Is it just me or do Christmas and New Year's come and go quicker with each passing year? It seems I spend a couple of months prepping for the occasion and then, in a blink of an eye, it's all over and it's time to refocus on regular life. Yes, dear friends, those days of staying up way past midnight, poppin' back Christmas bonbons like they were, well, candy, belting back conspicuously delicious concoctions and lounging around in your pjs until well past noon have come and gone. It's time, once again, to return to more conscious eating. With winter just revving it's engines, I wanted to make something hearty, yet healthied-up, for my family for Sunday dinner this past weekend. I hesitate to say it, but I'm pretty much turkeyed-out and as such, decided to cook a roast. But not just any roast....Pot Roast.
Pot Roast is a braised beef dish, typically made by browning a roast-sized piece of beef to induce a 'Maillard Reaction', a term named after French chemist, Louis-Camille Maillard, who, in 1912, first described the chemical reaction between amino acids and reducing sugars that gives browned foods their desireable flavour. Once the roast has been browned, it is then slow cooked and braised in liquid in a covered dish. Despite being a somewhat fibrous cut of meat, cross rib roast is perfect for this method of cooking because, as with all braises, slow cooking tenderizes, while the liquid exchanges it's flavour with that of the beef, resulting in tender, succulent meat.
The pot roast most people associate with today started out being called 'Yankee Pot Roast'. That dish, made on the East Coast of the United States, evolved from colonial-era New England boiled dinner. In a Yankee Pot Roast,the beef, such as rump or round roast, was fresh and braised with vegetables. According to the Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink, the term 'pot roast' in print dates back to 1881. That classic book describes it as meat that is browned and cooked with vegetables and gravy in a deep pot or saucepan, usually covered. Not much has changed since that description, except pot roasts are now also flavoured in ethnically diverse ways.
Given that I was going to try to healthy-up traditional pot roast by adding lots of vegetables and cutting back on the fat and sodium, I was going to need some flavourings to replace the salt and fat. I dusted my roast with flour and then browned it in some olive oil heated over medium high heat in a dutch oven. When the roast was browned on all sides, I transferred it to a plate while I prepared the braising ingredients. I sauteed some chopped onion, celery and carrot, (also known as a mirepoix, pronounced 'meer-pwah', sometimes referred to as 'aromatics') in the same dutch oven and added in a clove of minced garlic. When the veg were soft, after about 3-5 minutes, I sprinkled in a little more flour and let that cook out for another minute or so. Next I added in a cup of chopped drained tomatoes, 1/2 tsp dry thyme, one bay leaf and a cup of no salt added beef stock. After bringing the mixture to a simmer, I returned the roast to the pot, covered it and placed it in a preheated 325 degree Fahrenheit oven for approximately an hour and 45 mintues.
At that point, I added in 6 small onions, 6 carrots that I cut into 2 inch diagnonal pieces, and 10-12 petite red potatoes, some of which I halved, depending on the size. I covered the pot again and returned it to the oven for another 45 minutes, turning the meat once after 30 minutes. I removed the roast, onions, sliced carrots and potato, placed them on a serving platter and covered with foil while I prepared the sauce. I removed and discarded the bay leaf from the remaining ingredients in the dutch oven and, after skimming off what little fat there was, I poured them in their entirity into the blender. I pureed the sauce until it was smooth and then poured it into a pan on low heat on my stove top to keep it warm while I sliced the roast.
Doesn't that look rich and yummy? Hard to believe it's a gravy made from roasted vegetables and no salt added broth as opposed to fatty pan drippings!. If I were preparing this Perfect Pot Roast for guests, I'd arrange the carved pot roast on a platter, surrounded by the vegetables and pour the warm sauce into a gravy boat for everyone to help themselves.
I used rainbow carrots here for two reasons: that's what I had on hand and because I love them. I also added warm green peas to the meal for the same reasons! Seeings how it was just the three of us, I prepared individual plates for each of us.
I can honestly say that cooking the cross rib roast in this manner made it so tender and juicy it was very close competition for prime rib, only at half the cost! Not one single speck of salt was added to this whole meal - even the canned tomatoes and beef broth were no salt added. By using olive oil and skimming the fat before pureeing the sauce I also reduced the overall fat content. But rest assured, no sacrifice was made when it came to flavour! The roasted vegetables, onion, garlic, thyme and bay leaf, not to mention the flavour that came from browning the beef, was all the flavouring this meal needed. Even after plating none of us felt the need to add salt, alhough I did give my plate a sprinkle of freshly ground black pepper.
Perfect Pot Roast....easy, healthied-up, inexpensive AND delicious!