Sunday, February 19, 2006


It has been a fairly temperate Winter here, for the most part--only a single real snow so far, and Spring is perhaps a month away. We've had two very cold days in a row now, though, and I'm reminded of how much I adore Winter cooking. I'm not from a cold climate, but I have lived in the cold since I left home--in Wisconsin, Seattle, St. Louis, Philadelphia, and now Illinois. As a kid cold weather was an exotic treat, because it meant a trip to the mountains. I have never really adapted, and Winter that you can't escape by driving back down the mountain has a way of putting me in a bad mood. I look to Winter food--stews, roasts, braised vegetables, fresh-baked bread--as a consolation of sorts.

Today I am making a pot roast and incidentally using up the last of the thyme and sage I dried before the cold weather set in. I like the idea of putting away enough food from the summer to keep till spring, but never quite manage it. This year we had almost nothing because we moved and then spent the late summer and fall in Australia, which meant that our garden amounted only to a few tomatoes, peppers, and herbs in pots.

Pot roast is, like a number of foods I love, one of those recipes that is more a procedure than a dish, per se. As such, it allows for a remarkable variety of changes, depending on what materials you have on hand. At its heart it involves braising beef with some sort of sofrito.

I am partial to Chuck cuts for making pot roast, especially if it can be bought intact with its bones. The stores I go to here seldom have bone-in chuck, which is a shame. The bones add so very much to the flavor and feel of the final dish.

Today I used a base of onion, carrot, celery, and garlic, all browned thoroughly in olive oil, but when I have it I also like to add celery root or fennel bulb, and I might omit the garlic, celery, or carrot. The onion is indispensible, though, I think. After browning the meat qute darkly, I deglazed with a zinfandel, and added tomato, thyme and sage, salt, peppercorns, and water. The deglazing liquid is so important in giving the stock character. I like it with Belgian beer, and was surprised to discover how nice a dry white wine can be in a beef dish when I used it a bit ago. In a pinch Vermouth is a fine choice, as well, I've found. When I have a stock on hand I like to use it, but there's enough in the pot already that it will be plenty rich by the time it's cooked.

In the past I tended to add flour at the beginning, when browning the meat, but lately I have tended to thicken the dish at the end, using a flour/water slurry, or using flour rubbed into butter.

I'll finish the dish with chopped parseley, and serve with potatoes, carrots, mushrooms, and crusty bread. It is probably a reflection on my character that I find it almost impossible to wait till the very end to add the parseley. It's good to sprinkle some on top when taking it to the table, but I like to add a bit a little earlier, giving it just enough time to cook and become part of the dish, rather than a garnish.


Anonymous little sister said...

ditto on the winter comfort foods. it is so cold in nyc currently that my hair froze on the way home from the gym yesteray. to battle the winter blues i invited some friends to come over for dinner tomorrow night. my meal? why your pot roast recipe, of course. we seem to be thinking alike.
do you roast the carrots? i normally serve with mixed roasted veggies, but there was jack squat at the market so i just got carrots, trying to decide how to prepare them...

2:52 PM  
Blogger Jaybriel said...

Often I cook the carrots and potatoes in the braise along with the beef--add them about half an hour or so before serving. Otherwise, yeah, roast veg is good. Plus it's nice to fire up the stove on a day like this.


4:16 PM  
Anonymous Georg said...

Having eaten the said pot roast with you, I have to agree that it was just what the Dr. ordered (at the end of 24 hars of travel, no less...). I was reminded of meals at your Grandmother's home, pot roast is one of the things she does that I think of fondly. It's ideal food for the butt-cold climate where you live.

I still say that roasted parsnips would make a nice addition.

I'll eat in with you guys any time.

9:10 PM  
Blogger Lynndi said...

That chocolate cake was so good, but it's all gone. We are despondent and starving now. We will probably not make it through the night. Can I keep the dish forever?

P.S. Jesse tried to make ice water the Jaybriel way, and he got really confused.

12:44 AM  

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