This recipe came about because I was craving high protein, lower carb comfort food that could be made in a large quantity, and had exhausted my palate with regards to roast chickens and frikadeller. (I didn’t think it was possible either…but, it happens.)
Once upon a time, families would sit around a Sunday Dinner, usually a roast. The leftovers would be eaten through the first half of the work week. In the U.K. You get breakfasts like bubble and squeak (vegetables from the roast cooked into scrambled eggs) out of this tradition. Family dinners are less and less common as people tend now towards shared living situations and conventional family organization no longer predominates amongst millennials. The Sunday roast is fading away, an artifact of a decadent and tightly knit social history.
I have this extremely vivid memory of standing in the kitchen, white knuckling the countertop, as my mother extracted a perfectly cooked pot roast from the crock pot. The aroma was overwhelming, and the alluring crisped fat barely clinging to the sides was golden and brown, and it was all I could do not to start picking at the thing before she could plate it. If excess fat was sliced away as gratuitous, you can bet I was going to try to snatch it up and eat it before anyone could stop me.
Oddly, I find myself avoiding beef as an adult. I tend to reserve it for special occasions where I come home from work in a bad mood and eat a $20 steak and some homemade pickles. I’m on the fence about the ethical nature of America’s beef practices both from a humane treatment of animals stand point, and from a nutritional one. It’s not the death that bothers me- but rather the life leading up to the death. Obviously, I favor grass fed.
For some reason, I could have sworn that my mother said she had used French onion soup as the foundation of her pot roast, and with this in mind- I set about to create a from scratch, whole foods recreation. I think what I have actually made is closer to a bastardized bouef bourgouignon than my mother’s pot roast- especially since inquiries in her direction as my creation was simmering away on the stove top, lead to her sending me snapshots of recipe cards for “Yankee Potroast” in my 8 year old hand.
A very different recipe all together. She says it is by far her favorite, and thus, I’m going to have to try it out. But this week, it’s bâtard bouef.
There are two ways you could serve this: as a stew, with the vegetables in broth topped with shredded beef, or, as a roast, with the vegetables and beef seperated out and the sauce turned into a gravy or cooked down into a sort of demi glace.
I’ve developed a habit, in the spirit of Michio Kushi the macrobiotics guru, who would abhor this recipe, of not skinning my root vegetables, but instead thoroughly scrubbing them down. I’ve taken something valuable from every different diet I’ve studied, and I think it has lead me to a balanced and nuanced attitude. Personally, I feel that to consume the entirety of the vegetable is to waste less and to preserve nutrients. It is also properly rustic, aesthetically, and saves time in preparation.
French Onion Pot Roast
2 red onions, sliced
1 large yellow onion, sliced
2-3 large shallots, sliced
6 large shiitake mushrooms, sliced
6 large crimini mushrooms, sliced
2 parsnips, chopped roughly into large chunks
3-5 carrots chopped roughly into large chunks
3-4 lb chuck roast
1 cup of red wine (cabernet sauvignion or burgundy)
fresh ground red pepper
1 tablespoon herbes de provence
4-5 bay leaves
butter or tallow
Allowing the roast to rest on the counter while you work will bring it up to room temperature and ensure more even cooking and better texture.
After slicing onions and shallots, melt 1 tbsp of butter or tallow in a large stew pot or dutch oven over medium heat. When the fat is melted and sizzling, throw in all your alliums, sprinkle them with herbes de Provence, as much fresh black pepper as you like, and cover. Check and stir them periodically to ensure they aren’t burning, but allow them to glaze the bottom of the pan with carmelization as they cook.
Meanwhile, slice your mushrooms and chop your root vegetables.
When the onions have made a brown sticky mess on the bottom of the pan, add the mushrooms and stir thouroughly. As the mushrooms cook, they should release enough moisture to somewhat deglaze the pan. (If not a splash of wine will help here.) Add two bay leaves.
When the mushrooms have gone limp, pour in 1/2 a cup of wine and simmer everything for about 5 minutes, or until the mushrooms are cooked, but not overdone. Remove from pot.
Over high heat, melt another 1-2 tablespoons of fat in your large pot. When it’s good and sizzling, take your roast and brown all sides. Get it nice and dark.
Add all of the root vegetables, packed in around the sides of the roast, and pour in the french onion soup mixture over the top. Add 2-3 more bay leaves and a second 1/2 cup of wine. Tightly cover, and turn down to low heat. If your lid is a little…cheap…like mine is, use tinfoil to seal all potential points of steam escape. Let it simmer for about an hour.
After an hour, use a spoon or fork or tongs to pull the roast out of the stewing liquid. Add about a teaspoon of salt to the stew underneath, and sprinkle the roast itsself with salt as well. Re-cover, and allow to continue cooking for about 3 to 3.5hours over low heat. At this point I do not bother re-applying the tinfoil seal.
To serve, either spoon out stew and top with pot roast, or extract the roast and vegetables from the broth (a slotted spoon helps) and cook down the broth to make gravy or demi glace.
(To make demi glace, simply strain all vegetables and meet out of the juices remaining in the pan. Return the liquid to the pan and cook over high heat, allowing everything to get dark, bubbly and thick. Drizzle this hyper-concentrated flavor over individual servings of roast. A little goes a long way- this stuff is the salty, concentrated essence of your roast!)