Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Slow Cooker Pot Roast

Pot roast is a meal that everyone should know how to make. It's hearty, it's simple, it's a classic. And it practically makes itself. This is one of my Sunday dinner standbys.

You can make this in the oven or in a slow cooker (Crock pot? Slow cooker? Po-tay-toe? Po-tah-toe?). If I'm making this on the weekend, I'll do it in the oven, but if it's a weekday dinner then it goes in the slow cooker, which is a heck of a lot safer than leaving your oven on all day.

Start with a big ol' hunk of meat. I usually use a big chuck roast, but this arm roast came with our CSA package this month so I'll be using that instead. It had a bone in it, which just makes the stew even richer.

First thing you'll want to season your meat. I like to season a bowl of flour with salt, pepper, and paprika.
Then I let the meat roll around until it's lightly covered.

Next, heat some olive oil in a large pot, over medium-high heat. Theoretically you could use a frying pan, too, as long as it was large enough to hold your whole roast, but it's a little safer to use a pot. And if you're doing your pot roast in the oven, you can use the same pot, as long as it's oven-safe.

Once the oil is hot, carefully lower your meat into the pot. The oil will spatter, so long tongs are an important tool here. Stand back!

Let your meat brown up. When you get a nice crust, flip the meat over and do the other side. If you can get the other sides browned, take care of them, too.

While your meat is browning, prep your veggies. Just clean them and chop them up into big pieces. I like to quarter the potatoes, halve the mushrooms, cut the carrots and celery into thirds or fourths, and give the onions a rough chop.
Once your meat is browned, take it out and throw in your veggies. They get to soak up the yummy meaty flavor left behind by your roast.

All those dark bits are nubbins of meaty goodness.
Look at that mushroom in the back. It knows what's up.

Now it's time for the crock pot to run the show. I like to put some vegetables at the bottom of the pot before adding the meat, so they can soak up some of the meaty flavor. Onions, celery, maybe a couple of carrots, and the garlic cloves. Don't put too much effort into picking things out though. I just like to take a little bed for my meat to rest on.

Here's my secret ingredient. I like to throw in a handful or two of cranberries. I stock up on fresh cranberries around Thanksgiving time and freeze them for the rest of the year. The cranberries add a touch of sweet-tart to the pot roast, as well as giving it a little color and texture. They're kind of nice with the hard cider, too. Sometimes I use blueberries instead of cranberries. Or you could try some canned cranberries.
Then throw in some flavorings--a bay leaf or two and a big spoonful of tomato paste (which I forgot to photograph). I like to add a beef boullion cube, too.

My cranberries look a little furry here--but it's just a coating of ice from the freezer, I promise!

Lay your meat on top of your vegetables and spices. Surround it with the rest of your vegetables--the remaining carrots, onions, and celery, as well as mushrooms and potatoes.

Liquids are next. It might look like a lot of liquid, but in this case I'd rather have a little too much liquid than not enough. Since I won't be home while this cooks, nobody will be around to smell if the pot roast gets too dry. Nothing smells quite like food burning in a slow cooker! I like to add a can of beef or chicken broth.

I also like to use half a bottle of hard cider (you could use beer or wine too if you prefer. Or, if you don't like to cook with alcohol, you could skip it--but know that you'll be missing out!)

I like the hard cider. Because then I get to drink the rest of it.

Give everything one more dose of salt and pepper, and a big ol' shake of Worchestershire.

Every time I spell Worchestershire, I think of Shrek 3, when Donkey says, "Wor-chester-shy-ree. Sounds fancy!"

For my final touch, I like to slap on a pat of butter. I like how it melts into the meat. I feel like it makes the cooking liquid have a smoother mouthfeel. Or maybe I just like to add butter gratuitously.

Turn the slow cooker on. If you're planning on being gone for less than 8 hours, I'd choose the high setting. If you're gone for more than that, low should be sufficient.

When you return from wherever you've been, you'll have a perfectly-done pot roast, complete with all your vegetable side dishes. Enough to serve to guests or to feed yourself for several meals. Enjoy it in the summer, fall, winter, or spring.

My husband likes the leftovers to be made into beef commercials. I combine 1/2 c. butter with 1/2 c. flour and make a simple roux. Once the flour has cooked, I add in a cup or two of the cooking liquid from the pot roast, as well as a box of beef broth. Then I make a sandwich with lightly toasted bread and the leftover pot roast meat, and then pour the gravy over all of it.

Recipe: Slow Cooker Pot Roast
1 roast (arm, shoulder, pot roast, etc.) Size not really an issue, as long as it fits in your crock pot!

3/4 c. flour
salt and pepper, to taste
olive oil

1 lb. small potatoes
1 lb. mushrooms, halved or quartered depending on size
4 carrots, cut into thirds
3 celery stalks, cut into thirds
1/2 onion, cut into chunks
3 garlic cloves
1 shallot, sliced thinly

1/2 c. cranberries
2 bay leaves
1 heaping tbsp. tomato paste
beef boullion cube
salt and pepper to taste

1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 tsp. dried rosemary

1 can beef, chicken, or vegetable stock
1/2 bottle hard cider (or 6 oz. beer or wine)
several large dashes of Worchestershire sauce
1 tbsp. butter

Salt and pepper pot roast. Coat in seasoned flour, and shake off excess.

Sear pot roast in olive oil on the stove over medium-high heat until all sides are browned. Let pot roast rest on a plate.

Saute vegetables in the same pot you seared the meat until all the browned bits from the roast are coating the vegetables.

Pick out onions, carrots, garlic, and celery and spread on the bottom of the crock pot. Add bay leaves, tomato paste, boullion cube, cranberries, and salt and pepper.

Put meat in the crock pot. Season with the herbs and spread the remaining vegetables around the meat.

Pour in broth, cider, and Worchestershire. Top with butter.

Turn your crock pot on high if cooking for less than 8 hours; low is sufficient if you plan on letting it cook for more than 8 hours. Pot roast is ready when the meat pulls apart easily with a fork and the potatoes are cooked all the way through.

P.S.  This will be a light week for Kim Chee Casserole--we're going on a long vacation this weekend. But I'll be back, I promise! And I'll have more fun and easy recipes when I return!

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