Yesterday Bob and I went driving around Birch Point, which body of land we live on the southern shore of, in the snow. We spent a lot more time out than expected, and I had not yet made any dinner plans, so we included a grocery stop in our trip. I had awakened with a hankering for a good red burgundy, which called for something a little lighter. Bob, by 5 p.m., cold and tired, wanted something very very comforting. He wanted pot roast. Furthermore, he wanted it "with all the vegetables roasted in the pan, like Granny Ruth used to make." An unusual request with an unusual amount of detail, but okay "as long as you don't mind eating quite late, this will take awhile". Through the drool, he managed to indicate that it wouldn't be a problem at all, just "throw in another bottle". I bought a boneless chuck roast (not that bone-in was an option).
At home, I trimmed away the fat and seared the craggy remains in a hot skillet, then added some chicken broth and a good bit of chardonnay from Trader Joe's that we'd deemed beneath our tastes. I have no set one way of making pot roast, but my tendency is to braise and use up things just laying around. At which point I remembered Bob's request for the vegetables. Uh oh. So in a separate dish went three small potatoes, halved, one sweet onion, quartered, some two inch lengths of celery and carrot and two small pieces of the fat cut off the roast for a little tie-in flavor. It went into a 400 degree oven to cook during the last hour of the beef's braising. It should all have been done around 8:30, but my danged oven (new thermostat comes today) is apparently underheating now so I had to remove the potatoes to the stove top to finish.
It was close to 9:30 before we sat down for dinner. Fortunately, we'd managed to nurse the Vouvray, so it lasted in spite of the delay until we were ready for the Monbousquet--it's not that I wouldn't serve burgundy with braised beef, but I thought the dish on the whole was going to have too many flavors, including the raw onion, and perhaps a Bordeaux would show better.
I'm being too verbose (killing time, waiting for the oven guy), but bear with me: I grew up with a grandmother who cooked simply but well. Always without exception, at least when grandkids were present, her meals were potatoes and meat prepared one of two ways: pan fried or roasted until well done. Gravy was often included, but not always. But what always was on the table was the dish of onions. Sometimes a plate of cold trimmed green onions that she and grandpa would eat holding a fork in one hand, an onion in the other, alternating bites--but more often diced white onions, alone or with parsley, with salt, pepper, oil and vinegar for scooping over one's food like a relish.
What new chefs today are discovering about the way a well-seasoned tang enlivens taste buds and cuts through the fat of meats and gravies, my grandmother knew all along.
Today, this is how I love pot roast best. I make a very small amount of gravy, reducing the de-fatted braising liquids into something super-concentrated that will act as more an accent than a featured player. It's drizzled sparingly over the chunks of meat and vegetable, and over the top go several spoonfuls of the heavenly onion pickle, made more modernly than my grammy's with white wine vinegar and EVOO, and seasoned with salt, pepper and a teaspoon or so of water to balance the vinegar without adding even more oil, like Grammy would have, and left to sweeten while the meat cooks.
The result is not a light meal by any stretch, but it's as light and bright as pot roast can be, maybe too easily so as Bob had no trouble refilling his plate for a complete second round.
Well worth the wait.
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My wine shopping and I have never had a problem. Just a perpetual race between the bankruptcy court and Hell.--Rogov