Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Best Pot Roast

 As I get older, there are some things that seem so tried and true, that they can't possibly be improved upon. Dark black English tea, opaque with milk and perfectly sweetened, reminds me of my mother making tea for me and her when I was a kid, and she made it wholly perfect by serving it in her miniature Blue Willow china tea set. The peanut butter and butter sandwiches my paternal grandmother made on soft processed white bread, sans crust of course. A big pot of white rice that my dad would melt gobs of butter into, then stir in lots of dark soy sauce. And noodles. My father's side of the family has a deep love for egg noodles, served simply with lots of butter, and maybe some Parmesan cheese to fancify it a bit. 

This pot roast recipe touches on many of my childhood food memories, and blows them up into something really special. It is very simple, yet makes a gravy so delicious you'll want to have a side of it in a small cup to sip between bites. At least I do. My husband is a die hard mashed potato fanatic, yet even he gets a little weak in the knees for egg noodles heavily swathed in this gravy. Don't be alarmed, but there is a bit of processed canned soup in this gravy. That is what makes it so good. With a little doctoring up, it makes something that tastes far from processed.

This pot roast is an amalgamation of my mother and cousin Kris's renditions of their favorite pot roast. My mother grew up with simple pot roast, prepared in a pressure cooker, with a super caramelized bottom that her and her sister still fight over. Kris's is a slow cooker version, that cooks the roast in almost an entirely opposite fashion for hours in a crock pot, with a couple cans of cream soup. Over one sister's weekend we had a pot roast feast, where my mother and cousins (the sisters I grew up thinking were fraternal twins, yet are actually a couple years apart) each made their fav pot roast. Lisa made 'stringy beef', in which the pot roast cooks all day in a very low oven till it pretty much falls apart if you look at it too long. They are all wonderful pot roasts, but the winner seemed to be Kris's, mainly because of the gravy it made. It had won us all over. The pressure cooker technique made a fabulous roast as well, but was missing that ridiculous gravy. So I thought I'd combine the two.

My mother, knowing my incredible fondness for her pot roast, bought me a pressure cooker one year for my birthday. I call it my pot roast cooker, since I have yet to cook something else in it. You can definitely prepare this in a slow cooker as well* - the ingredients are the same, just the cooking time differs. The texture and flavor of the roast will be pretty different, though. The slow cooker version doesn't have as an intense, beefy flavor, but it's still really good. And I will only eat it with lots of lightly buttered egg noodles, though feel free to sub in your mashed potatoes.


2.5 - 3 lb chuck beef roast
1 Tbsp canola oil
1 can cream of cheddar soup
1 can cream of chicken soup
1 huge onion, peeled and quartered
2 bay leaves
2.5 - 3.5 soup cans of water, or enough to cover
   the roast, whether you use a pressure cooker
   or crock pot
2 tsp good English mustard, dry or prepared
2 tsp sweet paprika
2 tsp nutritional yeast (optional)
lots of black pepper
pinch cayenne pepper
1 tsp rubbed sage
water (you may need a touch to thin out the gravy)

Place a pressure cooker over medium high heat. Salt and pepper both sides of roast. Add oil to the pot and slide in roast. Cook for 6 minutes on first side, or until there is a deeply caramelized crust. Flip the roast (you'll probably need 2 utensils used simultaneously for this) and add the onion, both cans of soup, bay leaves, and water. Gently lift edges of pot roast to let liquid get underneath. Cover, switch pressure to high (number 2 on my pot) and raise heat to high. Once the pressure cooker starts hissing out a steady stream of steam, start your timer for 45 minutes for a 2.5 roast, or 60 for a 3 lb roast. 

Once the timer goes off (or several minutes before), you'll want to pay special attention to the smell of the steam. It should have a very heady beef smell, and smell almost burnt. I know this can seem a bit scary, but I really don't have a better way to describe it. I learned it along the way - and keep in mind I've never had a bad pot roast from making it in the pressure cooker, I just know that some have been better than others. That almost burnt smell is what you're looking for. Once that aroma is achieved, turn off the heat and let the cooker de-pressureize. This only takes a few minutes - consult the manufacturer's instructions on the various ways you can do this. Once the knob is at the lowest setting and the stopper depresses, it's safe to open the cooker. Remove the pot roast and set aside. 

Add the mustard, paprika, yeast, black and cayenne peppers, and sage. Here is the time to get the gravy to your desired thickness - too heavy, add a bit of water. Too thin, sprinkle in some Wondra flour in gradual increments till you get the viscosity you want. I like to blitz my gravy a bit with an immersion blender here to get the spices fully incorporated, but I've also found that a whisk works nicely at dissolving the nearly disintegrated onions into the gravy. Cook over medium low for about 5 - 10 minutes, tasting often along the way to adjust seasoning.

I love this roast with carrots, and these are my family's favorite. They also cook on the stove top. Once your timer has clicked down to 30 minutes, start preparing the carrots.


2 lb carrots, scrubbed, peeled, and sliced 1/4 inch thick on a diagonal
~1 cup low sodium vegetable stock
1 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar
pinch curry powder
2 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp canola oil
2 Tbsp honey

Place a large saute pan over medium heat and add the butter and oil. Once the butter is melted, add the carrots, salt, sugar, veggie stock, and curry. Stir well and cover. Cook for about 20 minutes, or until the carrots are tender yet not falling apart, stirring every few minutes. You'll need to add a bit more stock if the pan starts to get dry before the carrots are done. You will want a bit of liquid left in the pan once they are. For the last couple of minutes of cooking time, remove the lid and add the honey. Stir well until a slightly thickened glaze emerges.

for the noodles...

During the last 20 minutes on your pot roast's cooking time, make the noodles. I prefer No Yolks brand egg noodles, since they have no cholesterol and a lighter texture. I know, it's like getting a diet coke with your cheeseburger and fries. But I mainly do it for the flavor. Cook the noodles according to the package directions. Once drained, add 2 Tbsp butter and mix well. 

This recipe feeds a crowd, or a small family for a week. If you start to tire of it, after a few days in the fridge you should place it in its airtight container into the freezer. Keeps well for up to a month. I recommend adding some gravy to nearly cover the beef before storing it (in order to keep it from getting a bit dry), fridge or freezer. The remaining gravy should be stored in a separate air tight container.

*Crock pot version. Heat a large pan over medium high with a Tbsp of oil. Salt and pepper both sides of the roast and brown well on all sides. Place into crock pot. Add onion, canned soups, bay leaves, and enough water to reach the top of the roast. Cook on low for 6 - 8 hours, depending on the size of your roast. You'll know when it's done when you attempt to pick it up, and it falls apart. 

Once the roast is done, remove it from the slow cooker and set aside. Empty the remaining contents of the vessel to a medium pot and prepare the gravy as instructed above. 

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