karen,
    This was your greatest post ever that wasn’t about a cat or cats! I am still laughing about the onion soup date.
    Here’s MY way to do a roast, Southern style. It never fails but when we lived in NV where the cows ate sagebrush and cactus, it was a failure. The beef needs to be CORN fed if possible—who could ever find that out though unless you are in the south?
    Any kind of “GOOD” beef will work. The main trick is low temperature, 250 degrees, for at least 1-1/2 hrs. per pound in a Dutch oven (worth the money) on the lowest shelf. The rest is just window dressing such as the vegetables.
    I braise my roast seasoned with Cajun seasoning in an iron skillet for just a few minutes. (I may cheat and use some bacon grease but any oil will do in a small amount). Then I put it in the Dutch oven with fat-free beef broth which is way better than the wine, cover it and cook it. I like potatoes but not onions so we use those and carrots for flavor. Maybe this will give you some more unasked for advice!

  8. catsworking says:

    Before Max, Yul, Adele, and Cole used to share one can of Fancy Feast among them, doled out twice a day. It was a treat. Now I am going through TWO cans a day because Max has made it the main course.

    Max’s yellow Chewy toy has disappeared off the face of the earth. I have looked under EVERYTHING. I even moved all the living room furniture, and that crate stuff is HEAVY. I don’t know what he did with it.

    But then the other day the OTHER toy from that pack showed up mysteriously. It’s green. I remembered seeing it… in a little shopping bag on top of the high dresser in Cole’s man cave!

    Sure enough, Max has figured out he can leap from a coffee table onto that dresser (which is pretty impressive) to get to the toys. Now, how he figured out there were toys in that bag when he’d never seen them is another matter.

    He also jumps down from the first beam to the bookcase, which involves flying through the air. As he gets bigger, his leaps get more daring. So far, he hasn’t tried to scale Sam the Fridge (none of them have), but I figure it’s only a matter of time.

    Every time I have used flour to make gravy, it came out lumpy. Cornstarch not only makes it smooth, but shiny. The key is to mix it into cold liquid first, then pour that into the hot liquid. Works every time. No lumps.

  9. catsworking says:

    Marilyn, I don’t remember if you were around earlier this year when I wrote about attending the 3 weeks of cooking lessons designed by Anthony Bourdain. That led to a few cooking posts.

    I am considering a Dutch oven because I think I need one. Macy’s had one on sale for $40, but I think I can do better if I hit the oddball stores like Ollie’s or Tuesday Morning. Where I’ll store it in my stuffed cabinets is another thing.

    The low heat does seem to be key. In the Perfect recipe, I think it was an hour per pound at 275. And I do think the marbling of the meat makes a huge difference.

    I didn’t do the potatoes in with the meat because I thought they’d just soak up the broth and get yukky. I like them to have a little crispiness.

    Living alone, I don’t often tackle huge pieces of meat because then I have to eat them, but occasionally I do like to make something big I can just nosh on without doing much prep, so I will keep your method in mind.

    My next culinary post will be about country-style ribs. I bought a mess of them the day I bought the pot roast.

  10. kittiequeen says:

    Karen, your pot roast looked terrific!!! Now, please let me mention a great way, nearly fuss free, cooks perfect pot roast. I use a large oval shaped slow cooker. Put in the meat, three cups water, half a packet of “pot roast ” seasoning (McCommick is nice), cleaned, chopped up: carrots, celery, potatoes, onions, mushrooms. Let cook several hours. Tip; if you keep lifting the lid when its cooking, you will need to wait longer for it to cook. Its done when the veggies are fork tender, and the meat isnt pink anymore. I’ve watched enough of those high-faultin fancy pants cooking shows in my day—- NOT A ONE uses slow cookers. Trust me, one needs to work over a hot burnner braising, browning, suffering.Love and hugs to you and the kitties.

  11. kittiequeen says:

    RE: Max/Domino; Domino did his best NEVER to eat anything other than canned cat food. He was the nicest, buddy-cat to people and other cats alike. He was also a total PIG, pushing any other cats away from their portion of cannned cat food.Another gimmick; he would wait to see if another cat got full, and walked away leaving cannned cat food in its dish. Then he would lick the dish clean. He loved to hide golf ball sized foam balls next to the washing machine, in the laundry basket, paw open a lower cabinet door (like under the sink) and put a foam ball in there,and on the window stills.Hiding them under the bed or sofa was just too common, apparently.The jumping from one piece of furniture to another, colmunated one fine day when he leaped from the big sofa right into my lap, which contained a plate of spagetti. I screamed, he took off for under the bed. At about 3a.m. he came back out to eat. Do I mis the little guy? Of course!!! love and hugs Kittiequeen.

