As soon as the geese start strafing the skies in formation and the sumac begins turning scarlet, I start to think about pot roasting. Food professionals often refer to this technique as braising, but English speakers more commonly call it pot roast, and because this term is less intimidating, let’s use it here. Concocting pot roasts is one of the easiest and most tasty forms of cooking imaginable in our brisk climate, and after you’ve made one pot roast, you’ll see all the possibilities for combining different meats and vegetables, dried fruits and tasty liquids, until you’ve created a pot roast that’s distinctively your own.
Pot roasting rewards you for using inexpensive cuts of meat. The gristle and connective tissue in these cuts (most commonly found on the shoulder, neck, tail, and other hardworking parts of an animal) make them undesirable for quick forms of cooking like grilling and pan-frying but perfect for pot roasting. When you roast these meats low and slow in a heavy, closed pot, the moist, steamy air eventually melts the connective tissue and gristle, which bathe the muscle meat in velvety gelatin, producing fork-tender food. You don’t get much sauce, but what sauce!—you just want to bury your face in the pot and lick out every last bit of the concentrated, memorable juices.
Thanks to Mississippi Market’s questing chief, Gabe Burns, we offer cuts for braising that you won’t find in supermarkets. Two especially lovely beef cuts are flank steak ($9.99/lb.) and the rarely seen flatiron steak ($7.99/lb.), available on special request. The latter is uncommonly tender, despite the part of the steer they come from (the chuck). If you remove—or ask our butchers to remove—the thick center line of gristle, flatiron steaks grill up beautifully. When the thick line of gristle is left in, the flatiron becomes the perfect beef steak for pot roasting. Skirt steaks and chuck roasts also work just as well in the recipe below.
Another terrific, inexpensive choice is the pork roast known variously as pork shoulder, Boston butt, or picnic shoulder. Like the beef steaks I’ve just described, the pork shoulder has plenty of connection tissue, and long, slow cooking turns it into something so silky and delicious that you’re unlikely to have many leftovers. We stock this invaluable and inexpensive cut of meat, too.
So what do you need to do to create a pot roast that will have neighbors clawing at your window screens, begging for an invitation to dinner? It’s very simple:
- Preheat the oven. Anything between 250° and 350° will be fine. At the lower end of that scale, you roast will take longer to cook, but you’ll be able to leave the house for a few hours.
- Heat up a heavy pot on the stovetop, add butter or oil, and brown the aromatics (for example, leeks, onions, celery, onions) first; remove them from the pot.
- Brown the meat thoroughly on all sides; remove it from the pot. (Thorough browning will take at least 5 minutes, if not 10.)
- Deglaze the brown bits left in the pot with wine, beer, or stock, and reduce the liquid by half.
- Return the meat and aromatics to the pot.
- Add any long-cooking vegetables and fruits (for example, boiling potatoes, fennel, carrots, and, in the case of pork roasts, prunes).
- Add enough tasty liquid to come up about 1/3 of the way on the meat (for example, wine, stock, beer, tomato juices—preferably a combination).
- If you’re using a tall-ish pot, crumple up some baking parchment and place it lightly atop the roast—that way the meat will be bathed continuously in steam rather than having condensed water drip on it from the lid.
- Make sure the lid of your pot is absolutely leakproof—you’ll be cooking your roast for a long time (anywhere between 2 and 4 hours), so you don’t want any steam escaping. If your pot’s lid seems wobbly or ill-fitting, place a big piece of baking parchment across the top of your pot, put on the lid, and crimp the paper down around the pot’s sides. That always works.
- Depending on what temperature you cook the meat at, start checking the meat’s tenderness when wonderful smells come from the oven. After the meat becomes fork tender, remove the roast and the vegetables from the pot, cover them with a bowl or aluminum foil, and return the pot to the stovetop.
- Turn the burner to MEDIUM-HIGH, and reduce the liquid in the pot by about 1/3. Taste the sauce, and if you want to add a bit of thickening, toss in little pellets of 1-to-1 butter and flour that you’ve kneaded together; they will thicken up your sauce and add flavor, too. You can add a bit of schnapps, port, sherry, or other flavoring if you want. Taste again, add salt and pepper, and return the meat and vegetables to the pot; spoon the sauce over them, and serve it forth. Your wonderful pot roast is ready for eating.