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Jazzing up pot roast?

  • t

I made pot roast last night, and it was OK, but nothing exciting. Now, I’ve never eaten pot roast before, so perhaps this is as good as it gets? Or can anyone suggest some improvements?

What I did:
Rubbed a 2.5 lb. chuck roast (flat) with kosher salt, black pepper, and some garlic powder
Heated some canola oil in a Dutch oven
Seared the roast and removed it
Cooked in the same pan, for about 10 minutes, finely chopped onion, carrot, and celery – about 4 cups of veggies in total
Added a cup of red wine – a Shiraz I had sitting around – and scraped up the bottom of the pan
Added a bay leaf and some dried thyme, cooked about 5 minutes
Put the roast back in and cooked for about 2 hours on lowest heat setting, turning it every 30 minutes or so

The meat was tender and the sauce had a nice consistency, but I found the flavor to be a tad bland.

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  1. If your pot roast was bland it probably needed more salt. Maybe more pepper, too.

    2 Replies
    1. re: georgeb

      Yes, it sounds like you seasoned your meat but not the mirepoix/sauce mixture which would def. contribute to blandness.

      For more depth of flavor, I sometimes add 1-2 Tb. of tomato paste after I have sweated the veggies and before I throw in my liquids. Or I will toss in a small can of diced tomatoes. If I need more liquid, I usually add beef broth in addition to red wine.

      1. re: Carb Lover

        ...Or instead of just diced tomatoes, try the diced tomatoes/chiles. Store brand, like Ralphs, works just fine. You might want to drain off some of the liquid first, though (and save it to add to Bloody Mary mix!).

    2. Add some tomato paste- it will give the flavor a nice richness. If I buy the cans of tomato paste, i usually freeze individual tablespoon sized portions. Just put the tablespoon or so on some plastic wrap, and freeze all of the portions in a zip lock bag. Tomato paste is great in gravies, stews and slow cooked meals.

      1. I don't know whether this is something you would like, but I have a fun recipe that calls for sauteing chopped onions and garlic first,maybe along with just a little oregano, then (along w/salt and pepper) rubbing the meat with cumin and chili powder (or I like to use Stubb's barbecue rub) before searing it and then topping it with a can of hot chili beans. Then just let it cook long and slow, like you did (only don't turn it--let the beans sit on top). This tastes great, and you can shred the meat and make tacos or burritos with the whole mess.

        1. c
          Chris in Vienna

          Pot roast is one of my all time favorite cold weather concoctions...but, it can get a bit repetitive. So, I've done some variations on a theme over the years. In fact, I just made pot roast this past Sunday and we enjoyed it immensely.

          Here are a few things I've done over time:

          Added dried porcinis, sun dried tomatoes (juliened, dried tomatoes), tomato paste, dried celery (also works as a thickener), daikon, root vegetables like turnips and parsnips (the latter instead of carrots), pearl onions...just get creative.

          I also season mine liberally with salt (crazy salt in this case as it has other herbs and spices in it), pepper, and a touch of cumin. Once seared on all sides, in go my onions and a liberal amount of crushed garlic. Back goes the roast, liquid (usually beef stock or a mixture of mushroom stock and beef with sometimes a touch of light bodied red wine), sun dried tomatoes, and a couple of rosemary branches and some thyme branches. Once it comes to a boil, it heads to an oven covered at 375 F for 3 hours, turning halfway through.

          One hour before it comes out I add my root vegetables, potatoes and fresh mushrooms (dried go in earlier). I usually dice my vegetables fairly small so they cook, but big enough so that they don't disintegrate.

          I've found that a few extra ingredients like the dried tomatoes add a lot of flavor to the meal. The rosemary also helps.

          I usually serve it with a garlic mashed potato dish.

          Good stuff.

          1. A bit of cinnamon, allspice and cloves add an unusual and good flavor (esp in the fall).

            1. Garlic. Garlic. Garlic. And did I mention garlic?

              1. Here's some stuff about pot roast. The idea the one guy has is probably right - they aren't growing beef as tasty as it once was. My wife has been complaining of this for years. The answer is probably just more seasoning, as most of your respondents suggest. Note that you can cook a fine, tender pot roast in a pressure cooker.

