Pot roast — a name born of sturdy frugality, a Midwesterner’s no-nonsense response to winter’s brutal chill. Pot roast, a comforting name, to be sure; yet, quote Juliet to Romeo, “…by any other name, would smell as sweet?”
I could travel to France and bestow this pot roast, rightfully, a sophisticated, cosmopolitan name — Beef Bourguignon. I could cart my pot roast to neighboring Germany, mix cider vinegar with the wine and pronounce it Sauerbraten. In this fantasy escapade with my pot roast, I could catch a south-bound train to Italy, substitute pancetta for the bacon, porcini for the chanterelles, add tomatoes to the wine and christen it Stracotto di Manzo.
Whatever name you bestow the recipe, pot roast is simply braised beef, and it may be dressed up or down, according to passport or predilection. All you really need is the beef, which could be a chuck roast, English roast, top round, bottom round, rump or brisket; a braising liquid, which could be wine, beer, canned tomatoes, stock, water or a combination; and the vegetables, which in addition to those in my recipe, could include fennel, fresh mushrooms, turnips and garlic. We enjoyed this pot roast over pasta, but my favorite pot roast recipes are served over smashed potatoes — magnifique!
The most important ingredient, however, for pot roast sublime, is time. Not active time on the cook’s part, but a long, slow simmer necessary for breaking down the connective tissues in these muscular cuts of beef. Your pot roast is ready when the meat easily shreds between the prongs of a fork.
I purchased a beautiful English roast for my pot roast from Plum Market, and spoke with Koen Vermeylen, the director of meat and seafood, about their meats in general. “All of our meat is exclusively from Niman Ranch and is, for sure, the best and most trusted meat we’ve found.”
Koen says that meat producers can promote themselves as manufacturing an “all natural” product, as long as the cattle are taken off hormones and antibiotics in the last few months of their lives. Niman Ranch differentiates themselves from the herd as their cattle are never on hormones or antibiotics, for their entire life cycle. Furthermore Koen tells me Niman Ranch Angus cattle are fed a vegetarian diet and “raised traditionally, humanely and sustainably”. I appreciate Niman Ranch’s contribution to ethical meat options, and their beef makes for a pleasurable eating experience, indeed.
We could travel the world, my pot roast and I, but, alas, my husband would soon catch wind of our sordidly delicious sojourn, ending this affair so brief, yet sweet.