Jan wanted comfort food after her family’s visit and she requested pot roast. I have made more complex versions of this dish, but I wanted this to be a home-y version. A hearty “meat and potatoes,” closer to what my mother, Claudia, would have made.
Note: Before you ask, I know that my mother would not have used powdered dried wild mushrooms, but let’s not go nostalgia crazy. Even in my Nipponophile home growing up, my mother may have used MSG*, but I sure she had never heard the word umami.
*MSG is a discussion for another time.
Karl’s Pot Roast and Smashed Potatoes
1 Tbs. dried wild mushrooms, powdered
2-4 Tbs. butter (or olive oil), separate uses
3½ lb. boneless beef chuck roast
1 onion, finely chopped
Pinch Kosher salt
2 stalks celery, coarsely chopped
1 medium carrot, grated
8 cloves garlic, sliced thin
1 Tbs. tomato paste
1 tsp. anchovy paste
1 Tbs. dried thyme
1 tsp. black pepper
1 bottle of brown ale (16 oz.)
2 Tbs. AP flour
¼ cup milk
2 lb. small Dutch potatoes
3 Tbs. butter
4 cloves garlic, crushed
5 green onions, sliced finely
½ cup flat-leafed parsley, chopped finely
½ tsp. black pepper
½ tsp. kosher salt
1. Put the dried mushrooms in a spice grinder and process them to a fine powder, reserve.
2. Add 1-2 tablespoons of butter to a large Dutch oven. When the butter stops foaming, brown the meat on both sides and transfer it to a plate.
Tip: According to Cook’s Illustrated you do not need to pre-brown the meat if you are braising and the meat is not going to be completely submerged. The exposed meat will brown on its own during the long cooking time. They say it is almost as good as pre-browning in creating the Maillard reaction, the source of the complex flavor of a good beef dish. However, the simpler the recipe, “almost” becomes “not good enough.”
3. Add two tablespoons of butter, a pinch of salt and sauté the onions for five minutes.
Tip: Use the moisture released by the onions to deglaze the pot.
4. Add the celery and carrots. Continue sautéing for another five minutes, until the vegetables are well softened.
5. Pull the vegetables to the side of the pot to create a hole. Add the garlic and sauté for one minute.
Tip: If necessary add a bit of butter.
6. Stir the tomato paste and anchovy paste into the garlic and cook until the pastes have darkened well, about 2-3 minutes.
7. Stir in the thyme, pepper, and ale. Nestle the meat into the sauce so that it is half submerged.
Tip: Ideally you want the top half of the meat exposed to the hot air of the cooking pot. Do not add too much liquid, you do want to thin out the gravy.
8. Cover the Dutch oven with a sheet of foil and put the lid on.
Tip: The foil makes a tighter seal between the pot and the lid and prevents the steam from escaping the Dutch oven. The secret to a tender pot roast is not how much moisture you keep in the meat, but how much you keep in the pot. Steam heat breaks down the collagen and fat better than dry heat. It is the collage turning into gelatin and the liquid fat that makes a pot roast seem “moist.”
9. Put the pot in a 325° F oven for 3-4 hours. At the halfway mark, remove the Dutch oven and flop the meat over. If the liquid level seems low add more ale, water or beef broth.
Tip: Do not be tempted to “Check” on the pot roast. When you open the foil seal you release all of the steam and greatly slow down the cooking process. As I heard once on a BBQ cook-off show; “If you’re looking, it ain’t cooking.”
10. When the meat is remove the meat to a platter and cover it with the foil from the Dutch oven.
11. Let the contents of the pot settle for 5 minutes and spoon off any excess fat.
12. Set the potatoes in a pot covered by an inch of water and bring the pot to a boil. Cover the pot and reduce the heat. Simmer for 15-20 minutes until a knife slips in easily to the largest potato.
13. When the contents of the pot has cooled slightly, ladle them into a blender and process until smooth.
Tip: If the gravy seems too thick, you may use some ale or water to rinse out the blender jar when you return them to the pot.
14. Put the flour and milk into a small jar and mix it well.
15. Pour the gravy back into the Dutch oven and stir in the flour/milk mixture.
Tip: By adding the flour/milk to the gravy when it is cool gives it time to blend in and prevents lumps from forming. Pouring it into hot gravy will produce tiny dumplings.
16. Turn the heat under the pot to medium and re-warm the gravy to temperature, stirring frequently. Cook the gravy for five minutes until the flour is fully cooked and it reaches your desired consistency.
17. Drain the potatoes and hold them aside.
Tip: I leave them in the colander.
18. Place the remaining butter in the pot and, when it stops foaming, add the garlic. Sauté for one minute.
19. Add the green onions, parsley and potatoes to the pot. Add pepper and salt to taste.
20. Toss the ingredients to coat, smashing the potatoes against the side of the pot to crack each potato.
Tip: You are not trying to make mashed potatoes, but something in between whole solid spuds and a smooth mash.
21. Transfer the pot roast to a serving platter and arrange the potatoes around the meat.
22. Spoon some gravy over the meat and serve the rest of the gravy on the side.