When I started this project, I wanted to see what I’d come up with every day, but I also wanted (and still want) to encourage people to cook. I think many people of my generation were brought up on convenience foods and indoctrinated with the idea that cooking equals entertainment, which, while not necessarily a bad perk, means that many people only tend to cook when they’re having guests over for dinner. The simple, homey, not-so-pretty dishes that don’t dress up for company get left behind, meaning people (myself included) never internalize the most basic recipes. You can make sushi, but you can’t boil rice without the package. You make homemade caramels, but you’ve never made a pie crust. You’ve made chicken tikka, but have never tried roasting a plain chicken. I’ve made a standing rib roast and beef wellington, but, until recently, I’d never cooked a pot roast.
This is riduculous, considering I love beef but hate its price tag. It’s also silly because I braise brisket and pork shoulder and chicken thighs on a pretty regular basis, and I’m familiar enough with slow cooking techniques not to need a recipe. Why this irrational pot roast aversion? And why haven’t you ever roasted a chicken?
I’m sure you get the point–I didn’t mean to get evangelical. But learning to cook the most basic things well is my own goal, also. I think I get all uppity about people wanting to cook too-fancy food becuase I recognize the same tendencies in my own cooking, and sometimes wish they weren’t there. I suppose it’s a value judgement on my part to say that learning the simplest things is more important than being able to whip up an impressive meal. But, despite the fact that I, too, fall prey to the must-make-something-fabulous impulse, I really think learning to cook simply is crucial.
Anyway, it turns out that pot roast is really easy, which, added to the fact that you can make it with a fairly cheap cut of beef, must be why it’s been a weekly staple on so many tables for so many years. Knowing how to braise – or cook meat slowly over a long period of time in liquid, usually in a big heavy pot in the oven – meant I could pretty much do it by feel. You’ll need some sort of ovenproof vessel, or a slow cooker.
Of course, simple is relative.
“That’s the most complicated pot roast I’ve ever heard of,” said a foodie friend and excellent cook, when I told her about this recipe. Her mom’s pot roast has about 4 ingredients. I still think it’s simple, just not necessarily easy or fast. (So much for evangelism.) But the point here is to cook something you haven’t cooked before that maybe you think you should have tried earlier. With this goal, there’s no reason this recipe is better than any other pot roast recipe. (Although I must say that the Dijon/rosemary combo in the sauce is really tasty, and adding just a bit of lemon at the end really brings out the other flavors well.)
Skip the sauce step, if you want, and serve it straight from the pot, straight out of the oven. But I like it the way it is. Either way, it’ll be a wonderful rib-sticking January meal.
When I made it (I dug into my Skagit River Ranch stash), I asked some friends over for dinner. And guess what? I think they liked it.
What’s that biblical saying? Something like “cook unto others as you would cook for yourself?”