You can't keep pot roast a menu secret. It simmers slowly, creating delectable juices -- a gentle blend of beef, vegetables, herbs and broth. Alluring aromas manage to escape around the edges of the tightly closed pot. They waft through the house, announcing that the king of comfort food is braising.
The moist, low-temperature cooking method known as braising creates a one-pot meal that's good enough for company. It makes tough, fibrous cuts (such as chuck, rump, bottom round and brisket) tender and succulent.
If you've vowed to eat less meat and more vegetables, no need to cross off pot roast. For the less-meat strategy, eat a small
portion of meat and smother it with a mountain of juicy, herb-scented vegetables.
Adapt recipes to use double or triple amounts of vegetables. The vegetables can be cooked in traditional ways, adding them to the meat-broth mixture 20-45 minutes before the end of cooking, depending on their size and density. In addition, I like to cook the meat with plenty of finely minced vegetables -- carrots, garlic and onion. They melt into the sauce and give the meat a luscious taste.
Or, as Chicago Tribune food writer Pat Dailey suggests in her new book, "One Pot Sunday Suppers" (HarperCollins, $17.50, 1996), caramelize large portions of vegetables and remove them from the pot before adding meat. To caramelize the veggies, cook them in a little oil until beautifully browned. Add a little broth and maybe a pinch of sugar; cover and cook until they begin to soften -- about 7 minutes. Remove them and cook meat slowly with onions and carrots, then add loads of caramelized veggies to the pot the last 10 minutes of cooking.
Whether you caramelize the vegetables first or simply add them raw toward the end of braising, you can vary the vegetables according to their availability and your preferences. Ms. Dailey suggests onions, carrots, rutabagas and Brussels sprouts in her recipe.
"But if you prefer, substitute other vegetables," she says, "except maybe red cabbage or daikon [a large, white Japanese radish]. They might be a little strange."
So if you like small red new potatoes, red bell peppers and zucchini -- or celery, leeks and butternut squash -- give them a try. Use the following general braising tips as guidelines.
* Pat meat dry with paper towels before browning. Season with salt and pepper.
* If you want a thickened sauce, either dust meat lightly with
flour before browning, or after browning meat, remove it and make a roux (a mixture of flour and fat) and cook it for a minute or two. If it browns slightly, it will give the sauce a nice, brown color.
* For better browning of meat, heat oil in pot before adding meat. Never char the meat; it will give the sauce a bitter taste. Turn frequently when browning.
* Choose a pot with a tight-fitting lid.
* If braising on the stove, reduce heat to low or medium-low -- so the liquid is barely simmering.
* If braising in oven, use a setting of 300-350 degrees, so the liquid is barely simmering. Because the heat surrounds the pot in the oven, oven braising gives more even cooking than stove-top.
Pot roast with caramelized vegetables
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided use
1/2 teaspoon salt, divided use
1/2 medium rutabaga, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 large onion, halved crosswise and cut into 1/2 -inch wedges, divided use
4 medium carrots, peeled and diagonally sliced 1 inch thick, divided use
1 1/2 cups Brussels sprouts, halved
2 cups beef stock or reduced-sodium canned broth, divided use
1/2 teaspoon sugar
L 1 boneless beef chuck pot roast (about 2 pounds), patted dry
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 bay leaves
2 whole allspice berries
1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
freshly ground pepper
In a large flameproof casserole, heat 1 tablespoon oil and 1/4 teaspoon salt over high heat. Add rutabaga and about 1/2 of the onion. Add the equivalent of 3 carrots and all the Brussels sprouts. Cook, stirring and shaking pan, until vegetables begin to brown, 3-4 minutes. Cover, reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring frequently, 5 minutes longer. Add 1/2 cup of beef stock and sugar. Cover and cook until rutabaga begins to soften, 7-10 minutes.
Remove vegetables and any remaining stock to a bowl; set aside.
Heat oven to 325 degrees. Return pan to high heat and add remaining 1 tablespoon oil. Add meat and cook, turning occasionally, until meat is browned on both sides, 7-10 minutes, adding remaining onion and carrot after 5 minutes.
Add remaining beef stock, salt, tomato paste, bay leaves, allspice berries and thyme. Bring to boil.
Cover pan and transfer to oven. Bake until meat is tender, about 1 1/4 hours.
Skim fat from top of pan juices. Add reserved vegetables, stirring them so they are well-coated with juices. Bake just until the vegetables are hot, 10 minutes longer. Season with pepper to taste.
Per serving: 510 calories; 28.3 gramsfat; 10.01 grams saturated fat; 160 milligrams cholesterol; 355 milligrams sodium; 50 percent calories from fat