Published November 1, 2010. From Cook's Illustrated.
We started our pot roast recipe by choosing well-marbled chuck-eye roast, which is full of collagen and well suited for braising. Opening the pot roast and trimming away the excess interior fat got rid of the pesky globs that refused to render as the pot roast cooked. Leaving the meat in two smaller roasts also shaved cooking time from our pot roast recipe and allowed the salt we used to season the lobes to penetrate even further. And finally, roasted vegetables thickened the pot roast’s gravy and glutamate-rich ingredients beefed up its rich flavor.
Our recommended beef broth is Rachael Ray Stock-in-a-Box Beef Flavored Stock. Chilling the whole cooked pot roast overnight improves its flavor and makes it moister and easier to slice; for instructions, see “Make-Ahead Pot Roast.”
1. Sprinkle pieces of meat with 1 tablespoon salt (1½ teaspoons if using table salt), place on wire rack set in rimmed baking sheet, and let stand at room temperature 1 hour.
2. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 300 degrees. Heat butter in heavy-bottomed Dutch oven over medium heat. When foaming subsides, add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and beginning to brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Add carrot and celery; continue to cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes longer. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in 1 cup broth, ½ cup wine, tomato paste, bay leaf, and thyme sprig; bring to simmer.
3. Pat beef dry with paper towels and season generously with pepper. Using 3 pieces of kitchen twine, tie each piece of meat into loaf shape for even cooking.
4. Nestle meat on top of vegetables. Cover pot tightly with large piece of foil and cover with lid; transfer pot to oven. Cook beef for three hours flipping halfway through cooking, and add carrots, parsnips, and potatoes. Continue cooking until beef is fully tender and sharp knife easily slips in and out of meat, about 30 minutes to 1 hour. Once pot roast and vegetables are fully cooked, transfer large pieces of carrot, parsnip, and potato to serving platter using slotted spoon, cover tightly with foil, and proceed with recipe as directed.
5. Transfer roasts to cutting board and tent loosely with foil. Strain liquid through mesh strainer into 4-cup liquid measuring cup. Discard bay leaf and thyme sprig. Transfer vegetables to blender jar. Allow liquid to settle 5 minutes, then skim any fat off surface. Add beef broth as necessary to bring liquid amount to 3 cups. Place liquid in blender with vegetables and blend until smooth, about 2 minutes. Transfer sauce to medium saucepan and bring to simmer over medium heat.
6. While sauce heats, remove twine from roast and slice against grain into ½-inch-thick slices. Transfer meat to large serving platter. Stir chopped thyme, remaining ¼ cup wine, and vinegar into sauce and season to taste with salt and pepper. Spoon half of sauce over meat; pass remaining sauce separately.
Keys to a Flavorful Pot Roast
1. SALT ROAST
Sprinkling the roast halves with salt and resting them for 1 hour improves meaty flavor.
2. ADD (A LITTLE) LIQUID
Adding just 1 1/2 cups of liquid to the pot leads to a more intensely flavored gravy.
3. SEAL POT
Sealing the pot with foil before covering locks in valuable juices and ensures that the roast has enough liquid for braising.
4. BULK UP GRAVY
Pureeing the onions, carrots, and celery cooked with the roast and combining them with the gravy adds body and flavor.
When meat is seared at very high temperatures, the Maillard reaction rapidly kicks in, rendering the exterior deeply browned and flavorful. But can browning take place at lower temperatures in the moist, closed environment of a braise, where the temperature can never rise above the boiling point of water, 212 degrees?
We cooked two pot roasts: one that we seared before adding liquid to the pot, and the other we placed directly in the pot without searing.
The dry part of the two roasts that sat above the liquid had a similar level of browning, and the unseared roast tasted nearly as good as the seared one.
In the searing heat of a 500-degree pan, the Maillard reaction quickly produces countless new flavor compounds that improve taste. But given enough time, browning can also occur at temperatures as low as 160 degrees. Our pot roast cooks for a good 3½ hours, ample time for lots of new flavor compounds to be created on the dry top part of the meat. Though these compounds won’t be as plentiful or richly flavorful as when browning occurs at higher temperatures, we felt that we could skip the sear.