Beef Pot Roast
The meat and vegetables for this recipe need to marinade for at least a day (preferably and traditionally 5 days) ahead of cooking. However, you can cheat by using a pressure cooker such as an instant pot. In that case, you don’t need to marinade at all.
This will be best if served fresh and warm but can be reheated.
Tools for marinade:
- Large cookpot with lid (NOT ALUMINUM)
- Large chef’s knife (8+ inches)
- Large cutting board
- Large bowl
- Small bowl (for measuring)
- Liquid measuring cup
- Time (at least overnight)
Tools for cooking:
- Large dinner plate
- Paper towels
- Large frying pan (preferably cast iron)
- Cooking tongs
- Medium bowl for meat storage
- Immersion blender/potato masher/wooden spoon+elbow grease
- 2.5 pounds eye round (bottom round and top round also work but are not nearly as pleasant a texture in the teeth)
- 2 medium onions
- 4 medium carrots
- 1/2 bunch of celery
- 6 cloves (whole)
- 12 black peppercorns (whole)
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 pint red wine vinegar
- 2 pints red wine (Merlot or similar)
- Several tablespoons of a high smoke-point oil (safflower, clarified butter, canola, sunflower)
- around 4 ounces of ginger snaps (Mi-Del or Stouffers are our preferred brands, and Mi-Del offers a surprisingly good gluten-free version)(optional)
Part the first: Marinade
Rinse your carrots and celery. With celery, you want to cut the base off before rinsing so you may get to the grit that often hides at the inside bottoms of celery stalks.
Rough cut your carrots, celery, and onions, and put all the cut vegetables in the large bowl as you go.
Measure your spices into the small bowl.
Trim the easily-reached fat from the meat.
Slice the meat as you might for steaks, in 1-inch-thick slabs cut across the round of meat.
Lay a double handful of vegetables in the bottom of the large cookpot, enough to allow liquid under the incoming meat layer.
Lay the slabs in flat, without overlapping them. If your cookpot is shaped such that you still have meat to lay in, put a bit of vegetable over the meat layer before adding more meat, to allow liquid between the meat layers, then lay in your remaining slabs.
Add the remaining vegetables and the spices, tucking the bay leaves under a bit of vegetable so that they don’t float.
Add the vinegar and wine. It’s important that everything in the pot be at least barely covered by the fluid level. If necessary, do what you can to re-arrange the vegetables to rest lower, or add more liquid in a 1 to 2 (vinegar to wine) ratio. Bits and bobs of vegetables poking out of the meer will be fine, but make sure the meat is covered completely.
Put a lid on the cookpot and put it someplace safe (against animals, children, the sun, etc) for at least 12 hours. This is safe at room temperature for up to 5 days.
Part the second: Cooking
Lay out the dinner plate and cover it with a paper towel or two.
Remove the meat from the marinade to the paper towels and pat each piece dry. You’re going to be searing the exterior of the meat, and the wetter the meat, the longer the sear will take to finish.
Heat your frying pan with oil in it. Be careful to dance below the smoke point of your oil (or risk the wrath of the fire alarm!). An easy way to do this is to bring your heat up in small incremental doses, pausing for a few minutes at each plateau, until the oil begins to smoke. As soon as it smokes, move the pan to another burner or a trivet and turn the heat back down to the previous level. You’re looking to get the pan as hot as possible without smoking the house out, to put your best sear on the meat.
Once you have a hot pan ready to go, use tongs to add meat to the pan until the pan surface is covered in a single layer of meat (no overlapping pieces).
Doneness of a side will depend on your heat levels, could be anywhere from perhaps under a minute to four or five minutes (roughly 2 minutes per side in our house with cast iron on an electric burner). Check your meat state by using tongs to grab a piece and have a quick look at the searing side. Is it pink or grey? Not there yet, put it back the way you found it. Is it brown or beginning to blacken? Good or great, proceed onwards.
Flip those meats. Flip ’em good. You’re looking to sear the two big faces of the meat; getting the small edges isn’t worth the time and trouble. Is your second side looking good? Onwards!
Seared meat pieces get tonged into the medium bowl. Continue your searing operation until all the meat is in the bowl.
Deglaze the hot meat pan with a cup or three of liquid from the marinade. The basic idea here is that the pan has a lot of delicious flavor bits and fats that didn’t make it out into the meat bowl, and deglazing is a bit like washing the pan clean but using food to do it. Keep the pan on the same heat as you were using to sear, and the marinade liquid that you add should boil quickly as it goes into the pan. If there’s anything stuck to the pan (“fond”), now’s the time to work it up quickly into the boiling liquid with a spatula or a wooden spoon, being careful not to damage the pan’s surface finish if it’s non-stick.
When the fats/oils/fond/crispy bits are roiling in an easy-pour thin liquid, go ahead and dump the pan’s contents into the marinade pot.
Bring that marinade pot to a simmer and cook until the carrots are soft and mashable.
Once the carrots (the hardest of the vegetables in the marinade) are soft enough, remove the pot from heat.
Deploy your weapon of choice to turn the pot’s contents into mush, aka sauce. I prefer an immersion blender but a potato masher will also do good work. If you’ve neither, a wooden spoon and a stout arm will do.
If you’re going to use gingersnaps, now’s the time. Break them up into the sauce and stir them in.
Add the seared meat back to the sauce and set the pot simmering again, for about 30 minutes.
Serve warm/hot. The meat is going to be pretty delicate at this point, so be extra careful moving it around. There won’t be a lot of bonds holding it together anymore (delicious!).
Marinating and preserving tougher cuts of meat in red wine or red wine vinegar is a practice that goes back to the Roman armies (put meat in wine jug with wine, put on lid, send with army). There are historical recipes for such marinated meat cooked as a pot roast with vegetables and spices, such as this one from a 16th century German cook book. The addition of gingersnaps as a thickening agent to the sauce is one of several modern regional variations on the dish that would not have been used historically. However, ginger as a spice is called for, and the sauce would most likely have been thickened with bread crumbs.
Let’s talk about Maillard reactions and why browning is (potentially) super tasty. This is a distinct process from caramelization which happens at higher temperatures. The browning from Maillard reactions is responsible for the taste of coffee, chocolate, bread crust, malted barley (beer!) and the umami flavor in seared meat, fried onions and mushrooms.