Pot roasts are a great and flavourful way to feed an entire family, while still sticking to a budget. The cuts of meat you will use here require longer cooking times, so they will be easier on your wallet. A general rule of thumb; the easier and quicker a food is to cook, the pricier it will be (I.e. beef tenderloin, lobster, ahi tuna, prawns, etc). This is a wonderful thing to take advantage of, as you can usually pick up things like shoulder cuts of beef, or pork on sale for a great price. I prefer using the shoulder cuts of meat to the leg, as I find there is just a little more connective tissue in those cuts, leaving you more all around flavour and more leniency for extended cook times. I would break pot roasts down into 4 major categories, and once you know what those are, you can interchange ingredients as you wish to create your own family pot roast recipe.
Protein; Beef shoulder or leg, pork shoulder (picnic or boston butt) or leg, lamb shoulder or leg, wild boar shoulder, bison shoulder.
Vegetables/Fruits; Potato, carrots, onion, celery, garlic, garlic scapes, eggplant, tomatoes, parsnip, rutabaga, turnip, daikon, lotus root, mushrooms, apple, pear, peach, pineapple, apricots.
Liquids; (I usually like to add one from each row below)
Stocks; Chicken stock, beef stock, pork stock, lamb stock, dashi broth.
Alcohol; White wine, red wine, sparkling wine, Icewine, dry vermouth, port, brandy, bourbon, spiced rum, beer, cider.
Juice; Apple juice, orange juice, pineapple juice, peach juice, mulled apple cider.
Other; Soya sauce, Worcestershire, Tobasco, dijon, pickled mustard seeds (or grainy dijon), jam or preserves of any sort, coconut milk, hoisin sauce, oyster sauce, fish sauce.
Aromatics; Thyme, parsley, basil, tarragon, mint, oregano, rosemary, lemongrass, lime leaves, bay leaves, chili pepper flake, peppercorn, szechaun peppercorn, dried shrimp, star anise, cinnamon, cardamon, turmeric, clove, cumin, bonito flakes.
Highlighted above are the ingredients I used for this blog
Step 1 - Choose your protein
Here is where it all begins, choose the protein you are wanting to work with, and then the rest will fall in line. For this blog I decided to go with pork shoulder.
Step 2 - Choose your vegetables/fruits
If you are not comfortable choosing from the list above, you will never be disappointed using the combination of potatoes, onions, carrots, celery, and garlic. This is a good starting point, and you can add and take away from here depending on the direction of your dish. For this pot roast I went with the combination above with the addition of apple, as it has a lovely affinity with pork and for this exercise, I wanted to stay more on the classic side of things using classic French flavours and techniques (peaches, pears, or apricot could have worked just as well).
Step 3 - Choose your liquids
When choosing your liquids, you can go with as little as picking just a stock, but I would recommend picking one liquid from each of the top 2 categories; "Stock", and "Alcohol", as this is going to give you a little more complexity to your dish. The "Juice" category should be used if your using pork (as the sweetness pairs well) but can be omitted otherwise. The "Other" category helps bring the direction of your dish together, usually depending on ethnicity of your cooking. In this particular dish I have gone with chicken stock, white wine, mulled apple cider, and pickled mustard seeds (you can use grainy Dijon here).
Step 4 - Choose your aromatics
Here again, usually depends on the ethnicity of your dish;
French; Thyme, tarragon, parsley, bay leaves, peppercorn (white or black)
Italian; Basil, oregano, parsley, rosemary, black peppercorn, chili pepper flake
Asian; Lemongrass, lime leaves, Szechaun peppercorn, dried shrimp, star anise, bonito flakes
Indian; Turmeric, cardamon, cinnamon, star anise, cumin
*The herbs I chose for this dish were for French cooking (omitting peppercorn)*
Step 5 - Season your protein, and pat dry
You are going to want to start by drying off the outside of your protein using paper towel, this will ensure you get a nice crust when you sear it off. Then generously season your piece of meat with salt (at the very least). If you have chosen beef, bison, or lamb you will also want to add a generous amount of cracked black pepper, and if your a fan of pepper, you can add it to your pork dish as well, I opted not to use it in mine.
