Easy and classic French-style cooking (that’s also down home)
When we entertain, we often like to serve a big honking hunk of meat. Preferably something that’s full of flavor, easy to prepare—and can be made ahead of time.
Like pot roast.
Doesn’t sound fancy enough for company? Then just call it braised beef. And cook it with wine, the way the French do. All of a sudden we’re talking gourmet fare (and the perfect complement to a bottle of dry red wine).
Just make sure to prepare a big batch. Because your guests will be begging for seconds.
Recipe: Wine-Braised Beef Pot Roast
Beef makes perfect dinner-party fare. But unlike more highfalutin’ dishes (like standing rib roast), this one won’t break the bank. And when properly prepared, nothing offers more flavor and satisfaction than pot roast.
To make this dish, you first brown the meat, then cook it at the barest simmer in a mix of wine and beef stock. The result is very reminiscent of Boeuf Bourguignon (though for that dish, you cut the meat into small pieces and use more simmering liquid).
When making pot roast, we like to braise the beef in the oven (which provides an even cooking temperature). But you can cook it entirely on the stovetop if you prefer (we provide instructions for both methods). The important thing is to keep the braising liquid at the barest simmer.
BTW, when buying beef for pot roast, we often ask the butcher to tie the meat so it will hold together better while cooking. But this is very optional.
We like to serve sliced pot roast over a bed of mashed potatoes, accompanied by gravy made from the braising liquid. But if mashies aren’t your thing, feel free to substitute.
We learned about wine-braised pot roast from Julia Child. So our recipe is based on hers. She published several different recipes in her various books, but our favorite is the one we found in The Way to Cook.
Prep time for this recipe is at least 30 minutes, with braising time adding another 2½ to 3½ hours (largely unattended). So make this dish on a day when you have some time to spare (you can make it partly ahead of time if you prefer; see the Notes for suggestions).
How many people will this recipe serve? We figure that each pound of meat will satisfy 2 to 3, depending on appetites. So adjust accordingly.
Since our recipe calls for about 4 pounds of beef, you’ll probably have leftovers unless you’re serving a crowd. No worries. Leftover pot roast keeps for a few days if refrigerated in an airtight container. Or you can freeze it.
- ~4 pounds of beef, preferably bottom or top round (see Notes for alternative cuts)
- a sprinkling of kosher salt (maybe ½ teaspoon)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil (or another oil)
- 1 onion (about 1 cup, chopped)
- 1 or 2 carrots (about 1 cup, chopped)
- 2 or 3 garlic cloves (to taste)
- additional tablespoon of olive oil
- additional salt to taste (about ½ teaspoon kosher salt)
- freshly ground black pepper to taste (several grinds)
- ~3 cups dry red wine (such as Côtes du Rhône, Chianti, or Zinfandel—see Notes)
- 1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes
- beef stock as needed (typically 1 or 2 cups; see Step 6)
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 3 or 4 parsley sprigs
- 2 or 3 tablespoons cornstarch (optional—for the gravy; see Notes)
- If you plan to braise the meat in the oven, preheat it to 300 degrees F.
- Brown the meat: Place a Dutch oven on medium stovetop heat (use one that’s large enough to hold the meat comfortably, since you’ll also use this cooking pot for braising). Pat the meat dry, then season it with salt. When the Dutch oven is hot, add the oil. When the oil is heated (it’ll shimmer), add the beef to the Dutch oven. Reduce the stovetop heat somewhat, and brown the first side of the beef (this will take 4 or 5 minutes). Then turn the meat and brown another side. Continue until all sides of the beef are browned.
- While the meat is browning, peel the onion and chop it into dice (or slices) of about ½ inch. Scrub or peel the carrot, then chop it coarsely into pieces of ½ inch or so. Peel the garlic and chop it coarsely.
- Place a skillet on medium stovetop heat. Once the skillet is hot, add a tablespoon of oil. When the oil is heated (it’ll shimmer), add the chopped onion, carrot, and garlic to the skillet. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and sauté for 5 or 6 minutes (until the onion just becomes translucent). Lower the heat if necessary so the garlic doesn’t burn.
