NOT YOUR MOM'S POT ROAST
By Marilyn Michael
I'm from the Western US from folks with farming backgrounds. As a young man, my dad left behind the heavy physical work and tough financial challenges of his family's small subsistence wheat farm. Dotting the Northwest, these family farms were being bought up in the 1950's and now are but anonymous stretches of fertile soil amidst the huge farming conglomerates that had begun forming at that time.
Dad always kept a huge garden as his way of relaxing after work as an electrician and possibly as a way of keeping a connection to the land. All those great green things, though, were side dishes to hearty meals featuring meat. My family bought meat from local ranchers and rented a refrigerated storage locker before box freezers were common. One of my earliest memories was visiting our locker amidst a complex of white enameled doors of different sizes with stainless steel handles. They say the olfactory is the strongest memory trigger, I'll never forget that unique dry cold smell.
Bacon was a breakfast staple and our dinners featured fried chicken, meat loaf, slumgullion (hamburger, onion and macaroni swimming in tomato sauce), Swiss steak (ours was basically just pounded out round steak in gravy), pork chops. I had never heard the word vegetarian until adulthood. Yes, we were big on meat. A favorite was always pot roast simmered in a large pot on the stove top with potatoes, carrots, turnips and onions until the meat was tender and saturated with broth.
My folks cooked in the same "hand-full, pinch, glug" manner that their folks had. No recipes for the main dishes and vegetables. As a young married, I wished I'd paid more attention or asked more questions about cooking techniques. My Grandma had given me a copy of that popular red and white Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook as a shower gift and I turned to it often. I must have used beef broth as part of what I simmered the meat in when making pot roast and I think some water. My folks had never used herbs or spices, salt and pepper was it and Good Housekeeping didn't seem to inspire much of a foray into the world of seasonings. I did master the recipe for beef stroganoff expanding my ingredient base into the use of sour cream and tomato paste but it was basically meat in gravy with sour cream stirred in. I'm afraid my pot roasts continued to be filling but not at all inspired.
When I remarried in my late 20's, I hit the jackpot; I met a man inspired by cooking (and, politely, uninspired by mine). Over the years I've learned so much from his love of good food involving diverse flavors and ingredients and, thus, his enjoyment of turning out delicious meals. In regards to broths for beef dishes I've learned when consume is better than broth or when both are right and, in regard to seasoning, his creative use of Bloody Mary Mix.
We keep it on hand for numerous dishes, buying it when on sale and freezing it in 2-cup portions. (I pay attention to freezing dishes and ingredients ahead inspired by my "Once-A-Month cooking” expert friend Deborah Taylor Hough.) Bloody Mary Mix provides a simple, already spiced up base for otherwise less flavorful dishes. For beef dishes it infuses delicious flavor such as the base for the Oxtail Goulash recipe I offered earlier. The pot roast recipe I offer here has a similar, but slightly different, broth and I encourage you to dig out that pressure cooker that you may not use too often. You'll have one of the most flavorful pot roasts you've ever served.
Not Your Mom's Pot Roast
1- 3 lb. boneless beef chuck roast
1 10 3/4 oz. can beef consume (I used Campbell’s brand)
1 14.5 oz. can beef broth (I used Swanson's brand)
2 cups Bloody Mary Mix (I used regular, but spicy would be fine)
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 lb. Yukon Gold potatoes (around 4 potatoes, peeled and quartered)
3 turnips, peeled and quartered
1 large onion cut into 8 wedges (I used a sweet onion)
3 carrots peeled and cut into 2" chunks
(You can vary the vegetables adding what you enjoy in pot roasts)
(I used my 6-quart pressure cooker for super tender and well infused meat. If you don't have a pressure cooker, you can place all the ingredients in a slow cooker for around 6 to 8 hours on low. If you are used to pressure cooker cooking, I suggest going that direction. If you are new to it, follow your cooker's instructions for bringing up to and maintaining heat and for depressurizing the cooker. There are many online sources for using pressure cookers. Overcoming any discomfort with this cooking method can enhance your repertoire and save you time. They can often be found at second hand stores if you are unsure if you will use one often enough to invest more.)
Rub the salt and pepper into the meat, Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in the bottom of a 6 to 8 quart pressure cooker (or use a frying pan and transfer to the pressure cooker). Brown meat on all sides; add the consume, broth, Bloody Mary Mix and onion wedges. Close the lid on the pressure cooker, turn heat to high and bring up the pressure until the pressure regulator maintains a slow steady rocking motion (in the jiggle top cookers like mine). Cooking time begins when the pressure regulator begins rocking. Reduce the heat to medium or whatever level you need to maintain the pressure. Cook for 30 minutes.
Remove from heat and release the pressure (as per cooker instruction). When the pressure is released, remove the lid and add the vegetables. Replace the lid and place the cooker on high heat bringing up to high pressure and cook for 15 minutes. Release pressure; remove the lid and place the meat and vegetables in a serving dish.
Reduce the broth a bit by boiling it for 10 minutes. Remove 1/4 cup broth and whisk in 2 Tablespoons of flour. Return this slurry to the broth simmering it until it thickens a bit. Serve on the side as gravy.