The No Recipe Recipe For Pot Roast


It’s a new year and I know everyone is probably expecting me to write an inspiring blog on how to stay fit and eat healthy. It’s a wonderful thought – one that will have to wait. The weather is wet and nasty. The dampness is chilling my bones and all I think about is staying warm. Short of hopping on the next plane to anywhere closer to the equator, the only thing left for me to do is to cook comfort food.

Yesterday I made pot roast for the first time this season. As I added ingredients mindlessly, I regretted not writing down each step and every exact amount to document for this post. But after thinking about it, I realized it was for the best. I’m surprised by the amount of people who’ve told me recipes intimidate them—too many ingredients—too many steps. It doesn’t have to be that way. So what if you use two cups of wine instead of one? Or four carrots instead of three? Does it really matter? Cooking is about creating a meal that pleases you. Add what you like and omit what you don’t care for. It’s as simple as that. The biggest issue is seasoning—that’s the biggest challenge. Gordon Ramsey yells at his line cooks for over or under seasoning. And on Top Chef, Tom Colicchio hangs his head down to show his disappointment when his talented contestants fail to season their food. Their advice is always the same. Taste, taste, taste…and adjust.

Back to the pot roast. Do you really need a recipe for it? No, just a few instructions and a little common sense.

Melt about 4 tablespoons of butter in a large pot or a Dutch oven and brown a chuck, top round or rump roast on all sides to seal in the juices. Add a couple cloves of garlic and 3 or 4 large onions cut into quarters. Add as much red wine as you like. I add a whole bottle. Add enough beef stock or broth to cover the meat. Season with pepper and three bay leaves. I don’t add salt. The stock usually has enough already. Simmer for an hour. Add celery hearts. (Cut in half). In a separate pan, sauté mushrooms in enough butter to coat the bottom of the pan. Add to the roast. Simmer another hour. Every once in a while turn the roast so any exposed parts can sit in the sauce. Add carrots (peeled and cut in half). This is where you decide what you want to do. I love carrots and mushrooms, but I don’t care for celery. I add very little celery and a lot of what I like. Taste the sauce. If it’s bland, add salt and pepper. If you like your food hot, add more pepper. If you want to bring out the flavor of the wine you can add another half of a cup about ten minutes before the roast is finished. You will know when the roast is done when you put a fork in it and it begins to fall apart. About three hours is usual. Remove the roast from the pot before thickening the sauce. Make a slurry of cornstarch and water and whisk it until it is smooth. Add the slurry to the simmering sauce until you get the desired consistency, stirring constantly.

Serve with mashed potatoes or noodles. I serve pot roast with spaetzle. It’s a German homemade noodle that is heartier and so much better than egg noodles. Look for it in the specialty section in your grocery.

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