A well-established part of the winter culinary canon, pot roast of beef is about as cozy and comforting as it gets. Toss a roast in a big pot with some vegetables and seasonings, and you’ve got a substantial dinner that can feed hoards. Pot roast is also appealing because it cooks nicely in a slow cooker and the latest multi-purpose countertop appliance, the Instant Pot.
But while a pot roast is inherently simple and hearty, it can also be luscious and memorable if you follow a few guidelines.
The most common roasts for pot roast are thick, tough cuts like chuck or rump (bottom round). Chuck’s higher fat content is naturally going to give you richer flavor. If fat is a concern, go for the leaner rump roast, or have the butcher trim some of the fat from a chuck roast for you.
There’s some debate about whether or not searing your pot roast “seals in juices” as we’ve been told, but there’s no doubt that searing does deliver deeper flavor and fosters the development of the rich sauce you want to surround the roast. To sear, add ½ cup flour to a gallon-size food storage bag. Add the roast to the bag and seal it. Shake until the roast is evenly coated with flour. Place the roast on a plate and coat liberally on all sides with kosher salt and black pepper. In a large Dutch oven, heat olive oil to medium-high heat. Sear the roast on all sides in the hot oil. Scrape up the bits and leave them in pan. Add the roast back to the pan to cook.
Go nuts with onions
Yes, you’re going to add potatoes and carrots to the pot, but don’t forget hunks of chopped yellow or white onions and lots of peeled whole cloves of garlic. In fact, any members of the Allium family are welcome, including shallots, scallions and leeks. All are absolutely delicious and add an essential layer of flavor to the roast.
Incorporate a tomato element
Once you’ve got the roast and vegetables loaded into the pot, it’s important to add additional liquids so the roast braises properly. And since this is a big, tough hunk of meat we’re cooking, the braising liquid needs to be super flavorful. A tomato element, such as tomato paste, tomato sauce, ketchup or chili sauce, is the answer. It adds depth and sweetness, countering the beef’s flatness. Mix it into beef broth, and add Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce or tamari to further round out the flavors. The liquid should come up to about 1/3 of the sides of the roast.
Add fresh herbs
Before you close the lid, slide lots of sprigs of fresh thyme and rosemary and fresh or dried bay leaves between the meat and veggies. They will infuse their liveliness throughout the pot during the cooking process. Consider adding chives, another member of the onion family, to finish the dish.
Go low and slow
This is not a dish to be rushed. If I’m using a slow cooker, I cook the pot roast on low for 7-8 hours. If I’m using the oven, I cook it for 4 hours at 325 degrees.
Maggie Heyn Richardson is a food writer and regular 225 contributor. Reach her at hungryforlouisiana.com.