A finicky guy's exploits in finding gustatory (and other) satisfaction in his kitchen, his neighborhood, and beyond.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Weekend Project — Pot Roast with Veggies in the Slow Cooker

The enticing aromas emanating from my slow cooker as I type these words are the result of a whole weekend of cooking.  That may sound a little daunting, but none of the steps was difficult or overly time-consuming (other than unattended cooking times), so I hope you will not be frightened away by the thought of dedicating a whole weekend to one dish.  It was the kind of cooking project I find totally satisfying — involving recipes within recipes, just like in the Joy of Cooking!

I'll never forget the time I challenged myself to make a Beef Wellington from this cooking bible, and was confronted with a recipe calling for many ingredients that cross-referenced to their own recipes which called for further preparations. . . .  These were exotic-sounding things I'd never made or in some cases, even heard of before, like roux, puff pastry, Duxelles, liver paté, beef stock reduction.  I dedicated a whole week to the Wellington project, and most of the steps were labor-intensive, requiring my full concentration.  Which was challenging back then, since in those days I polished off whole bottles of wine while cooking.  (They went into me, not only into my sauces.)  I have a vague recollection of being gently slapped back into consciousness by my then-boyfriend when it was time to incorporate yet another layer of butter into the puff paste.

But the project I'm describing here was a piece of cake in comparison to that marathon, which I'm not likely to repeat any time soon.  (Intrepid readers can refer to JofC, page 455, if they wish to try their own hands at Beef Wellington.  Good luck, and be sure to send me a report of your experience.  And a list of the wines you consumed during the preparation.)

Not only is this Pot Roast recipe pretty easy to carry off, but also it gives you the opportunity to perform steps that will have you feeling very chef-like.  You get to make stock, you get to marinate, you get to deglaze a pan!  Readers who share my excitement for doing this kind of cooking-show stuff will understand why I used that exclamation point, which was not in any way ironical.  Those of you who are not total culinary geeks will just have to excuse us while we get a little giddy from the (uncapitalized) joy of cooking.

The night before I was going to cook, I assembled my meat and the ingredients for my marinade.  For this dish, I'd asked my butcher-lady for a pound and a half of top roast, sliced into 2 inch-thick slices.  (Not 2-inch-thick slices.  Please pay close attention to my hyphenation, about which I am fa-nat-i-cal.) For the marinade, I ground together in a mortar some cumin seed, some dried rosemary, some salt, and a few black peppercorns.  Then I squoze in a few garlic cloves with a press and added a little olive oil to make a paste.

Ingredients and tools for the marinade
Then, using my hands (which get good and sloppy during this step — fun!), I rubbed the marinade into all exposed surfaces of the meat, put it in a tupperware, snapped the lid on, and set it in the fridge overnight.  In a pinch, a few hours could suffice.  But if you're in such a hurry, why are you making a slow-cooker recipe?

Ready for bed — see you in the morning!
The next morning — though it's still a bit odd for me to begin a big meat dish before I eat breakfast — I chopped root vegetables and put them in the bottom of the crock of my slow-cooker.   You could use whatever you have on hand or whatever you like.  I'd gone shopping with this dish in mind and decided to select an assortment of familiar and less-familiar veggies, ending up with potatoes, carrots, parsnips, rutabaga, fresh shiitake mushrooms, and sun chokes in my cart and in my crock.  (And eventually, in my belly.)

Where's the beef?
Then I browned my marinated meat on all sides in a cast-iron skillet with a couple teaspoons of olive oil. This step gives a nice color to the meat, which I understand can turn out a little on the grey side in slow cooking, and helps to seal in the flavor during the long cooking.  You can see in the picture that I ignored the advice to remove all the fat from the meat for slow cooking; I just couldn't bring myself to discard the most flavorful bits.  When the meat had browned, I set the slices atop the veggies in the crock.

This little 9" frying pan is one of my most-used kitchen tools, to which I'll devote a whole posting sometime.
Time to deglaze!  (I even like just saying that word, to sound professional.)  With the flame still on medium-high, I added about a half-cup of red wine to the pan with its remnants of oil and spices and stirred it all around for a bit to 1) dislodge all the tasty bits stuck to the pan and 2) reduce the liquid a bit to concentrate the flavors.  Then I poured this liquid over the meat and veggies in the crock.


And now for this week's stock photo:

Take note of the enormous butternut squash in the background, dwarfing the quart-sized jar!
The stock I'd made from this week's frozen stockpile was a bit of a risky addition to this dish.  It turned out a little on the sour side because there was no meat or bones in it and because I'd used some sourish ingredients like parsnip and rutabaga cuttings.  Oh, and because I decided to throw in a Meyer lemon I had no other use for.  (Not a brilliant move, I know, but I removed the lemon after about an hour of simmering, which possibly saved this dish.)  I combatted the sourness with a little extra salt and a couple tablespoons of Grade B Maple Syrup.  (BTW, the grade refers to the color, which is darker, not the quality, which is superb.  It ought to be, at nearly $20 a pint.)

