Mediterranean pot roast
Moist and juicy, this roast is especially savory with a hint of wine and herbs.
When I cook beef, I want it very tender indeed, and very savory.
I like it slow-cooked, so a knife cuts through richly and smoothly. Thinking of something different from the usual chicken and turkey, my mother’s pot roasts came to mind. She cooked pot roast in traditional American style: the beef, in a little broth, with onions, carrots and a couple of bay leaves. But I’ve lived in Israel so long, I can’t keep Mediterranean herbs out of my pots, and beef always seems to call for wine.
A note on the wine: Use a medium-quality white wine rather than a red. You don’t want this to become a version of beef bourguignon.
A note on the herbs: If you don’t have fresh rosemary and thyme, go ahead and substitute 1/2 teaspoon of dried. Tie them up in a bit of cheesecloth if you can. Otherwise, the diners will be pushing the little needles of herbs off their meat and carrots on their plates.
And a final note: You can go through the whole cooking process using one pot, but you will need a couple of plates to place the caramelized meat and vegetables on before they go in the oven. I prefer the oven method because it leaves the stove-top burners free, and I don’t have to think about the beef much while it’s cooking. I use a cast-iron Dutch oven, but any solid, oven-proof pot with a well-fitting lid works. The meat should fit into the pot comfortably, but without much spare room (you don’t want those luscious juices evaporating away).
- 3 pounds beef
- 1 tablespoon kosher or coarse sea salt
- 1/2-1 teaspoon black pepper, to taste
- 1 teaspoon ground sweet paprika
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 4 or 5 medium carrots, scrubbed well but not peeled
- 2 onions, peeled and halved
- 2 tablespoons cognac
- 1 cup white wine
- 3 bay leaves
- 1 2-inch sprig of rosemary
- 1 healthy sprig thyme
- 1-2 cups water or clear beef or chicken soup
Preheat the oven to 300° F (150° C).
Put the salt, pepper and paprika in a bowl that the beef will fit into. Place the beef inside, and turn it over and around a few times to season it. Pat the seasonings in as you go. There will be some extra in the bottom of the bowl. Leave the beef in the bowl while you go on to the next steps.
Heat the fat in the pot over high heat. Carefully add the halved onions. Brown them on both sides – about 5 minutes. Remove to a plate.
Add the carrots to the hot pot. Dribble in a little more oil as needed. Brown the carrots on all sides, lowering the heat a little if it looks like the fat or carrots are scorching. You’re not seeking to cook the carrots through, but to caramelize their outsides, so turn them over a few times and take them out when they have a little crusty color, about 5 minutes. Move the carrots to the plate the onions are on. Keep the pot hot.
Lift the beef off the seasonings – ignore the extra in the bowl and discard it afterward. Put the beef into the hot pot. If the pot looks dry, add a little more oil to keep the beef from sticking when you brown it. And brown it on all sides now. This takes 10-15 minutes. Give each side a nice long period of browning, don’t rush it or move it around much. Remove to a separate plate when it looks browned all over.
Have ready your cognac and wine. Pour the cognac into the pot, stirring hard with a wooden spoon to raise the roasted particles off the bottom. Add the wine and keep stirring. Boil for one minute, stirring.
Put the beef back in the pot. Add the vegetables, bay leaves, rosemary and thyme. Add enough water or broth to come halfway up the meat.
Cover tightly and put in the oven. Turn the beef over after 90 minutes. Continue cooking for another 60-90 minutes, or until very tender.
Let the pot roast stand for 15 minutes before serving. If using a cast-iron pot, it’ll certainly stay hot. Serve with the carrots and the pot liquor.
Optional: Make a gravy by browning 1 tablespoon flour in 2 tablespoons of oil. Add the hot pot liquor, pouring in a slow, steady stream, while whisking to break up any lumps. Cook 2-3 minutes until thick. Taste for seasoning and remove from heat.
Mashed potatoes are perfect for this dish, but if you want to keep it more Mediterranean, serve with rice.