                Lean roasts pose a juicy challenge
                By Russ Parsons, Los Angeles Times
                A roast is the very image of a winter dinner. But lately you've probably been finding that the reality doesn't measure up. Too often that roast, so monumental in appearance, is nothing but a giant disappointment.
                What should be glorious and juicy turns out to be only tough and dry.
                The fault isn't with the cook, but the cooked.
                Beef and pork are now raised to have much less fat than before, and that can mean a disappointing dinner. Fortunately, it's a problem that is pretty easily solved by careful preparation, though it may take some retraining on your part.
                To unravel this particular puzzle, we searched through hundreds of pages of scientific reports and then cooked about a dozen roasts. We roasted pork and we roasted beef. We cooked them to medium temperatures and rarer. We used ovens that were blazing and hot, or gentle and slow, and some in between -- starting high and finishing low.
                What we found surprised us. Looking at the sliced roasts side by side, the differences were astonishing. You might never have guessed that the only thing different about their preparation was the oven temperature. And the secret to the most successful -- a moist, delicious roast -- was a low temperature, for the finished roast and for the oven in which it's cooked.
                Don't panic, we're not talking about serving bloody rare roast beef. When cooked at the lower oven temperature for a slightly longer time, a roast cooked to 125 degrees (normally quite rare) came out looking more like a conservative medium rare. The meat was firm and definitely cooked through, but still juicy and flavorful.
                Meat cooked in a hot oven, on the other hand, was still slightly raw in the center, even though it had been cooked to the exact same temperature.
                To understand how this works, you need to know a little bit about meat and heat. Roasts come from tender cuts of meat -- the muscles that didn't get much exercise. Because they have less connective tissue than other cuts, they can be cooked rarer and in an oven instead of a covered pot -- it's the stringy, sinewy cuts that need the long moist cooking of a stew or braise.
                Dry cooking -- roasting, grilling and sauteing -- won't make meat more tender, but it does have one distinct advantage over moist. It can brown. The chemical reactions that cause browning in meat don't begin to get going until the temperature on the surface reaches about 300 degrees. Since anything cooked with liquid present will never get hotter than the boiling point -- 212 degrees -- braised meat will never brown. That's why you saute stew meat before you add any liquid. It's also why you should be sure to pat roasts completely dry before putting them in the oven.
                It may sound redundant, but with these dry forms of cooking, dryness is always a problem. But it isn't dry air that causes the loss of juiciness, but the effects of the heat. When meat roasts, the protein strands contract and squeeze out the moisture they hold (as we'll see, as much as 25 percent).
                When there is fat in the meat -- either on the outside of the cut or the fine marbling within the muscle -- this isn't such a problem. The fat renders, too, and that makes them seem juicy even if there is less actual moisture in the meat.
                And therein lies the rub. Responding to what they perceive as the consumers' demands, the meat industry has been working overtime for the last 20 years to reduce the amount of fat in their products. The percentage of fat in the average piece of pork has been cut by a third since the early 1980s. The percentage of fat in beef fell 27 percent from the early '80s to 1990 and, according to a beef industry spokesman, is "probably well below that now." In fact, some luxury cuts such as sirloin and tenderloin now meet government standards as "lean," meaning they are low in fat and cholesterol.
                This has been done with the intention of making all of us meat-eaters leaner as well, and someday it may succeed in that. But a more immediate result has been to reduce the margin of error in roasting. Today if you overcook meat even a little bit, your guests will know it immediately.
                Instead of cooking beef to 145 degrees (on the medium side of medium-rare), we found that removing it from the oven at 125, then being sure to let it rest and rise to 135 yielded beef that was still firm but was far moister. For pork, use 145 degrees instead of 160 (or even, shudder, the previous USDA recommendation of 180!).
                Left unanswered was the question of at what temperature you cook it.
                All in the timing
                For the answer, we took three beef and three pork loins of roughly the same sizes and roasted them -- one each at moderately high heat (450 degrees), one each at moderately low heat (300 degrees) and one each straddling the fence (450 degrees turned down to 300 after 15 minutes).
                When the roasts were done, we removed them from the oven and set them aside for 10 to 15 minutes to rest. This is standard practice for roasting, though it is often overlooked in the cook's rush to get dinner on the table. It is important because it allows the roast to finish cooking with the residual heat retained in the meat. The internal temperature will increase from 5 to 15 degrees during the rest, depending on the size of the cut (smaller cuts retain less heat). Equally important, it allows the meat's juices, which have been driven to the center by the heat of cooking, to redistribute evenly through the roast.
                We cooked the beef to an internal temperature of 125 degrees. After a 10-minute rest, it was at 135, on the rare side of medium-rare -- definitely moist and reddish pink, but the muscle fibers were set, not raw.
                The pork we cooked to an internal temperature of 145 degrees (rising to 155 after the rest). This is somewhat lower than the current USDA standard of 160 degrees, but well above the minimum for safety. Pork needs to be held at 140 degrees for less than a minute to eliminate any threat of trichinosis.
                What we found in our roasts was that high temperature roasting does develop a marginally better crust, but at a cost. The slight improvement in the crust is more than offset by a distinct toughening of the meat. The roasts cooked at 450 degrees were definitely chewy and a little dry in the outside portions and were still quite rare in the center. Except for the browning in the crust, the flavor was a little weak as well.
                The meats cooked at low heat were more tender and moister as well. And, except for the very outer crust, the meat had better flavor -- it was fuller and meatier. While the exterior lacked some of the crust of the high-heat roasts, it didn't seem enough to tip the balance.
                The roasts that were cooked first at high heat then at low were right in the middle. The crusting wasn't as good as the high-temperature roasts and they weren't as tender as the low.
                The differences among cooking methods were particularly profound with beef. Not only was the high-heat loin not as good; there was less of it. The high-heat loin weighed 25 percent less after roasting, compared with a 15 percent shrinkage for both low-heat and high-low.
                This is not to say that high-heat roasting does not work. It is still the best way to cook unstuffed poultry, where the skin provides a fatty cover that crisps and crusts well. Birds also have a thermodynamic advantage in that they are hollow. This provides a tunnel for the hot oven air to circulate through and means a far smaller surface-to-volume ratio. Because of this, birds cook fast enough that at 450 or even 500 degrees overcooking and toughening aren't a problem.
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                2 Replies
                1. re: yayadave