Already having the stock on hand made the next step as easy as adding a bouillon cube, which is an ingredient I never intend to buy.  Would Julia Child have resorted to this kind of shortcut — I mean, really! (Outraged readers, please send me your favorite uses for bouillon cubes, and try to change my mind.)  I poured my approximately 2 cups of semi-sour stock over the top of everything in the crock, closed it up, and turned the dial to low.

I will not burden you with the details of what I did for the next 9 hours, though certain of the activities would make interesting fodder for a very different kind of blog.  'Nough said.

Before 10 hours in the slow cooker
About nine hours into the cooking time, I took out the meat, sliced it into strips, and put it back into the broth.  I also added the sliced mushrooms (reserving the stems for next week's stock), turned the heat up to high, and let it cook for another hour with the lid cracked to permit a little evaporation.

Try not to consume the entire cut of meat while you "test it for doneness."
At some point, I decided the sauce had reduced enough, so I turned the cooker back to low and replaced the lid on fully.  At about hour 10, I got together my chosen accompaniments: buttermilk biscuits and some homemade chutney.  (I'd decided to serve the sweet chutney because I was still concerned that my sauce was going to be too sour.)

This photo really doesn't do justice to the deep red color and silky texture of the chutney.  But don't those biscuits look good!  (They were.)
I served the veggies into individual shallow bowls, then laid a few strips of meat and a mushroom or two on top.  The chutney and biscuits were served on the side, but I soon added chunks of biscuit to my bowl in order to sop up the sauce, which was really quite wonderful.

After such a meal, I felt warm enough to smile in front of one of the giant mounds of snow outside our building.

One of the most interesting aspects of this dish was "rescuing" the stock after nearly ruining it with some additions of questionable judgment.  Who knows, though, maybe the Meyer lemon was the secret ingredient, adding just the right hint of piquancy to my sauce.  Or maybe I just got lucky.

Readers, tell us about the times you've gotten lucky in the kitchen.  (I am leaving that invitation, with its unsubtle double entendre, open to your individual interpretation.)  How were you able to avert culinary disaster with creativity, with luck, or with midnight calls to Mom?


  1. A delicious sounding meal, perfect for a cold and dreary day! And a beautiful presentation. Plus, you used the word "squoze," which makes me love you.

  2. I would never try to change your mind about bouillon cubes. (Do those things ever dissolve?) But I have been known to use a jarred stock concentrate. More than once. I do use chicken broth granules when I make green chile sauce for enchiladas. Those are mostly for color, saltiness, and taking my chicken water up a step (the stuff I've boiled the chicken in).

    Hope you're staying warm! We've reached near 80. Had to turn on the A/C yesterday, so pot roast is off my radar at the moment, although my son would eat it every night.

  3. Near 80? The Chihuahuas are packing their bags now!

  4. Hi Michael, Just wanted to say that last night I was making up a plain old bowl of spaghetti and my DH was disappointed it wasn't your dish with the mozzarella chunks. I do think the Army lost out when they let you go. A few weeks of you on KP and morale would have been at its highest ever!

  5. OK..I needed to post a quick "hi" to figure out my account. I overcame a kitchen disaster once by serving one (!) chicken breast to five people. The secret is the white sauce. It is essential. The white sauce has saved me countless time. Long live the white sauce. And peas.

  6. Actually, Julia Child (Mastering the Art of French Cooking, p. 106) states that the bouillion cube should "certainly be used" (in an emergency) and she defends canned bouillion and stocks as "entirely satisfactory." Go figure.

  7. I am stunned. Well, who am I to scorn the lowly bouillon cube if Ms Child found it acceptable?

    I'm definitely consulting you when I do a piece on stretching your food budget!

  8. Once I was putting a (raw) loaf of bread in my convection oven when I dropped the glass lid on the tiled floor, with the usual result. At that time, it was my only oven. I baked the bread on the barbeque with the lid closed. It burned a bit on the bottom but it was edible. Now I have a pizza stone, and I could probably do quite a good job of it if the power failed just before I put the bread in the oven. An even more exciting "averted disaster" was when we came home yesterday, after the cyclone passed, and we not only had a complete and undamaged house but electricity! I cooked a very delicious dinner and we drank lots of good wine.

  9. I'm glad you and your home are safe, Mae. I'll drink a toast to your averted disaster as well.