Step 6 - Sear off your protein
Using a Dutch oven preferably, or if you don't have, anything that you can put into the oven would work just fine also. Heat your Dutch oven to medium high, once it has come up to temperature, place a generous amount (1 Tablespoon) of vegetable or canola oil in the bottom, carefully put your roast down into the oil using a pair of tongs. Make sure you get a nice brown crust on all sides, as this is going to impart some nice flavour and caramelization to the dish. Once you have browned all sides, set aside the roast on a plate, and get ready to put your vegetables into the same pot, with the already seasoned oil you just used to sear the roast. You are going to want to make sure you have your oven pre-heated to 300F degrees.
Step 7 - Cut your vegetables
You are going to want to put a large dice on your vegetables, and fruit, as this dish will be in the oven for over 2 hours, and the goal is not to end up with mush by the time we are finished here.
Step 8 - Place your vegetables into the seasoned pot
We are not trying to cook the vegetables through here, only just coat them in the seasoned oil, and get a little bit of heat on them.
Step 9 - Deglaze with your alcohol of choice
Here you are going to add in your alcohol, and turn up the heat underneath your vegetables, you are going to want to cook out some of the alcohol. Cook down 1/2 to 2/3 of the liquid added, depending on how hard the alcohol is. Harder alcohol needs to be cooked down a little more than beer, wine, vermouth, or port.
Step 10 - Add in the rest of your liquids
After you have cooked down the alcohol, you will add in your stock, and your juice. I would reserve some of the stock, until you see exactly how far the liquid comes up overtop of the roast. Bring the liquids up to temperature, just under a simmer.
Step 11 - Put the roast back into the pot
Now you will put the roast back into the pot using tongs, making sure that the roast is completely covered with liquid using the reserved stock, or if you need to you can also top it up with a little bit of water. If you do need to add more liquid, make sure that everything has been brought back up to temperature (If you add the pot into the oven without bringing up the temperature, it is going to take that much longer to cook, especially cooking at such a low temperature).
Step 12 - Add in your aromatics
Here you add your chosen aromatics into the pot. You can tie off your bundle of herbs using butchers twine, or wrap them in cheese cloth, or if your like me, and not to picky about it, just free roll it, and through them in as is.
Step 13 - Put the top on, and into the pre-heated oven
You will now put the top onto the pot and place it on the middle rack of the oven at 300F degrees (If you don't have a pot with a lid, use anything oven safe, and use tinfoil as your lid). Cook for 2 hours with the top on, and then 45 minutes at the end with the top off. This will make sure the roast is moist, and cooked properly for the first part of the cooking process, and then when you take the lid off for the second portion, it will help reduce your liquid, and create more of a sauce.
Step 14 - Take the pot out of the oven, and let it sit on the stovetop
You will want to take the pot out of the oven, after the cooking has finished. I like to leave it on top of the stove to sit and rest for an hour or two, and let the roast take back in all of the juices that are in the pot.
Step 15 - Making the sauce/jus
This step is all dependant on what your personal preference is, and what kind of fruits, vegetables, and liquids you used. There are basically 4 different options for you here after you take your meat out of the pot, place it on a cutting board, and cut into nice serving portions. You can;
1) Leave it as is; leave the liquid as it is in the pot with the vegetables, and ladle it overtop of the dish, acting more as a jus for the plate.
Or if you are finding the liquid is not flavourful enough, as there was a higher ratio of liquid to everything else;
2) Cook it down; You can ladle the liquid into a smaller pot, and using high heat, cook that down into your desired sauce consistency.
Or if you like the flavor already, and just want a thicker sauce you can either;
3) Add cornstarch/water mixture; Transfer the liquid into a smaller saucepan, and add some cornstarch mixed with a little bit of cold water, make a slurry, and then whisk that into the liquid while simmering.
4) Thicken with a roux; Melt equal parts butter and flour in a small pot, make a roux and ladle your liquid into the roux to thicken, mixing it in with a whisk while on a simmer. *Never add hot liquid to a hot roux as it will splatter, and never add cold liquid to a cold roux, as it will clump. Hot liquid into a room temp roux, or room temp liquid into a hot roux*
This just all comes down to personal preference, as you could use any of these methods;
The finished product
The finished product is a very flavourful hearty meal welcome at anyone's dinner table, and a family/fan favourite.