Beef pot roast
Every year around this time, when we reach the end of February and draw within sight of the vernal equinox, I start looking desperately for signs of spring. I've found a few, too, thanks to an unusually mild winter.
Pot roast! A favorite at any time of year, this beefy favorite makes a perfect filling dinner on a chilly evening, and if it's not quite as elegant as a pricey standing-rib roast or Porterhouse steak, it doesn't cost a fraction of the toll ... and it's an amiable companion with just about any good red wine.
Pot roasting - or "braising," to use the fancier culinary term - is the way to go with cuts of beef like chuck, shoulder roast, rump or round. In contrast with the fancier, more pricey cuts that roast quickly in dry heat to keep them rare and tender, these tougher but flavorful cuts benefit from the long, moist tenderizing that comes from roasting them slowly with savory liquid, flavorings and vegetables in a tightly closed dutch oven or casserole.
Bone in or boneless? Most cooks agree that a bone-in cut is the most flavorful, but I find the difference minimal enough that I'm likely to go with the best-looking cut in the grocer's meat display - or the best deal - without worrying too much about bone-in or boneless.
I kept things simple for Sunday's dinner, constructing this basic, old-style pot roast with vegetables entirely from instinct and memory. It seemed to work out ... the result was true comfort food, and we're still picking on the leftovers.
INGREDIENTS: (Serves two)
1/2 medium sweet yellow or white onion
1. Peel the onion and chop it roughly; peel the garlic and chop it fine. Put both with the oil in a heavy dutch oven and cook over medium heat until the vegetables are well cooked and starting to brown, 10 minutes or so.
2. Salt and pepper the beef to taste and cook it in the dutch oven with the onions and garlic, turning frequently, until it's well browned. Turn the heat to medium-high and pour in the red wine, stirring to "deglaze" the pot and turning the meat several times; cook until the wine has reduced almost completely.
3. Pour in the beef broth and add a little water, if necessary, so the liquid comes about halfway up the side of the meat. Add the bay leaf or thyme, if using, and bring the liquid to a boil. Cover the dutch oven tightly and put it in a preheated 350F (175C) oven to cook for 1 hour, turning the meat once.
4. Toward the end of the hour, peel the carrots and cut them into thick (1/2-inch) rounds. Cut the celery into slices of similar size. "Blanch" the carrots, celery and potatoes in lightly salted simmering water for about 5 minutes to start them cooking. (If you don't have fingerling potatoes, peel 1 or 2 baking potatoes and cut them into 1-inch cubes.)
5. At the end of the first hour of cooking, drain the blanched vegetables and put them into the dutch oven with the meat. Cover, reduce the oven to 300F (150C) and cook for another hour or until the meat is falling-apart tender. Serve the meat, vegetables and the pan liquid as gravy, and dinner is done. (A little of the leftover meat and broth makes a fine soup the next day, especially if you bulk it up with barley, noodles or rice.)
WINE MATCH: "Red wine with red meat" certainly applies here, and whereas I might save the fine Bordeaux or Burgundy for rare rib eye or tenderloin, this hearty and more rustic beef finds its natural partner in similarly hearty red wines. It was a delight with the recently featured top-value Portuguese dry red, Ramos Pinto 2002 "Duas Quintas" Douro.
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Thursday, Feb. 23, 2006
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