Steak vs Pot Roast
I am a novice eater of beef, and an aspiring cooker of beef. I want to try cooking some at home, but not beef stew. I was thinking perhaps steak or pot roast.
My question is not about which is better, but about how they are different. What are the classic qualities of a pot roast, and of a steak? I've eaten beef too rarely to have a firm idea of this. Both should be tender and juicy, yes? But I think pot roast is usually cooked for a long time, perhaps a wet cooking method like braising, is that right? How does this make the final product different from steak? Also, would it be fair to say that pot roast is usually flavored with other things while steak usually just tastes like beef?
Edited to Add:
If you were blindfolded and someone put a bite of steak in your mouth, and then a bite of pot roast, how would they be different?
I like a strip steak pan seared with salt, pepper, olive oil and butter it's delicious, and you can really watch over it and control how it cooks. It only takes ten minutes, you don't have to worry about setting up coals or an open flame overcooking it and you can really get a feel for when it's medium after a couple of times.
I like this method:
softest part of your cheek: rare
tip of your nose: medium
forehead: well done
Sounds like you know what beef stew is like. Pot roast is pretty much beef stew in one large chunk. Both employ braising, and require a cut that has a lot of marbling. Slow cooking is essential for breaking down the collagen into gelatin. Braise too hot and too fast and the meat will be permanently tough, whereas with low, slow heat it is tough until it gets tender.
Rather than going full out with a pot roast that requires additional liquid, and various vegetables, I suggest you start with a simplified version that will taste very similar, and will teach you what you are aiming for. You will need a Dutch oven, preferably plain cast iron but enameled, or heavy steel or aluminum are okay too. Buy a boneless chuck roast and cut it into roughly 2" cubes. Do not buy pre-cut stew beef since that's unlikely to be chuck. Preheat the Dutch oven on medium-low heat, for at least 10 minutes - you cannot rush this by using high. While that's happening, chop one medium sized onion per pound of meat. Put a film of oil into the DO and place the meat into it in a single layer, with enough room that the pieces don't touch. You may need to do this in more than one batch. Don't move the pieces around in the pot. Use a fork after several minutes to check if the meat is sticking, or if it releases from the metal easily. When it does, turn it over. Repeat till all sides are crusty brown. Remove the meat and begin another batch if need be. When all the meat is browned, put it all into the DO and dump the onions atop it. Stir so that the liquid released from the onions deglazes the fond that has developed in the bottom of the DO. Stick one bay leaf and three whole cloves per pound of meat into the mixture.
Cover, reduce heat to low. The onions will release a great deal of liquid - you want it to bubble lazily. If you prefer, you can move the covered pot to a low oven instead of cooking on the stove.
Stir and test occasionally. It will take at least 1-1/2 hours, but maybe 2-1/2, until the meat is fork-tender. Salt and pepper to taste. You will not need to thicken the gravy that has formed, because the onions will have essentially dissolved into it.
If you want to cook steak, check with the butcher/meatcutter that you are getting an appropriate cut. It's possible to turn a cheap cut into a good steak but that's not a job for a novice. Same slow preheating of a heavy pan, but on medium-high heat - if you don't have an appropriate shallow one you CAN use a DO in a pinch. Again, a film of oil, and wait for the meat to release from the pan, then turn. Do not use the lid. You can find threads on CH about how to choose and determine level of done-ness both with and without a thermometer. Your steak will continue to cook on carry-over heat after it is removed from the pan, so it is necessary to allow for that. Never serve the steak right away. It needs to rest for at least 5 minutes in order for the juices to redistribute off-heat. You WILL have some steak failures until you develop the knack. Preparing steak is much less forgiving than braising is.
Yeah, you've pretty much got it there. By cooking a joint of meat on a low heat and for a long time, a lot of the connective tissue disolves, leaving juicy tender meat that falls apart, and can be melt in your mouth.
I'm no expert at pot roasts, but in the past I have cooked lamb in a dutch oven with red wine, garlic and rosemary, I'd expect a similar deal for beef. Not sure it's neccessary though.
When it comes to a steak... Well for a start, it's the complete opposite. But depending on the type of steak you want (and bearing in mind that the US uses slightly different terminology from the UK) The general rule is that the more work the muscle does, the more flavour it has, but the tougher it is.
I find a good balance between toughness and flavour is sirloin, ribeye and rump. Rump sometimes needs a bit of an ass-kicking before it's cooked (I just put it in a carrier bag and punch the crap out of it) to tenderise it, the other two don't.
Also, if you get anything tougher than rump, it tends to be almost inedible if you cook it past medium.
If you do go for steak, I'd recommend an aged sirloin, and pan fry it in a very hot pan until it's light pink in the middle. The time that will take will depend on the size of the steak, you probably want one about the thickness of your thumb and cook for about 3-5 minutes per side (I do it by eye, so it's hard for me to be precise)
Here's something to get your juices going (though I would never put the benaise ON the steak)
There is also the "rule of thumb" way of telling how cooked a steak is, but I can't remember it.
I'd also recommend steak with spinach or asparagus with bernaise sauce, and some nice chunky chips (like thick fries)
I think Soop pretty much nails it. A long-cooked pot roast is going to be falling apart, whereas a steak is going to be enjoyed for its chew. Personally, I'd go for long cooked beef over steak every time as I reckon it almost invariably carries more flavour
I think Soop's forgotten rule of thumb literally involves the thumb, for the steak test. Touch the tip of the thumb to the tip of the first finger. Now feel how firm is the flesh in your palm, just below the thumb. That's the level of firmness on the steak for rare. Touch the thumb to the tip of the little finger and recheck the firmness. That's well done. The intervening fingers will give you medium rare and medium. Roughly speaking
I (as you can probably guess) prefer a nice steak to a pot roast in general. Not only is it quick and easy, but if you cook the right piece of meat correctly, you can have a really tender, juicy steak.
I tell you what, I still think you should go for a sirloin to start with, but if you have a butcher, definitely talk to them. I think they grade meat like "prime" and ... some other stuff in America, but he or she will also be able to show you about marbling and stuff.
And if someone put potroast or steak in my mouth...
Steak would be, first of all, the mouthfeel, and a nice hit of salty umami, and then as I bit in with the molars, hopefully, a slight release of juice, a slight hit of iron, and within a handful of chews it's pretty much pulp. That's for a nice tender steak. Then I go for a chip/fry.
For pot roast, gimme a big forkfull, and ... there's no iron there, slightly beefier maybe, still salty... I'm picturing a brisket here, as that's the last beef I had, and it's close. Again, it's fallen apart, there's no chew to it. Less chew than the steak, and that was a tender steak.