Before I get started, I want to thank my good friend Christina Parker for sharing some of her curry sauce with me. We made another tasty chicken vindaloo with it. It filled us up and left Hawkins’ apartment scented like Bombay. I owe you one now.
OK, on with this column. It was late summer, early fall, the weekend of the “Great Flood of 2006.” Hawkins and I invited Matt Martini from The Cadiz Record’s advertising department and former staffer and best friend Eric Snyder to join us. Despite threatening weather, we gathered in the Record’s “Test Kitchen” at Hawkins place. The main event was pot roast.
I selected a sirloin roast, though a chuck or regular “pot roast” or even a brisket (if you can find one) will suffice. How big of a roast? I use 8 ounces of beef for every person at the meal. For the four of us, the roast weighed a bit over two pounds. Try a bit larger of a cut of meat if you like beef or want leftovers. I always try to wash my beef before cooking to get clean meat. Rinse the cut in lukewarm water and sprinkle table or kosher salt on it. Rub the salt all over the beef, then rinse it completely and drain in a bowl. If the roast needs trimming, use a sharp knife to remove the fat that is easily cut.
Start the pot by sautéing a mirepoix of a heaping teaspoon of minced garlic, one rib celery, an equal amount of carrots and half a sweet onion- chopped into small pieces. Season the vegetables with a dash or two of sea salt and some cracked black pepper. Cracked pepper adds a fresher flavor and a more distinct pepper “bite.”
Rub the meat again with a little sea salt and black pepper. Remove the vegetables from the pot and reserve them for later. Take the beef and brown the outside on all surfaces.
Cooking a pot roast uses a technique known as braising- which is to say it heats in a little bit of liquid and its own juices. The bit of liquid I use to braise my roast is about a half cup of red wine. A dryer red wine works best for beef. Add the wine once the roast is lightly browned on all sides, and then add the mirepoix that has been reserved.
To season, I usually add one bay leaf to the wine, a tablespoon of parsley, and a teaspoon of mustard seeds. Mustard seeds add a hint of flavor, without overwhelming. I like eating my roast with mustard, so why not cook a little of the flavor into the meat?
Cover your pot with a tightly fitting lid and simmer for 90 minutes. Check on it from time to time, but pot roast is fairly low maintenance. Add one more rib of celery, with an equal amount of carrots and the other half of the onion (or more) and stir well, before recovering for another half hour.
Potatoes are the last ingredients to add because they soak up more flavors then they add, and if overcooked, can turn to mush. I like small new potatoes, because the flavor of the skin is a treat. New potatoes also hold their shape more than cuts of Irish potatoes. Add one pound of washed red or white new potatoes to roast. At this point, taste the pot roast to see if more salt and pepper will be required-it probably will.
My mother is a believer in low-carb dieting. If you are too, substitute the potatoes for a pound of cauliflower. She’s cooked pot roast for me with cauliflower, and I have to say, “I like it.”
Cover the pot and simmer for one more hour, before removing the lid and bringing the fire up to medium. This will reduce the now ample liquid into a rich brown gravy. Remove the bay leaf when finished, because the flavor will grow too strong if left in overnight. We served the roast with spicy brown mustard, creamy horseradish and hot buttered rolls.
Despite Matt driving back to Murray in some foul weather, and Eric and me being stranded for the evening, we had a great dinner and a great time. The next morning, we overlooked the cornfield that had been swallowed by a creek. Hawkins always said that he wished he lived near the beach.
The pot roast serves four hungry newspaper staffers, with some leftovers that are even better the next day. Good eating to all!