You may feel guilty about serving your family steak, but it’s impossible to satisfy beef appetites on a budget. This has happened before, in depressions, in meat rationing during wars, and on and on. One of the things we must cut is the food budget, and beef goes first.
You may feel guilty about serving your family steak, but it’s impossible to satisfy beef appetites on a budget.
This has happened before, in depressions, in meat rationing during wars, and on and on. One of the things we must cut is the food budget, and beef goes first.
What if you could serve beef for a buck a pound? That’s cheaper than poultry or seafood or even hamburger — it’s 1970s prices.
Markets routinely sell bottom round roasts for about $2.30 a pound, but here’s the joy — they couple it with a two-for-one offer. Buy 7 pounds of bottom round for $7.
So now what? Enter the pot roast.
The tipoff to toughness is the “roast” name. This means not even close to tender. If you’d throw a roast into the oven the way you would a turkey, you’d get something like a ball of leather.
There’s definitely some work required to conquer bottom round. It’s not difficult once you understand the principles. The rewards are on the plate.
The word on marinades is “maybe.” You’d need to marinate a 3-pound roast for one or two days in the fridge. It still will be tough, but the gravy will be good.
Humble bottom round does have a lot going for it. It’s marbled with fat, good for flavor. Butchers sell it “silverside,” meaning they leave a thin layer of fat on one side to increase juiciness. Don’t make the common mistake of paring that off. It needs it.
We automatically bake everything at 350 degrees. That’s too hot for round; 325 is max, with roasting times about an hour a pound. This allows the meat to relax and the fat to slowly percolate through the tissue.
The most common mistake is to let the roast go dry in the oven. This destroys everything. Be sure to check on it a few times and add more water when needed. A tight-fitting lid is mandatory.
“Waterless” cooking is the fad on infomercials shilling cheap cookware. They always mention roast beef. Real cooks laugh — so where’s the gravy? In a jar.
Beyond that, the steam helps tenderize our roasts. Liquid such as wine and fresh or dried herbs explode the flavor.
The culinary word for this is braising, cooking in liquid. It’s very French if the liquid is onion soup, but braising has grown worldwide. The “waterless” crowd essentially is trying to end centuries of successful beef roasts.
There are hundreds of pot roast recipes, but all revolve around two cooking methods: In a slower cooker, aka Crock-Pot, and in a covered pot in a slow oven. Hence the moniker “pot roast.” For a look at a few hundred recipes, search on “pot roast” at http://recipesource.com.
Millions of Crockers (wedding gifts) are sitting in basements, waiting. Bottom round beef is a perfect excuse to clean off the cobwebs.
The classic method is to dump an envelope of dried onion soup in there and add two cups of water. A half-cup of red wine is optional, but worthy.
Wipe dry the roast, lightly salt and pepper it and brown it in oil, about three minutes to the side. Resist the urge to cut off the fat.
Load it into the onion soup, add a bay leaf or two and a half cup of fresh onions, cover and turn to high. Four hours later, add peeled carrots and quartered potatoes and fresh mushrooms. Two more hours and it’s ready, a faultless pot roast tender and tasty with the veggies on the side and the greatest-ever gravy.
You’ll need a heavy pot to distribute the heat. You could repeat the Crock-Pot recipe above for surefire results. Calculate cooking time at an hour a pound. Overcooking will not tenderize. Don’t let it dry out.
I count more than 600 pot roast recipes. It appears that nearly every cuisine has adapted a few. We have Chinese, French, Italian, Polish, Hungarian, Caribbean, Hawaiian and Creole. Plus all U.S. geographic areas and more.
Still, they simply add flavors to our braising technique above, most often by changing the cooking liquid. A Chinese pot roast would add soy sauce, ginger and black bean paste to the liquid. Hungarian would add cream or half and half at the end; Italian is simply roast braised in meatless red pasta sauce. Canada’s Whitney pot roast includes tomato sauce, wine and pickling spices tied in a bag. Oh yes, and four pounds of moose.
Some of the most mouth-watering writing on pot roast comes in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories. His was served in large, rolling steamers with Yorkshire pudding made from the fat and roasted potatoes and vegetables on the side.
Marinades are good for tenderizing, but a tough bottom round of beef is a big order. The meat needs at least a day in it, refrigerated, and two are better. It still will need slow cooking.
The main value of marinades here is they flavor the gravy.
MARINADE FOR 3- TO 4-POUND BOTTOM ROAST
1/4 cup minced onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 large carrot, peeled and shredded
1/4 cup cider vinegar or red wine
1 cup apple juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 bay leaves, whole
Dash of dried thyme
Mix in a plastic food bag. Add roast and refrigerate 1 to 2 days. Drain the marinade into a small pot. Heat to a simmer for 5 minutes. Pour over browned roast in pot and cook as usual.
POT ROAST GRAVY
Two choices here: a standard flour gravy or one made with corn starch. The corn starch produces a satiny gravy similar to a fine sauce.
To avoid lumps, place the thickener in a bowl and pour some liquid from the roast over it. Whisk thoroughly. Just before using, whisk it again.
Gravy for a 3- to 4-pound roast:
3 cups pan liquid (add water or red wine if needed)
1/4 cup flour or corn starch
Dash of salt
Dash of freshly ground black pepper
Remove meat and vegetables from pot. Keep them warm. Strain pot liquid and remove some fat on top if necessary. Place flour or corn starch into a small bowl and pour a half cup of pot liquid over it. Whisk until creamy. This is your thickener.
Put pot liquid back into pot. Heat to almost boiling. Slowly whisk in the thickener, stirring for five minutes. The longer you heat it, the thicker your gravy. If it gets too thick, add more water; too thin, make more thickener.
Serve gravy warm on the side in a gravy boat.
POT ROAST TYPES
Bavarian with apple juice, cinnamon and ginger
Brazilian with black olives, Staropraman beer
Californian with Worcestershire sauce, garlic, vodka
Caribbean with apricots, lemon zest and plantains
Chicago with tomatoes and black coffee
Chinese with brown sugar, vinegar and soy sauce,
Creole with hot peppers, tomatoes and okra
Cuban with black beans, cumin and avocado garnish
Dutch with wine sauce, apples, okra and new potatoes
Hungarian with paprika cream gravy over noodles
Indian with rum, whole allspice and horseradish
Laredo with barbecue sauce thinned with beer
Mediterranean with cumin, red wine and prunes
Mexican with bacon, cilantro and jalapenos
New England with cabbage wedges and consommé
Ohio with a can nondiet cola, red potatoes and corn
Polish with dried mushrooms and dill-pickle juice
Sauerbraten with vinegar, cloves and gingersnaps
Shanghai with soy sauce, sherry and star anise
Sicilian with stuffed olives, tomatoes and raisins
Welsh with cheddar-cheese sauce (soup) and sherry
West African with tomato paste and peanut butter
Texan with catsup, orange jam, garlic and mustard