Pot roast may be the definitive braised weekend dish, its rich beefy smell bringing back Sunday family suppers and autumn evenings. I love the meaty taste of pot roast just falling to pieces in its braising liquid, but I don't always have a whole weekend day to devote to the slow, careful cooking that a big roast needs to become tender. So here's a twist on the usual oversized pot roast: Individual-sized pieces of beef that cook much more quickly, but still have that melting, slow-cooked quality.
This is a 2-hour meal, no more — a very reasonable amount of time for a weekday supper, especially if you want to bustle around and get a few things done around the house while it cooks. It even comes with its own vegetable: Snappy carrots, cooked until tender but still bright, perked up with fresh thyme and black pepper.
There are several reasons, actually, that I like this recipe just as much as a classic brisket or pot roast. There's the aforementioned time advantage — you can get home from work at 5:30, put this in the oven, and still eat dinner at a reasonable hour. (And if 2 hours is too long a timeframe for preparing dinner, this, like most braised meats, is a very good make-ahead meal — it's equally as delicious when warmed up at a later time.)
But I also enjoy this recipe for its presentation. It can be a casual supper for an evening in, but it also makes a great dish for a weekend dinner party. Instead of hacking and shredding a bigger roast to pieces, you can present each guest with a plateful of carrots and sauce, topped with their own piece of meat. It's like a homier autumn answer to a filet mignon.
And finally, this recipe offers loads of flavor. So much of the flavor in braised meat comes from the browning step. I like to brown meat quite dark, and since this recipe has you cut the pot roast into separate pieces, this offers even more surface for that brown crust of flavor. So each modest piece of beef comes with an extra helping of delicious taste and tender meat.
I like to serve this quite simply with just the carrots, making it a true one-pot meal. The carrots get tender but not mushy; I like mine with just the faintest bit of snap still left inside. But of course you can ladle the meat and its sauce over pasta or rice (I don't bother making gravy — the braising liquid of tomatoes and red wine has plenty to offer without going that extra step).
Individual Pot Roasts with Thyme-Glazed CarrotsServes 4
1 1/2 to 2 pounds chuck roast
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 large onion, diced
5 cloves garlic, smashed and roughly chopped
1 1/2 cups red wine, such as Malbec
1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes, with their juices
1 whole sprig fresh rosemary
2 whole sprigs fresh thyme
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
1 16-ounce bag baby carrots
Heat oven to 325°F. Quarter the chuck roast into 4 equally-sized chunks of meat, like mini pot roasts. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper.
Heat a heavy deep pan or Dutch oven over high heat. When the pan is hot, place each piece of the chuck roast in the pan. Sear for several minutes (or until the the meat releases easily) on both sides. You may need to do this in two batches; don't crowd the pan. Let the meat get quite dark, with crusty spots on both sides.
When the meat is well-browned, remove it from the pan and put on a plate. Drizzle a little olive oil into the pan and turn the heat down to medium. Add the onions and garlic, and sprinkle lightly with salt. Cook the onions and garlic for about 5 minutes, stirring until they are soft. Add the wine and scrape any remaining bits of meat up from the bottom of the pan. Pour in the tomatoes and bring the mix to a simmer, then turn off the heat.
Add the meat back into the pan. Place the rosemary sprig and whole thyme sprigs in the pot. Cover with a tight-fitting lid and put in the oven. Cook for 1 1/2 hours, or until the meat is very tender.
In the last 30 minutes of cooking, heat a heavy saucepan over medium heat and add the butter. Melt, then add the thyme leaves and carrots. Cook, stirring, until the carrots are glazed with the thyme. Season generously with salt and pepper. Add to the pot roast in the oven and cover. Leave the carrots in the pot for the last 30 minutes of cooking the pot roasts (or until tender).
Remove from the oven and let rest for 10 to 15 minutes. Then serve with the carrots on the side, and with pasta or good bread, if desired.
On this recipe in the slow cooker:
I haven't tested this in the slow cooker, and overall I prefer the oven to the slow cooker these days. This especially applies to beef. My slow cooker refuses, even on LOW, to go below a steady boil, which I think is too much heat for beef. I often find my brisket or pot roast stringy and tough out of the slow cooker. You may have better success of course, but I think this is so quick in the oven it's probably not the best recipe to throw in the slow cooker anyway.
Related: How To Roast a Chicken
(Images: Faith Durand)