My Encyclopedia of Enhancements
Last month, we had a tutorial on the quick and easy cooking of a pot roast, be that beef or pork and regardless of where the cut originates. Ham or hindquarter, should or butt, shank or osso buco. Pot roast is the braising technique that deals with the tougher cuts – those that get the most exercise on our creatures. Toughness is a liability in one way – you have to know how to make it tender – but also a great advantage because the most exercised parts are also the most nutritious, fall apart tender, and the most flavorful if braised. It is a known biological truth that exercise increases blood and nutrient flow to those areas, resulting in greater deposits of proteins, anti-inflammatories, vitamins and minerals.
Hence, we spend some time on the venerable Pot Roast! How do we add an increasing base of vegs, minerals and taste to this already superior cut and cooking dish?
Here is my list of Pot Roast Enhancers. You can implement any, all, or a combination of some. Pick and choose or go all the way.
- After thawing, apply a dry brine; that is, cover in chunky kosher or sea salt, leave in a covered vessel for 24 hours in the fridge. If any salt remains on the surface of the meat after curing, rinse it off before cooking. You won’t usually see any – salt penetrates the meat and liquifies the protein-rich tendons that make the meat tough. So you have begun the tenderizing process while adding moisture by way of the liquefied proteins found in the tendons. For the salt-fearers: you die without sodium in your system. You must have salt. As always, it’s just a matter of too much or too little. This will not be too much.
- Put your roast under the broiler to brown it well before putting into your dutch oven, slow cooker, or pressure cooker. If you don't have a high performing broiler, brown the roast in a grapeseed or olive oil in a cast-iron Dutch oven. Either way a cast-iron Dutch oven is the best choice, although pressure cookers run a close second. Either way, broiler or stove top pressure-cooked, the heat penetrates the meat in layers. The browner the surface the better. Each layer brings forth different flavors, all good.
- Make a mirepoix. Mirepoixs are combinations of vegetables, including onion, bell pepper, celery and garlic MINCED in your Cuisinart or blender. I mince each one separately, adding a bit of water for flow, the liquid of which is then saved to become a part of your stock for the pot roast. Note well, by using the liquid, you save all of the nutrients that have leached into the water as well as the pulp of the vegs. Mirepoixs are sauteed in the bottom of your dutch oven or pressure cooker, forming the base of your pot roast. If you are using a slow cooker, then you will have to saute’ in a separate skillet.
- A butter roux. Melt a stick of butter in a skillet, add flour to thicken, a cook until golden brown. This gives you 2 additions – a nutty flavor and the nutritional benefit of adding the complexity of a dairy product to your pot. And you get a gravy rather than a soup broth. I like both, but in the end, will opt for the gravy approach 2 out of 3 times. Important note: if you go with the roux, add your mirepoix vegs on top of it after bringing it to golden brown, pull off the heat and let the 2 marinate and meld for a while.
- The broth. Braising is a slow cooking process in a liquid. You have many liquid choices here, but rather than plain water, I like one of these: any bone broth, beef, pork or chicken; bourbon, brandy, red wine or sherry, but with any of the alcohol choices, you can combine with your broth and go say ½ and ½. Sherry may make it sweeter than suits your taste.
- Now for these added vegs. I like all of these: potatoes, carrots, turnips, mushrooms, green beans, LeSeuer peas, cabbage, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, but you must have potatoes and carrots at a minimum, imo. The next thing to understand is that these vegetables are added to the pot step by step. So as an example, large chunks of carrots go in first, being the longest cook time. LeSeuer peas go in after you’re finished, only needing to be warmed in the pot. Potatoes are probably second, green beans probably next to last. So just give some thought to expected cooking time for each veg you choose and stage them in appropriately.
- Seasonings. First, don’t worry about precise measurements. Simply use your vision to season each component one at a time, using this approach: if I was making cooked carrots, how much and what type of seasonings would I add? If you then want to add a dose of something at the end, do it. But I think you need these at a minimum: salt, pepper, perhaps more garlic, powdered or fresh, and bay leaf. But be careful with salt if you did the dry brine suggested here. Some other seasoning choices are herbs. Rosemary, thyme? Whatever you like. Make it your pot!
- How to serve it. If you made it soup-like, serve in a bowl. If you thickened it with a butter roux, I often serve it over rice or pasta. But thanks to Ken Hoffman’s column, how about with Yorkshire pudding(Google for a recipe) ? Or just cut the roast into slices and put on a platter piled with the vegetables.
- Garnishes. chopped parsley, green onion, lemon zest.