Take comfort in pot roast

Recipe: Slow cooker brings out the best in a seven-bone chuck roast.

January 07, 2001|By Shirley Corriher | Shirley Corriher,Los Angeles Times Syndicate

The sky is dreary, dark-lead gray, and it's cold and the wind is blowing. What you need is your-mama-loves-you food, like hot mashed potatoes and gravy and a big chunk of pot roast so tender that it falls apart when you stab it with your fork.

OK, so you're going to make pot roast. First, you have to get the right cut of meat. What I want in a pot roast is flavor, so my favorite cut is chuck roast. Not the tender part of the chuck, which is just in front of the ribs. I want the other end of the chuck -- the tough end up near the neck. It may be tough (we can take care of that with slow cooking), but it is wonderfully flavorful.

It's called a seven-bone chuck roast or seven-bone steak. That blade bone that was straight and flat in the blade roast now has a piece an inch or two long sticking out of it on the top side. If you trimmed off the end of the blade bone, you would have a bone that looks like the number "7," or a backward "7." Look for a seven-bone steak that has streaks of fat running through it and you will have a great roast.

Now, the cooking. I like to sear the meat for stews and roasts because you get such great flavor from browning. There is the old saying that you sear meat to seal in the juices. This is not true. Anyone who has cooked a steak by searing in a hot skillet can see all the juices on the plate. Meat is actually juicier if it is cooked at an even, low temperature.

Searing, however, is still a good thing to do just for the wonderful flavors. When you brown meat, you get the same flavorful compounds that form when you caramelize sugar, plus hundreds more. I like to heat a large, empty skillet almost smoking hot, sprinkle it with a little salt and slap in the meat. Cook the meat about 4 minutes on high to brown well, then turn it over and cook the other side to brown also.

You can cook this pot roast in the slow-cooker either on low all night or all day, or all day and all night. I have been known to forget it. Or you can cook the roast in a heavy pot or Dutch oven with a lid on in the oven for about six hours at 200 degrees. This slow cooking will melt all the connective tissue and fat and give you a wonderful pot roast that pulls apart when you stick a fork into it.

Here's one of my favorite pot roast recipes. I love the way the gingersnaps thicken and flavor the gravy.

Old-Fashioned Pot Roast

Makes 6 to 8 servings

salt

1 (3- to 4-pound) seven-bone steak chuck roast

1/3 cup packed light brown sugar

1 / 4 cup dried onion flakes or 1 medium onion, chopped and sauteed in a little butter until lightly browned

1 bay leaf

1 teaspoon thyme leaves

1/2 cup beef stock

1/2 cup water

10 gingersnaps, crumbled

3 tablespoons butter

3 tablespoons flour

Heat large, heavy skillet over high heat until almost smoking. Sprinkle lightly with salt. Add meat and sear on high until browned, about 4 minutes. Turn and sear other side.

Place seared meat in slow-cooker or heavy pot with lid. Add brown sugar, onion flakes, bay leaf, thyme, stock and water. Cover and cook all night or all day on low in slow-cooker or 6 to 7 hours at 200 degrees in oven.

Remove bones and bay leaf. With 2 forks, pull meat into 2-inch chunks. Add crumbled gingersnaps. Cover and cook about 20 minutes longer. Gravy may be as thick as you want. If you would like it thicker, melt butter in large skillet. Stir in flour and cook, stirring, until flour is medium brown.

Remove skillet from heat and whisk in about 1 1/2 cups roast drippings, about 1 / 4 cup at a time. Return to heat and bring to boil. Stir thickened drippings back into pot with roast and serve hot.

(Food scientist Shirley O. Corriher is the author of "CookWise," William Morrow, 1997.)

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