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Basic Pot Roast

Pot Roast is one of the easiest, tastiest, and most versatile foods you can cook.  There's not really even a recipe: just get a roast, put it in a crock pot, add vegetables, and turn the thing on.  Anywhere from four to twelve hours later, you have a pot roast.

Since there really isn't anything in the way of a recipe as such, here are just some basics to help you along.

Preparing the Roast

If you like, you can just throw it in and cook it, but there are a couple of extra things I like to do with it to give it a little extra oomph:
  • When i'm cooking for a garlic-friendly audience, i like to take a long thin knife (a KaiShun, of course) and stab the roast all over in a fairly regular pattern.  Each stab should be about 2" deep.  Then, I peel a head or two of garlic, trim the root off the cloves, and stick the cloves into the stab holes as far down as they'll go.  If you cook the roast long enough, these will caramelize into roasted garlic, not to mention make an interesting pattern when you're carving it.  (If you're planning on searing in the juices, below, add the garlic first.)
  • For a juicier roast, you need to seal in the juices before you put it in the crock pot.  Heat a cast-iron pan with some olive oil or other fat (bacon is lovely, but unnecessary).  When it's good and hot, place the roast fat-side down in the pan and let it sizzle for about five minutes.  Turn the roast and do the same on all sides, about two minutes on each remaining side.
  • Place the roast fat-side down in the crock pot and pile your veggies around it.  Some like to drape it in bacon, but this, again, is unnecessary.

Preparing the Vegetables

Once your roast is ready to go, it's vegetable time.  Again, there's not a recipe, but here are some tips:

  • Do not use any bitter vegetables that may not respond well to many hours of slow-cooking.  Broccoli, cabbage, asparagus, any sort of greens, most green vegetables, etc.  If you want any of these in your pot roast, cook them separately at the end of the process.  (Same rule goes for soup.)
  • Load up on your root vegetables: carrots, onions, garlic, parsnips, rutabagas, potatoes, turnips, etc. 
  • Be careful with squashes and gourds; while many will work fine (pumpkin, butternut, acorn squash) they may make your final product a little sweeter than you planned.  Others just don't work at all (zucchini, summer squash, spaghetti squash).
  • Onions are essential.  Don't leave them out!  Don't be afraid to use too many!

Putting it all Together

  • Put your roast in first, as i mentioned above. 
  • Next, the onions, then anything else you want.
  • Last, one or two bay leaves on top.  Remember to pull them out again at the end.
  • A little salt is fine, but not too much. 
  • If you're a Lipton Soup Mix person, that's fine too, though i find a roast really doesn't need the extra flavor.
  • Soy sauce.
  • Worcestershire sauce.
  • Black pepper.
  • You'll need to put a very little water or red wine (maybe a half a cup to a cup) to keep your crock pot hydrated during the start-up process, before the juices from the roast and vegetables start to be released.  Some people say a whole bottle of red wine, but that's going to have a very different flavor than just plain old pot roast.

The Long Wait

  • Once you've got everything put together, turn your crock pot on high and walk away!  No matter how tempted you are to look at it and poke at it and stir it, just leave it alone!
  • After about three or four hours, turn it to low, and walk away again!  Give it another three or four or eight hours. (How long depends a little on your choice of meat and a little on what vegetables you use.)

The Finishing Touches

  • When your pot roast is done, which is fairly subjective, you'll need a few finishing touches.
  • Don't forget to remove the bay leaves!
  • Remove your roast and put it on a platter to rest for a bit.  Remove your vegetables to a separate bowl.
  • If you've used mostly root vegetables, you may want to mash them and serve them separately.  Or not.  I like to do this with a nice mix of potatoes, carrots, and parsnips.  Cauliflower, too, believe it or not, lends itself well to mashing, and doesn't make things bitter quite like its cousin broccoli can.  (And for you WW folks out there, it's zero points, compared to potatoes' six or so.)
  • The remaining juices now need to be turned into gravy.  There are a lot of ways to do this, ranging from easy to hard, and delightful to disgusting.  One of these days i'll write a separate page on some of the ridiculous things people do to make gravy.  Fortunately, for pot roast purposes anyway, the best gravy is also the easiest to make.  Forget about messing around with flour and gravy mixes and corn starch.  Just get yourself a box of instant mashed potato flakes and toss in about a half a cup or so until you get the consistency you want. (N.B.: This is perhaps the only acceptable use of instant potato flakes.  And in this case, regular potatoes just won't cut it, because they won't soak up the liquid the same way.)
  • Add some more salt or spices to taste.
  • Depending on the cut of meat you used, you may be able to slice it, in which case you'll get that lovely garlic clove pattern i mentioned above.  Or, it may just fall apart completely.