Mom’s Pot Roast

by Carilyn on September 12, 2022

I miss my mom. It has been six months since she passed away after several years of declining health. As one of her primary caregivers, it was a hard few years, but nothing is worse than knowing she is gone forever. Now that the initial shock is over, and relief that she is no longer suffering has settled in, I just feel sad. Deep in my bones sad. And for some reason, Mondays are always the hardest.

So, today, I wanted comfort food. I wanted a homey recipe that harkened back to the nights I would come home from swim practice to find a plate of pot roast (one of my favorites) saved for me. I rarely ate what my family had for dinner because I usually had a full meal before going to practice, and then just had a snack when I got home right before showering and going to bed. A big plate of food at 8:30 was not my normal preference. But my mom’s pot roast was different.

As a teacher, mother to four children, and full-time carpooler for those same kids, my mom wasn’t making gourmet meals every night. She cooked every single day, but she focused on nutritious, from-scratch, comfort foods. Very few things came from a box or a can, but none of it was “fancy”. And, while I didn’t know escargot from escarole, I learned the basics of what makes food taste good at a very early age from watching my mom cook. Without understanding it, I was taught the fundamentals of good cooking every day.

While there isn’t really a specific recipe for my mom’s pot roast, it is the perfect foundational recipe for understanding how to balance flavors. Instead of a step by step set of instructions, it is just some basic guidelines: use some sort of roast, carrots, onions, celery, potatoes, red wine, beef broth, and seasonings. The beauty of it is that you don’t have to measure or have specific herbs and spices. Only have salt and pepper? That’s fine. The tomatoes, wine, and vegetables will make up for it. Understanding that searing the meat first to get a nice crust will give you a ton of flavor, and then cooking everything low and slow, is the perfect example of how time, and good ingredients, will yield a most wonderful meal. Want something you can throw together and then walk away? This recipe is for you. And, if like me, you just want your home to smell like a warm hug but you aren’t up to a full day in the kitchen, you won’t find anything easier.

Basic Pot Roast

I’m not giving exact measurements here because the point is to give you a foundation from which to work. The essentials:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Salt and pepper both sides of your roast (chuck and round are the most commonly used). Sear the meat on both sides in a hot dutch oven with a couple of tablespoons of oil until you have a nice crust – about 3-4 minutes per side.

If you have time, remove the roast, and soften up your mire poix (diced carrots, onion, and celery) in a little more oil. If you don’t have time, don’t worry about it. It adds more flavor, but the long braise will make up for skipping this step.

Line the bottom of your dutch with some chunks of carrots, celery, onions, and potatoes. Lay your seared roast on top. Pour on a can of diced tomatoes and a couple of cups of red wine. Add a couple of cups of beef broth (or a bouillon cube and some water), making sure the liquid goes about 2/3 of the way up the side of the roast, and then layer on the last of your vegetables. Feel free to add some thyme or rosemary.

Cover and place in the oven. Check on the roast periodically to assess tenderness (you want it fork tender), and to make sure there is enough liquid. You don’t want the roast to burn or dry out. Depending on the size of your roast, cook for several hours. About 30 minutes before serving, take off the lid, and with two forks, separate the meat into chunks, put the lid back on, and return to the oven. This will ensure that all the meat is flavorful and enrobed in the gravy.

After you’ve made this basic recipe a few times, you will start thinking of fun ways to improvise. Try adding mushrooms, garlic, or other vegetables. The beauty of low and slow braising is that it is very difficult to mess up. Trust your palate and go with what means “comfort food” to you.

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