Comfort Foods Part Two: Two-Way Pot Roast

In Recipies on October 15, 2012 at 11:29 am

This is the second in the Phyne Dyning two-part series on comfort foods. Yes, I know, it has meat in it. There’s nothing wrong with meat, we were designed to eat it. But, we were not designed to eat the massive portions to which many Americans have become accustomed.

There is nothing more emblematic of suburban, mid-sixties dining than the venerable pot roast. Cooked traditionally, this melt-in-your-mouth meat-treat is a favorite of almost everyone who eats meat.

There are two ways to cook a roast. One method gives you fork-tender meat bursting with the flavors of fresh vegetables and herbs. The other method gives you a dry, tasteless and chewy meat substitute. Variations in the amount of fat on the cooked meat, the temperature the meat is cooked in, and the amount of added salt and liquid means that the end result will often be inconsistent with many pot roasts.

Phyne Dyning solved the problem of consistency.

Roasting in a pot or crock-pot often means the meat will emerge grey and listless. As a cook aboard merchant freighters, I learned the “Navy Way” of cooking beef…boil the crap out of it. The meat will emerge as grey as the deck plates and as chewy as a canvas sea bag.

Adequately browning the meat before pot-roasting (or boiling) solves the problem of grey meat. A cast-iron Dutch oven (or large skillet) works well. Simply heat vegetable oil or canola oil over medium-high heat and brown the meat in the hot oil. You will know when the meat is adequately browned when it “releases” from the metal. So, don’t use non-stick materials for this stage of cooking.

Next, put all of the ingredients into a Dutch oven and bake them for about two hours at very low heat, around 200F. Then, remove everything and allow it to cool completely. Remove the excess fat and transfer everything to a crock-pot. Cover with the ‘jus’ and cook on high for two hours, low for two hours, and high for four more hours.

The result will be meat with an almost creamy or velvety texture, thoroughly married flavors, and potatoes to die for.

Yes, there are a lot of steps and a lot of handling to this recipe. One could simply plow everything into the crock-pot, but that wouldn’t give you nearly the quality of result. Or, you could simply continue to cook everything in the oven at low temperature, like prime rib. But, with many roasts, the amount of fat is variable and you risk getting a dry, chewy result.

Because of the amount of handling, this is an all-day recipe best suited for an occasion when you can spend a quiet day in the kitchen, interspaced with calm moments savoring the cooking aromas.

A pot of tea is suggested!

So, ‘tis late…let’s get cooking!

2 to 2 ½ lb chuck or pot roast

2 TBS vegetable or canola oil

½ large yellow onion, small dice

2 cloves garlic, smashed

3 stalks celery, small dice

3-6 large carrots, peeled and trimmed

1 to 1 1/2lb potatoes (thin skins), washed

pinch sweet paprika

1 tsp rubbed sage

2-3 rosemary sprigs

½ tsp liquid smoke

½ tsp fennel seeds, cracked

3 C beef stock, divided

2 TBS red wine vinegar

3 TBS flour, divided

salt and freshly ground black pepper

First! (VERY IMPORTANT) “Eyeball” measure your ingredients to fit inside your crock-pot cooker! The meat will shrink a bit, but you want to be sure everything will fit.

In a cast-iron skillet or Dutch oven, heat the vegetable or canola oil over medium-high heat. Pat all of the surfaces of the meat dry with a paper towel. Do NOT salt the meat! When the oil just begins to smoke, begin browning the meat on all sides, turning with tongs instead of a fork. The meat will “release” from the cooking surface at just about the right time (about 4-6 minutes). You want to brown ALL cut surfaces of the meat to carmel-color. Remove the meat to a clean plate and set aside.

Pre-heat an oven to 200F. Do not drain the pan! Heat (re-heat) a Dutch oven over medium heat. Transfer the meat juices to the Dutch oven. If necessary, drizzle in a bit more oil. Do not use too much! Stir in the onion and celery and cook until the onion just begins to turn golden along its cut edges. Add the garlic and stir until it “blooms”. Lay the potatoes in the bottom of the Dutch oven, sprinkle them with the paprika, and place the meat on top. Scatter the remaining herbs, rosemary sprigs, and fennel seed on top of the meat. Don’t add salt yet. Just give it a twist or two of pepper. Cover and bake for 30 minutes per pound.

Remove the Dutch oven from the oven, remove the contents to a large platter and allow them to cool almost completely, about 30 minutes. Add the beef stock and red wine vinegar to the Dutch oven on the stovetop and re-heat the juices to a simmer. Make a slurry of half of the flour and a cup of warm water. Whisk the flour water mixture into the stock, adding just enough to slightly thicken the stock. Remove from heat.

Place the potatoes in the bottom of the slow-cooker. Put the carrots on top. Then, put the meat on top of the carrots. You may have to ‘break’ the meat for it to fit. That’s okay. Pour the stock mixture over everything. Cover and cook, on ‘high’ for two hours. Reduce the heat to ‘low’ for two hours. Finally, cook for another four hours on high. If the contents appear to be boiling too vigorously, just reduce the heat to ‘low’ for a half hour.

Remove the meat from the cooker and allow it to ‘rest’ for at least ten minutes. Place the potatoes on serving plates and ‘crack’ them gently. Place 5oz portions of meat (per person) next to the potatoes and set a carrot next to each piece of meat. You can thicken the juices and stock, if desired, or ladle them directly over the meat and potatoes.

This only looks like a lot of work. The result is beyond spectacular and the flavors are as traditional as a tweed jacket.


  1. You’ll notice I added no salt during cooking. Adding too much salt, or adding salt at the wrong stage of cooking, can dry out a good piece of meat. So, it’s better to add your salt (sparingly!) at the table. (BTW…In some countries, if a dinner guest adds salt to his/her food before tasting it, it is a grave insult to the cook. Now you know!

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