This is really a class of braised beef, examples of which can be found in almost every non-vegetarian cuisine of the world.
The recipe below is full of generalities, because the details vary with the cuisine. For example, a Yankee pot roast is braised in a savory broth, an Italian Brasato in Barolo is braised in wine, and an Belgian Carbonnade is braised in beer. A German Sauerbraten uses a savory broth, but adds vinegar to it. The herbs and spices also vary to reflect the cuisine.
This recipe is really about technique, including one very important and counterintuitive one that is essential to the success of any pot roast, so be sure to read the Notes!
Read the Description and the Notes before beginning.
- In a heavy pot, heat the oil until very hot but not smoking.
- Dry the meat and brown it on all sides. This should take about 10 minutes.
- Set the meat aside and add the bacon. Reduce heat and simmer the bacon until it has rendered its fat.
- Push the bacon aside or add it to the beef. Add the mirepoix and cook over moderate heat until aromatic, another 8-10 minutes.
- If you are using garlic, add that and cook for another couple of minutes.
- Add the herbs, then the liquid. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat to a low simmer.
- Cook the beef in the liquid at a low temperature until the internal temperature reaches 185 - 195 F.
Here are three important notes:
- The first and most important thing to know about a pot roast is that there is no one official recipe; there are more recipes than there are cultures, and almost as many as there are kitchens that make it. Pot-roasting is a technique for making a nourishing meal out of a tough cut of meat. You don't pot-roast a tenderloin, you pot-roast the cheap big cuts.
- The second important thing to know is that "rare", "medium", and "well done" are terms used for those expensive cuts. The idea of a quick sear and an interior cooked as little as necessary is great for a tender filet mignon, but it isn't enough for a tough cut. The tough cuts are tough because of collagen, the same connective tissue that can cause knots and bursitis in your own muscles occurs in the harder-worked muscles of animals, too. To make a tough cut tender, you have to cook is slowly, in moist heat, to at least 185 degrees F in order to break down the collagen. Once you do you get the most fork-tender beef bursting with flavor from that slow, moist cooking.
- Finally, pot roasts are usually served with vegetables and starches that reflect the culture of the pot roast. Nobody will throw you in jail for serving a sauerbraten with American acorn squash (see image above), but remember that the meat cooked in a savory liquid with herbs and spices that reflect a certain cuisine, so naturally your side dishes will do best if they reflect the same cuisine.