Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Pot Roast Alert

From Julia & Jacques Cooking at Home

Jim and I watched Julia Child & Jacques Pepin prepare a pot roast last week. The recipe was similar to the Cook's Illustrated recipe but had some interesting twists. I made the JJ version over the weekend and we both preferred it to CI's because it had a cleaner taste (less greasy, more meaty, less sweet, and less vegetable) and was much easier to carve, owing to the cut of meat. Particularly interesting to me was the use of white wine, which I think is the key to the dish's beautifully balanced clean taste. This is an easy dinner to make because most of it is done way ahead. A bowl with fresh peas and some nice bread or rolls would go great with it.

Jacques' Pot Roast

5 pound bottom round roast, visible fat removed (see note)
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 to 3 tablespoons canola oil
1 large white onion (or 2 medium-small) cut into biggish pieces (about 8-ounces in a 1-inch chop)
8 sprigs of fresh thyme
2 imported bay leaves
1 large tomato, cored and chopped into 1-inch pieces (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup water
2 large white turnips (1 1/2 to 2 pounds), cut in half and then in sixths (large wedges)
1 bunch small carrots*, peeled
1 pound small white onions (20 about ping-pong ball size--not pearl), blanched and peeled
Potato starch
1 tablespoon chopped parsley, for garnish

Note: Jacques prefers a pot roast from the "flat" muscle of the bottom round (part of the animal's hind leg) because it is lean and solid, and becomes very tender and most during braising, but still holds it shape and slices easily. He says that it is easy to find, although you may have to ask the butcher to cut a 5-pound piece. He prefers it to the "eye round", a muscle that is attached to the flat, and often suggested for pot roast, which looks nice, but is more fibrous and won't be as tender. He also advises that you give the beef plenty of time to brown (15 minutes) because you want the meat to get a deep-brown crust on all sides and the juices to crystallize in the bottom of the pan, noting that the crust and glaze, where the natural sugars have caramelized, are full of flavor, and that you will see during the braising, that all of this crusting will seem to disappear--literally melt away--into the liquid, bringing the flavors to the whole dish.

Browning and Braising the Roast:

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

Season the roast on all sides with salt and pepper. Set the casserole over high heat with 2 or 3 tablespoons of oil, just enough to film the bottom.

When oil is hot, lay in the roast and sear for about 3 minutes, until the first side is well browned. Turn meat onto another side and sear for several minutes, and continue turning and searing, over medium to high heat, until entire piece is browned and meat juices have crusted in pan, about 15 minutes. If there is excess oil in bottom of pot, pour it our and discard.

Arrange onion and tomato pieces, bay leaves, thyme sprigs around meat and pour in wine and water. Bring liquid quickly to the boil, cover casserole, and set it in the over for 3 to 4 hours until meat is tender.

While roast is braising, prepare small onions as follows: Drop them whole into a saucepan of boiling water, and let cook for exactly 1 minute. Slip off the skins, and shave root-end to even them. If desired, piece a cross 1/4 inch deep in root end. Set aside until

Adding the Vegetables and Final Braising:

Remove the casserole from the oven. Hold lid ajar to keep meat in pot, and, if you want, pour liquid through a strainer to remove cooked vegetable pieces and herbs. Press the juices from the vegetables, then return the strained liquid to the pot.

Arrange the turnip wedges, small onions, and carrots around the roast and season with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Bring liquid to the boil and put casserole, covered, back in the 300 degree oven for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, until roast is fork-tender and vegetables are very soft but still holding their shape.

Finishing and Serving the Pot Roast:

Set the casserole on the stovetop, over low heat. Lift out the meat and vegetables and set arrange on a serving platter.

Taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning. It can be served as is, or, for a thicker consistency, stir together a tablespoon of potato starch with a teaspoon of white wine in a small dish. Stir dissolved starch, a bit at a time, into hot liquid. It will thicken on contact with hot liquid; stir in only as much as needed to reach proper consistency.

Cut half of roast into 1/2-inch thick slices, placed accordion-fashion down middle of platter with vegetables encircling, and moisten everything with a little sauce. Serve remaining sauce in gravy boat.

Serves 8-10

Leftovers can be served Cold Beef Salad a la Parisienne

*I always look for smallish organic carrots with tops on. The tops are a sign of the freshness of the carrots, but because they sap their strength if left, I remove the greenery and leave it at the market.

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