Fall and winter are my favortite time of year to cook. This is the time for cooking hearty soups, stews, casseroles and meals that cook low and slow in the oven. There is no place I’d rather be when its cold out than in a kitchen warmed by foods that are being cooked, slowly in the oven. An added bonus is the aroma that fills the house with smells of the meal to come. When you cook foods in the oven on a low heat for a good amount of time it is called braising. A fancy french cooking method similar to stewing. The difference being that stewed foods have more liquid and are mostly cooked on top of the stove and braised foods have less liquid and can be done on either the stovetop or in the oven. If you have ever cooked food in this manner than you have done a braise. You just didn’t know it.
Vegetables can be braised (quickly), but it is mostly meats that benefit from being cooked this way. My hands down favorite meal to cook like this is a pot roast. I call it a meal because everything-meat,vegetable and sauce is cooked in one pot. When its done all you need to do is serve it along with mashed potatoes to complete the meal. Food that is braised becomes moist and tender from the slow cooking and is almost always better the next day after the flavors have had a chance to enhance overnight. That is if you can wait that long-if not its ok. Before I get to the recipe let me get some need to know information out of the way. Typically tougher cuts of meat are best for braising. Not any tough cut but a cut that is marbled throughout with fat. What happens with these tough cuts when they are cooked in a little liquid and simmered slowly is that the fat starts to melt and thus turning the once tough cut of meat into a moist and tender morsel. If you dont believe me you can read a voluminous book called On food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen by Harold McGee, which explains this very same thing in many,many, more words. So trust me on this one. Lots of other meats can be braised. Have you ever made pulled pork? Or smothered chicken? Both are types of braising. One more important thing to remember: brown the meat very well without burning it. This makes for a more flavorful sauce. You do not want to rush or skip this part. The meat I choose for pot roast is a chuck roast. The first time I used a chuck roast to make pot roast I was a little put off by the ropelike texture of the meat. But make no mistake when cooked properly these pieces of meat become supple and are in no way stringy or tough. I find pot roast irrestible because it is delicious and easy enough to make ahead for a family meal or when company is coming. If there happen to be leftovers warm them up, pile on top of a crispy roll, smother with the sauce and enjoy for lunch the next day.
Recipe: Winter Warming Pot Roast
1 3-4 pound chuck roast-the flat kind
1 Tablespoon Kosher salt
Black pepper-preferably from a grinder
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 Large onion chopped
2 medium celery stalks chopped
2 medium carrots scrubbed and chopped
2 cloves garlic
2 Tablespoons tomato paste
2 Cups chicken or beef broth
1 bay leaf
Fresh thyme-a few sprigs
Preheat ooven 325 degrees. Season roast with salt and pepper and set aside in a plate. Heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium heat in a large oven proof pot with a tight fitting lid. Carefully place roast in pot and brown on one side about 4 minutes. Carefully turn roast over and brown on other side 4 minutes more. Remove roast from pot and place on a clean plate. Add the onions, celery,carrots and garlic to pan and saute few minutes scraping up brown bits on bottom of pan. Add the tomato paste and coat all vegetables with it and cook a few minutes more . Add the 2 cups of stock, bay leaf and thyme. Carefully place the roast back in the pot. Bring to simmer. Put the lid and place in oven Cook for 3 hours until meat is tender and easily pulls apart when you stick a fork in it. If you want you can cool this down and refrigerate for a few hours or the next day. Scrape off the fat and reheat. If there are any leftovers they make an amazing sandwich. Just put a little mayo on a crisp roll pile on the roast add a little gravy and eat up.