Bologna to Bolognese: Adventures With Food

Food is necessary. Food is fun. Food is an adventure!

My name is Shannon and this is my adventure, my love affair with food.

I hope you'll come along for the ride.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Perfect Pot Roast

For many, including myself, the wonderful film "Julie & Julia" was inspirational.  It introduced me to a medium for sharing my cooking adventures, this very blog. For others it inspired a desire to attempt foods they and many others considered intimidating. (I mean really after watching Julie tackle the duck deboning you almost have to feel you can conquer the world!) The film reminded many of the fun of seeing Julia Child in action on her groundbreaking cooking show and introduced a whole new generation to her culinary trailblazing and passion for great food.

As my blog has continued to develop this past year I have taken on many interesting dishes but there is one simple dish that I still felt needed work. That most traditional of entrees, the pot roast. 

My pot roast has always been nice but I had never reached that perfect fall apart, juicy and moist perfection. Until now.

This year for Christmas my husband bought me a number of cookbooks including " Mastering the Art of French Cooking" by Julia Child. Page after page is filled with delectable main dishes that make you salivate as you read them and when I flipped to the section on Piece de Boeuf Braisee (Braised Beef Pot Roast to those of us with weak French skills) I knew I had to try it.  I had seen an almost identical recipe in her book "The Way to Cook" and since it incorporated tomatoes and left out some of the pieces I felt would be difficult to come by (split calves feet, and cracked veal knuckles) I used it, but either will do nicely.

Pot Roast of Beef

(serves 10 to 12)

5-pound fully-trimmed bottom round of beef
2 to 3 tablespoons fresh olive oil 
2 to 3 cups young red wine such as zinfandel or Chianti
1 cup each chopped carrots and onions
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 to 3 cups beef stock, plus more if needed
1 1/2 cups drained canned Italian plum tomatoes
(or if available, chopped ripe red unpeeled tomatoes)  A bouquet garni: 6 parsley sprigs; 6 peppercorns; 3 whole cloves; 4 allspice berries; 1 teaspoon thyme; 2 or 3 large cloves of garlic, smashed; 1 large bay leaf – tied together in washed cheesecloth
Salt to taste
2 tablespoons cornstarch blended with 2 tablespoons red wine


Review the book for Julia's exact recipe I have altered it here to reflect the steps I took while preparing this dish.
Dry the meat in paper towels. If it has not been tied, secure loops of string (butchers twine) around the circumference at 1 1/2-inch intervals. Rub the roast with oil and brown on all sides in a large frying pan on medium high heat. Remove the meat from the pan.  Saut√© the chopped vegetables in a frying pan to brown lightly, and place them in a large crock pot.  Arrange the meat on top of the vegetables and add the tomatoes and the herb bouquet. Add some wine to the frying pan to deglaze and pour the contents over the beef. Add the rest of the wine and enough broth so the liquid comes a third of the way up the meat.Cook on high for 4 hours or low for 8.

The beef is done when a sharp-pronged fork will go through it fairly easily – cut off and eat a piece to check: it will be some-what chewy but reasonably tender. Remove the meat to a board or tray and the vegetables to a serving dish. Strain the braising liquid into a sauce-pan, pressing juices out of the vegetables.

Thoroughly degrease the braising juices and bring to a simmer, skimming off any additional fat that rises. Taste very carefully for strength and seasoning; if the liquid is weak in flavor, boil down rapidly to concentrate it. You should have 2 to 2 1/2 cups of deliciously winey meat juices. Correct the seasoning, remove from heat, and whisk in the cornstarch mixture (cornstarch and wine). When blended, return to the heat and simmer 2 minutes. The sauce should just coat a spoon lightly, meaning it will coat the meat lightly – if too thin, thicken with another spoonful or so of cornstarch and wine. Pour the sauce over and around the beef.

To serve, remove the meat to a carving board or hot platter, and discard the trussing strings. Either carve it in the kitchen or bring it to the table for carving. In this case spoon a little sauce over the meat to glaze it, decorate the platter with parsley sprigs, watercress, or vegetables, and pass the sauce separately.
I really recommend getting your hands on a copy of the book to read it for yourself. There is something about the way Julia writes that just can not be passed along by others you have to experience for yourself the fluid musical quality of her writing. It truly makes the recipe come to life.

Speaking of coming to life, this recipe is sure to bring your Sunday dinner table to life with many requests for seconds and maybe even thirds!

The original recipe can be found in "The Way to Cook" Julia Child, 1994, Alfred A. Knopf.

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