  12. Britta says:

    Karen, the braise looks pretty good for a “boiled” roast. I don’t offer any best way of cooking one since it seems many cooks have a time-tested way of doing this. The carmelization of any veggies seems key. I do have to say that I have gotten a little “snobby” lately in terms of the cut of the meat. My goal is to get my husband and our budget to buy into a grass fed source. Having read Bourdain’s disclosure on “pink meat”, etc, I no longer buy ground meat. Invested in a grinder and choose cuts for meatloaf, burgers, etc. and grind ourselves. Funny too, in as much as I enjoyed a quick McD’s burger, have spurned those as well. However tasty with the cheese and grease, just seems too gross to me that I am eating scraps treated with chemicals.

  13. catsworking says:

    kittiequeen, Max and Adele eat in the kitchen together, but she has somehow trained him NOT to think about touching her bowl until she walks away. So he wolfs his food and RUNS into the living room, where Cole prefers to eat. Cole always backs off and lets Max have his bowl, so I take it away from Max and give it to Cole to finish on my bed, where he is now sulking.

    Domino sounds like he had a dash of Yul’s daredevil in him. Leaping onto a plate of spaghetti would have been classic Yul. Max isn’t quite that crazy — yet — but I see potential.

    Britta, braising the meat kept it from getting that gray “boiled beef” look, which is what I would fear just putting it in the crockpot raw, as kittiequeen does.

    kittiequeen, come to think of it, I’ve never seen a crockpot used on a cooking show, either. It would make a GREAT theme for a cooking show. “Assemble your dinner in the morning, and when you come home from work, Voila!”

    Previous attempts to make pot roast in the crock ended in the dry, chewy consistency I hate, which is why I decided to try the stovetop for a change. But it sounds like you have the method down to a science.

  14. MorganLF says:

    We must have been on the same wave length. Sunday I made a kick ass beef burgundy stew. The house smelled divine!
    Tip, when you sear the meat (chuck), dredge in flour shake off excess, brown in batches in hot olive oil. The flour caramelizes the meat and thickens the gravy no (ugh!) cornstarch jelly needed. Then drain off oil leaving enough to sauté a big giant onion sliced. That will take up all the tasty bits. Add 3 cloves garlic. Then clear a spot in the pan, add large dollop of tomato paste cook that off 2 minutes then stir into the onions. The paste gives the gravy a rich mahogany color and really kicks up the flavor. Add 2-3 cups of a good red, (the alcohol cooks off and it’s a must for flavor layering) add a box of low sodium stock (I only had chicken) and one cup of water.
    Cover leaving the lid slightly askew and bring to a simmer then lower heat. I left it on the stove for 2 -3 hours stirring occasionally while watching the awesome Pearl Jam special on PBS. An hour in I added several grindings of sea salt, fresh pepper and 2 teaspoon of dried thyme, the thyme makes it.
    The last 30-45 minutes I add peeled and sliced (rough chop) carrots, parsnips and potatoes, about 1 ½ cups each, and removed the lid to let the liquid concentrate. When veggies are tender yet still firm remove from heat add a box of frozen peas, stir & cover. Let sit about 10-15 minutes, serve. Fool proof and tasty. You may not like carrots simmered in pan juices (dear god why?) but the vegies add flavor, the carrots sweetness and parsnips a peppery note. Personally, I could eat a bowl of stewed vegetables and be in bliss. You cannot leave out the wine its part of the alchemy and it really does cook away. As for the paste don’t throw away the unused portion place in ice cube tray freeze and put in a baggie, it’s handy to have, to thicken and flavor soups and stews.
    I was home on Friday and watched the Chew. It was about brunch recipes and as a result last night I had a huge spinach salad with hot bacon dressing and an over easy egg on top. F’ng yum!

  15. catsworking says:

    Morgan, that does sound good. I’ve heard various TV chefs say don’t use any wine in cooking you wouldn’t want to drink because cheap wine tastes like crap in any context. My aunt gave me a recipe for beef stew that I haven’t tried yet. The day I went looking for the beef, there wasn’t any, then I forgot about it.

    I like the meat dredged in flour idea, too. Probably helps to seal in the flavor. In Chinese cooking, you dredge meat in cornstarch. Cornstarch in everything. (Actually, cornstarch did a great job as a dry shampoo on Yul’s fur toward the end, but then it dried out his skin and gave him horrible dandruff).

    I’ve been working on The Chew for a couple of weeks now and always catch myself reading a magazine. Daphne Oz? Pul-EEZ! I don’t know her qualifications, but she reminds Dr. Phil’s Stepford Wife Robin suddenly becoming some sort of marriage guru. Oprah “makes” a few stars, and they pay it forward by pimping out their entire families.

    But back to The Chew. I think it’s just too much all the way around. The stage is crowded with 5 people vying for attention, backed with an audience that never SHUTS UP. After a few minutes, it always starts feeling like chaos to me and I tune out. I think they should cut it back to 2 stars (one of them NEVER to be Oz or that “host” what’s-his-name), and get the audience out of the background. Who needs to see them for an hour? They distract from the cooking.

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