Some things are hard – memorizing the value of Pi to the 25th decimal, learning to play the Theremin, decorating a cake with buttercream on a hot summer day, or watching an entire episode of The New Girl without feeling the urge to slap Zooey Deschanel’s character. (Note: These things might not be hard for everyone, but they certainly are for me.)
My mother’s recipe for pot roast, on the other hand, isn’t hard at all.
I don’t even really have to refer to the the splattered and stained page in my beloved binder of family recipes any more, because it’s committed to memory: a big hunk of beef, a bouillon cube, a metric assload of thinly sliced onions, a scant cup of water and a generous dose of black pepper, slowly simmered in a covered pot until tender and saucy.
There’s something strangely comforting about the knowledge that even if I’m so frazzled that I can barely my home phone number, at least I can remember how to make pot roast.
I’ve made it dozens, if not hundreds, of times in the years since then, and the only change I’ve ever made is to replace the water with a bottle of flavourful dark beer. It’s not meant to be fussy or fancy… its beauty lies in its simplicity.
The key to this dish is the seemingly disproportionate mountain of thinly sliced onions, which slowly dissolve into a tangle of translucent threads, releasing their juices into the braising liquid to form a thin gravy that reminiscent of a really good bowl of French onion soup (minus the croutons and cheese, obviously).
Because the recipe has so few elements, it’s also important to use a good-quality ingredients, beautifully marbled piece of beef and an intensely-flavoured dark beer (any porter or stout will do, though my brew of choice is Mill Street’s Coffee Porter), and in taking your time in browning the roast (because those browned bits on the bottom of the pan are the key to a flavourful sauce).
Combine that with fall-apart tender slices of beef that can be cut with a spoon, and you’ve got yourself a piece of comfort food heaven that transcends its humble origins.
All you need is a pile of creamy mashed potatoes to soak up all the sauce, and a hunk of crusty bread to mop up what the mash leaves behind. Oh, and perhaps another bottle of fine dark beer, chilled to frosty deliciousness while the beef simmered away… assuming you haven’t used up your last bottle to make the roast, that is.
It’s a perfect antidote to a day of long, hard, difficult things… like brain surgery, negotiating a peace treaty in the Middle East, or maybe just chasing down that elusive cute-yet-flattering bathing suit.
- 3lb boneless beef chuck, blade or rump roast
- Salt and pepper
- 2 tbsp canola oil
- 1 bottle (341ml) dark beer
- 1 cube beef bouillon, crumbled
- 2 lbs onions, thinly sliced
- Generously season the roast on all sides with salt and pepper.
- In a large, heavy-bottomed Dutch oven, heat the oil on medium-high. Sear the roast until browned on all sides, about 4-5 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate.
- Pour beer into the pot, using a wooden spoon to scrape up any browned bits clinging to the bottom. Crumble in the bouillon cube, and stir until dissolved. Add the sliced onions, then gently nestle the browned roast on top (it will probably look as if there isn't nearly enough liquid at this stage, but don't panic - the onions will eventually cook down and release their juices, creating the perfect roast-to-gravy ratio).
- Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, for about 3 hours or until the beef is fork-tender, turning the roast over midway through the cooking process. Adjust seasoning with more salt and pepper to taste, then carve into slices across the grain and serve with a big mound of mashed potatoes.