Monday, September 26, 2005

Picture a pot roast

[UPDATE: If it's a picture of a pot roast you're after, click here. If you're happy just to read about a pot roast, continue below.]

I made an exquisitely delicious pot roast for dinner tonight but there's no picture of it. I intended to have some for lunch tomorrow and photograph it then, and there's plenty of the roast left over, but the gravy and veggies are gone and the leftovers will be transformed into something else (perhaps a filling for kreplach). I was tired after a day of academic work and I'm not all that happy with my dinner-hour photos. The pot roast was looking the opposite of pretty, all shreddy and falling apart. The veggies looked mushy. The mashers looked pale. I was hungry, the light was lousy, blah blah lame excuses blah. The point is, there was an exquisitely delicious pot roast in my kitchen and I would like to tell you about it. Please allow my prose to substitute (weakly) for the visuals.

I have never eaten a pot roast that I did not cook myself unless you count brisket, which is basically Jewish pot roast. I think of these as much different dishes, but they are both big braises of beef. The only differences are the cut and some of the seasonings. But I shall leave brisket out of it, to return to it when the head of the year is upon us. My point is: pot roast sounds, um, goyish, and brisket sounds very Jewish. That's the way they sound to me. And I get the sense that people's childhood memories of pot roast, if they have any (I do not), are often not fond. Well, like tuna casserole, pot roast is an American classic and if it's done well it's fantastic.

Now why on earth do we call a pot roast a roast when it is clearly not that? Roasting implies the dry heat of fire or a hot oven. But when you cook in a covered pot you have moist heat, and that's braising. The explanation, I suppose, is that we call any large hunk of meat a "roast" no matter how we intend to cook it. Elsewhere it might be called a "joint," a lovely culinary term that Americans cannot use without sounding pompous.

Here's what I did to my large hunk of meat, about 2.5 lbs of chuck on sale at the notsupermarket for $1.99 a lb. I tied it up so that it would hold its shape, pressed a lot of salt into its surfaces, and seared it on all sides in a hot hot pan. I put it aside and deglazed with two coarsely chopped onions and a cup or so of cabernet sauvignon. Then I tossed the meat, the wine-soaked onions, two peeled and chopped carrots, two peeled and chopped parsnips, three ribs of celery, half a can of San Marzano tomatoes, pureed with salt, pepper, and oregano when I made hot clams and pizza, and some chicken stock in the ceramic bowl of my crockpot. I left this in the fridge overnight. This morning at 8:00 I set it on high and left for campus. All day long I thought about the pot roast. How's it doing? What does it looks like? How does it smell? Is it done yet?

At 5:30 pm we returned home to a warm, wafting aroma of beefy slow cooking. I removed the meat to a plate and strained out the veggies. I don't care for mushy onions and celery, but root vegetables slow-cooked with beef are a treat, sweet, tender, suffused with rich added flavor. I fished out the parsnips and carrots and set them next to the roast. Then I defatted the gravy and reduced it by about a third. I corrected the seasoning and thickened it with a little bit of beurre maniƩ (butter and flour kneaded into a paste). I don't care for gloopy gravies, but a bit of thickening helps the liquid stick to the meat fibers and helps it coat the vegetables. I sliced about half the roast and laid the meat and the veggies in the saucepan with the gravy to keep it warm and to moisten the slices nicely.

We ate the exquisitely delicious pot roast over mashed potatoes and the meal had that stick-to-your ribs quality. I felt full, then I served myself more. As I was cleaning up, I picked at what was left in the pot until most of it was gone. The fall-apart meat, the crazy-good gravy, the sweet carrots and slightly sour parsnips, the creamy mashers. All so good.


Post a Comment

<< Home