One of the things I love about a well-made pot roast is the way each bite breaks away so easily; how the sauce seems to almost melt into the long-simmered beef.
In this dish, the scents of cooking are so inviting they'll wake you up from a winter's nap and draw you into the kitchen, making you wish you could speed the process.
But don't try. This dish turns out beautifully given the proper time.
A few tips:
1. Thyme is easy to grow and use. You can also purchase it in the store year-round. Just use a piece of kitchen string to tie the bundle of stems together and put into the pot of simmering broth while the roast is cooking. The leaves will fall off the stem, and all you have to do at the end is pull the bundle out. Also, be sure you pull out the bay leaf.
2. Use a dry red wine you wouldn't mind drinking with the dish when it is finished. You're not using much, but the flavor will tell.
3. I used Pacific Organic Beef Broth. It was opaque rather than clear; it had body and was well worth the reasonable price. I think it, along with the tomato sauce, wine, Worcestershire sauce and the mushroom liquid, made the completed sauce the rich, brown color that it was.
Rehydrating mushrooms in a small bowl.
4. Here's a tip I have learned and re-learned from both Italian and Mexican cooks: Put plenty of herbs into the stew to cook. But, at the end, refresh the flavor with a few more fresh-chopped herbs. It does make a difference.
5. And, another tip from the great caldo makers of San Antonio: Add a few carrot slices to the cooking liquid if you like sweetness in the broth. I don't want a sweet gravy, so I cook the carrots separately, and serve them alongside the dish.
5. There are a number of ways to build on flavor: Use good ingredients, making sure each and every one of them is a flavor builder, not a neutral, unless it's needed water. The broth, wine, tomato sauce, and other ingredients back up the delicious natural flavors that the long-cooked beef imparts to the liquid. Another is reduction: In this recipe, I reduced the broth after the roast had become tender, before putting in the thickener. Then, it is further cooked so that the flour in the thickening blend cooks long enough to get rid of a raw flour taste. You know it's right when the sauce, or gravy, if you prefer, takes on a lovely, glossy sheen. Add the mushrooms, cook a little longer, and you're there.
Pot Roast with Wild Mushrooms and Thyme
3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more, if needed, divided use
2 1/2 pounds beef shoulder roast
Salt, to taste
Black pepper, to taste
Few grindings of white pepper
1 cup water
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup diced celery, with some of the leaves
1 cup diced onion or leek, or combination
3 large cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
1 quart beef broth, such as Pacific Organic Beef Broth
1 cup water
1 cup boiling water
1 cup dried wild mushrooms
1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce (plain, not seasoned)
1 tablespoon Worcestershire Sauce
3/4 cup dry red wine (not 'cooking' wine)
1 large bundle fresh thyme stems (such as you buy at the store, reserving 3-4 of the stems)
1/2 large bay leaf (don't forget to take it out before you serve the pot roast)
5 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, divided use
1/2 cup flour
1 (10-ounce) package wide egg noodles, cooked, for serving
2 tablespoons butter
Salt, to taste
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Put a large, heavy-bottom pan for searing the meat on the stove. Heat the olive oil over medium heat until very hot. Rub both sides of the beef roast with the salt, pepper and white pepper. Place into the hot oil and brown well on both sides. Remove to a heavy-bottomed pot with a lid.
Put 1 cup water into the pan where you cooked the beef. Turn the heat down and scrape the pan, getting up browned bits. Pour into the pan with the roast. Add the 2 tablespoons olive oil to the first pan and sauté the onion, celery, onion and garlic until lightly browned. Scrape into the beef pot.
Pour 1 cup boiling water (or very hot water) over the dried mushrooms and set aside. Into the beef pot put the broth, remaining cup water, tomato sauce, Worcestershire sauce, wine, thyme, bay leaf, parsley. Cover the pot, turn down the heat so the liquid comes to a bubbling simmer, but not hard boil. Let cook until the beef is tender to cut, but not falling apart. (About 1 1/2 hours.)
Remove cooked beef to a platter and set aside. (Cover the top with some plastic wrap.) Strain the broth and skim off some of the fat. (Discard the well-cooked diced vegetables, unless someone wants to eat them.)
Put the broth back on the stove and pour in the water from the mushrooms. Simmer the broth, uncovered, by about a third. Remove 2 cups of the broth and and put it in a medium bowl. Whisk into the broth 1/2 cup flour. When the flour mixture is smooth, slowly whisk it into the broth on the stove. Put the beef back into the simmering mixture. Chop and add the wild mushrooms and another tablespoon of the parsley and some of the fresh thyme leaves that you reserved.The dish will be done in about 15=20 minutes, when the sauce becomes glossy and has no taste of flour, and the meat is now very tender.
Cook noodles according to package directions and drain. Toss in salt, butter and parsley. Put in large serving dish with sloping sides. Add the cooked roast and pour over the sauce. (The roast will be so tender that it will really be easy to cut and serve portions from the dish, served family style.)
Makes 5-6 servings.
From Bonnie Walker