My buddy Chef James Clark is arguably the most avid outdoorsman I know this side of Rene Redzepi, and probably a whole lot more fun. While you can imagine Rene truckin’ around the woods outside Copenhagen looking for edible lichens to pair with a cardamom – milk skin, Chef James would much rather spend time slaying some running salmon on the Manistee, raking in some “Bugs” (shrimp) off an abandoned rice field somewhere, or waiting patiently for that next big twelve pointer to come scratching.
I was thinking of Chef James as I was making some pot roast the other day, searing my beef chuck. The process of achieving that nice, crusty – caramelized quality on the outside of meats (and really, any amino acid) is called the Maillard Reaction. As I watched the process with my dinner, I laughed, imagining Chef James’ response going something like this –
“Mallard reaction? Son! I’m havin’ a Mallard Reaction right now! It’s Fall on the Eastern Flyway – I gotta get out to the marsh with my 30 – odd 6!”
My family loves the flavor of all things braised. The deep, complex flavors so full of umami have been a favorite of mine, going back to the first shortribs I ever braised working for Louis Osteen on Meeting St. (He is now in Nashville, overseeing Watermark and Fish & Co. You can find his book here.) They were a revelation, and I’d never tasted anything like them. As much as the caramelized mirepoix, subsequent pincage of wine, tomatoes and bouquet garni of herbs, the deep satisfying flavor of braised meats owes itself to the Maillard reaction. The braising process looks something like this:
Since I’m working at home without the benefit of sous vide, I used a slow cooker. It creates a lot less heat than cranking up the whole oven for one pot (it’s still hitting 80f here in mid – November!) and does a nice even job of breaking down those tough muscles and bringing out the flavor. Here’s a good recipe for braised pot roast using a slow cooker:
Recipe for Braised Pot Roast
- 4# Beef Chuck (You can substitute Short Ribs if you like)
- 2 Diced Sweet Onions
- 3 Stalks of Celery, Diced
- 3 Medium Carrots, Peeled and Diced
- 1 – 16 oz Can Diced Tomatoes
- 6 Cloves Garlic, Crushed
- Bouquet Garni (Bay Leaves, Peppercorns, Fresh Thyme Wrapped in Cheesecloth)
- 1 1/2 Cups Red Wine (I used a Tempranillo)
- 2 Quarts Beef Stock or Brown Chicken Stock
- Salt and Pepper
Get out a good, heavy stock pot or enameled dutch oven (Don’t use cast iron as the acid from the tomatoes will trash your seasoning and the finished product will taste like the inside of a roasted tin can.)
Crank it to high, and as it heats, season your beef chuck with the salt and pepper. Lightly oil the pan and as it begins to smoke, add the chuck, gently laying it down in the pan away from you so as not to splash hot grease on yourself. Allow the beef to develop a mahagony brown crust before you turn it, then repeat. Remove the chuck and allow to rest. Add diced mirepoix of onions, carrots and celery, stirring frequently until well caramelized on a medium flame. Add the garlic and stir, allowing to brown lightly. Deglaze the pan with the red wine, add the bouquet garni and reduce by half. Add diced tomatoes and their juice and reduce by half. Place the beef chuck in a slow cooker, cover with the tomato – mirepoix pincage, add the beef stock, cover and set your slow cooker on high. After an hour, reduce heat to low and allow to simmer for 6 hours. Periodically skim any rendered fats. When the pot roast is fork tender, remove (carefully) from the slow cooker. If you prefer a thinner jus, you may opt to just strain the jus of any solids. For a more robust quality, I recommend using an immersion blender on the contents for a rich sauce with a velvet nappe consistency. Taste and season with salt and pepper. If you agree with the adage from Zingerman’s of “Anything to make it marginally better” I highly recommend whisking in several pats of good quality cultured or European style butter.
…and yes, the leftovers make a killer hash for breakfast.