Sunday, March 13, 2011

Sunday Dinner: grassfed pot roast!

Pot roast is not a dish you start cooking at 4 o'clock in the afternoon.  Allow yourself up to 4 hours for prepping and roasting time when scheming dinnertime!  Pictured here accompanying our succulent roast are Meadow's Mirth's deliciously sweet carrots, and Heron Pond Farm's red-skin potatoes and parsnips.

When it comes to everyday cooking, I often find myself torn between ‘the way my mother did it’ and ‘the way [xyz chef] does it’.  What’s the happy medium?  The way I do it!  It is perfectly reasonable and acceptable to take inspiration from both sources, or from numerous sources, to make a dish your own—that’s what cooking is all about (well, that, and “passion and sharp knives!” ;~)

I used a 3lb beef shoulder roast for this recipe (once cooked, enough for 4 people and a little leftover lunch), obtained from our freezer where we have many other cuts from a side of beef we purchased from a relative who raises only two cows a year here in NH.  Shoulder roasts are one of the best cuts for pot roasting, that is, braising in a dutch oven.  A top blade (aka ‘shoulder’) roast comes from above the shoulder blade; it is part of the ‘chuck’ which is the first 5 ribs in the forequarter.  It needs to be tied to fit in the pan, but that’s not a big deal (truth be told, any roast should be tied to maintain an even shape for cooking).
Seven blade roasts are another excellent option for braising, but they can be difficult to find.  This cut is also found in the shoulder blade area.  Lastly, a chuck-eye round is superb for pot roasting.  Chuck-eye roasts are basically rib-eye roasts, in that the cut is found in the center of those first 5 ribs.  Each of the cuts mentioned has very good meaty flavor, a fair amount of fat, and results in being a luxurious pot roast.

Recipe for the roast I made follows...
Take roast out of fridge a good 45 minutes to an hour before cooking.  Tie with butcher's string to hold in a solid shape. Pat dry with paper toweling, then rub all over with minimal olive oil, seasonings of choice, salt and pepper.

Turn oven on to 350.  Prep the following vegetables and aromatics:

1 lg onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
1 lg celery stalk, chopped
2 cloves garlic, smashed
2 sm bay leaves
couple sprigs of thyme or 1/2 tsp dried
1/2 c wine, preferably red
1 c water, plus more if needed
1 c beef stock, or 1/2 c chicken and 1/2 c beef stock, or more water (stock is better)
1 heaping Tbsp tomato paste

potatoes, carrots, parsnips and the like, for including as sides, ~2lbs total (enough for 4 people)

Heat an enameled cast iron Dutch oven over med high heat.  Add a knob of butter and let foam.  Sear roast on all sides, a couple of minutes per side, aiming for a good caramelization on each side before rotating to the next.

Once roast is completely seared move to a platter.  Depending on fat content of roast, there should be ~2 Tbsp of fat remaining in pot.  Add more butter or veg oil if necessary.  Saute the veg and garlic until softened and just starting to turn tawny at the edges.  Raise heat to high, wait a minute, then add wine, stirring up all the bits of frond stuck to the pan.  Add water, stock, tomato paste, bay leaves and thyme, stir.

Put roast back into pot, nestling it down onto the veg.  Cover pot with a sheet of foil, then with its own cover and place in oven (foil lends to a better steaming effect).  Turn heat down to 300 degrees and cook 2-1/2 to 3 hours, turning roast over halfway through.

Add washed/peeled (if necessary) veg to pot and cook for another hour, checking doneness of roast about a half hour into veg cooking time.  Simply remove roast if cooked before veg, and continue cooking veg until fork tender.  Tent roast with that sheet of foil you used for the pot while veg continue cooking.

When potatoes, carrots and parsnips are cooked, carefully remove with a slotted spoon, taking care to leave the chopped veg in with the juices.  Also remove bay leaves and thyme sprigs!  Using an immersion blender (or a regular blender), puree gravy until it reaches your desired smoothness.  Try adding a Tbsp of balsamic vinegar as a nice way to add more depth of flavor.  Season with s & p to taste.

For a beautiful family-style dinner, spoon gravy over slices of roast that have been arranged on a pretty platter.  Add potatoes, carrots and parsnips alll around edges.  Garnish with sprigs of thyme and serve!

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