                  Try buying grass-fed beef. The flavor is much more intense and a bit gamey, like a more powerful beef. The steaks probably aren't ideal, because there's less even marbling, but the lower-priced cuts are amazing, and the ground is the best I've ever tasted. It's great to be able to just make simlpe meatballs with basic seasoning and have them taste terrific, without having to overload on spices to make up for the poor quality of the meat. Plus, nutritionally, it's apparently much better, higher mineral content and better fat/cholesterol. (CDL? IO don't know much about this stuff.)

                  1. re: yayadave

                    I always do long & low (even with my brined 22 pound turkey).

                  2. j

                    I made osso bucco for the first time tonight and my recipe was remarkably similar to yours, the cut of meat (lamb shanks) used being the main difference and considerably more wine (3/4 bottle merlot). I thought the meat was good but what really woke up all the flavor was the addition of a topping of gremolata-- minced blend of fresh lemon zest, garlic and Italian flat leaf parsley, roughly the same amount of each, and a couple pinches of salt.

                    I actually had considered not making the gremolata even though I had the ingredients for it since I was feeling lazy after cooking (which consisted of my poking the shanks and flipping them over a couple of times). But I felt there was something missing after tasting it without it. Maybe you could try a gremolata for your roast or a persillade (gremolata minus lemon zest) to punch up the flavor.

                    Or you know, maybe you just need to take the cooking liquid and reduce it a bit to make a reduction sauce with a little cold butter whisked in at the last minute.

                    1. Well, now that it's hit 80 degrees in DC and some of the first blooms of spring have morphed into buds and little leaves (leaflets?), it seems silly to think of roasts.

                      However, these ideas have been great and all the seasoning variations sound more my speed. I had followed the Joy of Cooking recipe, which I'm thinking is very basic and lends itself to additions. And the general idea of pot roast is such a nice addition to my repertoire.

                      Thank you!

                      1. harissa is a nice spicy addition. you won't need a lot--and especially if you have red wine added to the mirepoix anyway, it makes a killer sauce when the meat is done. to the mirepoix/veg dried apricots or dried figs are a nice change of flavor an consistency (add them in with the other veg) if you've got a lot of veg i prefer pureeing it for a big ol' mash. otherwise, mashed celery root is really good with the complex heat from the harissa.