Sunday, February 9, 2014

Pumped Up Pot Roast

I came across this recipe for this particular pot roast years ago and have been waiting since then to have an opportunity to make it.  The right time presented itself over the holidays (yes, I made this over a month ago. Don't judge me.) when my family decided to reintroduce an old tradition and have a classic Christmas Eve dinner-- naturally at 3 o'clock in the afternoon for my Pap-pap's sake.

I'm not usually much of a pot roast fan.  I feel the same way about it as I do traditional beef stew.  Something about the combination of white potatoes and carrots and celery ends up seeming...bland. Unexciting. Predictable in a not good way. But this roast recipe caught my eye because it took your basic ingredients and amped up the flavor a few million notches (I don't know what the increments in this particular metaphor would be, but a million seems high, right?) Chef Anne adds a variety of root vegetables to make your basic "meat and veg" combo more exciting, but then she takes it a step further by adding figs, orange peel, and star anise.

You're probably giving me the side eye right now, but I swear to you, this pot roast was so. Good. It was seriously delicious. Just go with me here.  The sweetness of the butternut squash and star anise balanced out the savory beefiness of your lovely roast.  And then the orange zest and figs added pops of bright flavors to break up the richness of the dish.  The end result was something that makes me REALLY excited about cooking pot roast now. 

I made a slight change to the recipe (don't I always? I can't not fiddle): because our lil' ol' smalltown grocery store(s) didn't have Jerusalem artichokes, I substituted a rutabaga and sweet potato instead.  Potato, potato...That doesn't really work when you're writing, I just noticed.  The point is, you can use any root vegetable you like.  However, cooking times will vary.  My rutabagas needed more time in the end, so if you use a rutabaga or something akin to it, simply add it earlier in your cooking process so everything finishes together.

Pumped Up Pot Roast
3-pound chuck roast, tied
3 ribs celery, diced
2 onions, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 carrots, diced
1/2 c tomato paste (approx 1 6-oz can)
1/2 c red wine vinegar
3 bay leaves
2 star anise
6-8 sprigs fresh thyme
Strips of zest from one orange
1 butternut squash, in 1/2 in. dice
1 1/2 c Jerusalem artichokes, in 1/2 in. dice (Substitute: 1 rutabaga and 1 sweet potato, in 1/2 in. dice)
8 dried figs (approx half a package), stems trimmed and quartered
1/2 c chicken stock

First step: wrangle your roast.  The roast will look deceptively compact uncooked, but once you cook a roast low and slow like you do when making a pot roast, it will fall apart, which is no bueno. You want to serve a chuck roast that is fall-apart-tender, not actually falling apart.

It's a little difficult to explain how to tie a roast, but I'm going to give it my best shot. Cut a long piece of kitchen twine, about 2 yards. Tie the roast at one end with the knot on top using the end of the string so you have one long tail and one little baby tail. Stretch out the long tail perpendicular to the loop you tied so it stretches long ways down the roast. Place your thumb on the string about an inch and a half from the knot you tied to hold it in place on top of the roast, and then loop the string under the roast, making a 90 degree angle.  Then bring the string back up the other side and bring it under the part your thumb is holding. The twine should be holding itself in place now, and you can snug it up around the meat.  Then continue doing this down the length of the roast til you get to the end, and then finish with a knot. You can just snip off the extra string.

You can see in this photo (where the meat is already browned) how the twine will twist.

Preheat your oven to 350. Place a large dutch oven (or saute pan if you don't have a range-proof roasting dish) on the stop top and add some EVOO over medium-high heat. Season all the sides of the roast with salt, and then brown it on all sides in the dutch oven.

While the roast is browning, you can chop your celery, onions, carrots, and garlic.  10 points to the house of whoever can remember what this is called! (Answer: Mirepoix) Browning the meat should take around 10-13 minutes to do all 6 sides til it looks like this:

Once the roast is browned on all sides-- and don't be afraid to let it get really nice and brown because this is where the flavor happens--set aside the meat and add in your celery, carrots, and onions (hold off on the garlic). Let the veggies cook for another 8-10 minutes over medium heat til they have softened nicely.  Season the veggies with salt and add the garlic, cooking for another 2 minutes or so.

While the veggies cook, peel your orange with a vegetable peeler so you get nice long strips of zest. Get together all the other things you're gonna need to put this roast together, because it's gonna be bing bang boom, in the oven, lickity split.

Add the tomato paste and schmear it all around, cooking for another 2 minutes. Then add the red wine vinegar and scrape scrape scrape all that goodness off the bottom of your pan with a wooden spoon.

Add 4 cups of water and give things a quick stir. If you've been prepping your veggies in a saute pan, transfer now to the roasting pan you will use.

Add the orange strips, star anise, bay leaves, and thyme. Then add your roast back in, cover the pan with a lid, and get the whole thing in the oven.

Cook the roast for an hour, and then remove it from the oven and flip the meat over. Check the liquid levels at this point, and if it seems the level has gone down, add about a 1/2 cup of water. Stick the roast back in the oven and let it cook for another hour.

Meanwhile, prep your root vegetables by dicing them up into about 1/2 inch size pieces.  You should have no trouble finding a butternut squash. If you can't find Jerusalem artichokes (I know they have them at Wegman's), trying using sweet potatoes, rutabaga, parsnips, or even more carrots.

Just be aware rutabaga and some other root veggies will take longer to cook than others. I would recommend adding the rutabaga after half an hour instead of an hour from your first check point.

To trim the stems off the figs, you might need to pull the stem out a little to get at it. The stem is just the hard pointy end of the fig. Here are a trimmed and untrimmed fig side by side.

Look how pretty they are on the inside!

After an hour, remove the pan from the oven again and this time remove the meat from the pan.  Add in your root vegetables, figs, and chicken stock.

Taste your liquid and adjust the seasoning in necessary.  Remember, the vegetable will absorb liquid and seasoning as they cook, so you definitely don't want thing to taste bland at this point.  Return your meat to the pan and nestle it in among all the wonderful veggies and broth. Cook for another 30 minutes.

Remove the pan one more time and check on the meat. If you like, spoon a little of the sauce up over the top of the roast. Then return the pan to the oven uncovered and roast for another 20-30 minutes until the vegetables are tender and the sauce is reduce. Things should look like this.

To serve, cut the string off of the meat and slice it into 1/2 inch slices. Serve up with a big spoonful of those veggies and lots of delicious sauce. Also, pour yourself a glass of wine for a roast well done.

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