- When the meat is browned, remove it from the Dutch oven and set it aside. Pour the fat off the Dutch oven, then add a cup of red wine to the cooking pot. Bring the wine a boil, scraping up any browned bits that have stuck to the bottom of the Dutch oven.
- By this time, the vegetables should be cooked. Scrape the cooked vegetables into the Dutch oven. Place the browned beef on top. Add the rest of the red wine and the tomato. Add enough beef stock so that liquid comes about halfway up the side of the meat. Add the thyme and parsley sprigs. Bring the liquid to a simmer on the stovetop. Then place aluminum foil over the beef, crimping the foil down along the sides of the pan just above the braising liquid, and cover the Dutch oven with its lid. Place the Dutch oven in the preheated oven, and set a timer for 45 minutes. (Or if you’re cooking this dish on the stovetop, bring the liquid to the barest simmer, then cover the beef with aluminum foil and place the lid on the Dutch oven.)
- At the 45-minute mark, check to see how vigorously the liquid is simmering—you want just the barest simmer. Adjust the heat to control the simmering rate. Flip the beef over, recover with aluminum foil, and set a timer for 1 hour. At the hour mark, flip the beef again, recover with the foil, and cook until done (typically 2½ to 3½ hours total). How do you know it’s done? A metal skewer or sharp fork should pierce the meat without much resistance. If in doubt, cut off a small piece of beef and bite into it. The meat should be fairly tender. (To be on the safe side, you might want to start testing after 2 hours of simmering.)
- When the beef is done, remove it from the Dutch oven and set it aside on a plate or carving board for at least 20 minutes (30 or 40 is better). Cover the meat with aluminum foil while it’s resting. Place a strainer over a bowl or a large measuring cup, and pour the braising liquid from the Dutch oven through the strainer into the bowl. Empty the carrots and onions into the strainer, then use a spoon to press the liquid out of them.
- Discard the carrot-and-onion mixture (or do as we do, and serve it to the cook as a treat; it’s quite tasty). Measure the amount of braising liquid that you have poured through the strainer—it should amount to 2 or 3 cups. Spoon off any fat that has risen to the surface, then pour the braising liquid into a clean saucepan. If you have more than 3 cups of liquid, bring it to a simmer and then reduce it. Otherwise, just hold the liquid over low heat until ready to serve (you'll be using it as a sauce for the meat). Taste the braising liquid, and adjust the salt and black pepper if necessary.
- When you’re ready to serve the beef, you may want to thicken the braising liquid. If so, mix the cornstarch with an equal amount of cold water. Remove the sauce from the heat, then stir in the cornstarch, making a gravy.
- Cut the beef into slices ½-inch thick, then serve with the sauce/gravy. We like to serve pot roast over a bed of mashed potatoes.
- If you want to prepare this dish partly in advance, there are two natural stopping points: after Step 5 or after Step 8.
- If you want to stop after Step 5: Brown the beef and sauté the vegetables. Then place the beef, vegetables, wine, and other cooked ingredients into a covered container and refrigerate for 24 hours (this will marinate the beef). The next day, continue with the rest of the recipe. BTW, you should turn the beef in the marinating liquid two or three times while it’s in the refrigerator.
- If you want to stop after Step 8: After completing this step, allow the beef and braising liquid to cool. Then wrap the meat well and refrigerate it. Place the braising liquid in a covered container and refrigerate it. You can refrigerate the beef and braising liquid for up to 48 hours. When ready to serve, make the gravy (Steps 9 and 10). Slice the cold meat, then warm it in 2 or 3 cups of simmering beef or chicken stock before serving (you’ll discard the stock—it’s being used only to bring the meat to serving temperature).
- Warming cold, sliced meat in stock is a trick we learned from the restaurant trade. This method allows restaurant staff to reheat portions as they’re needed, rather than reheating an entire roast. A bonus here is that meat slices better when cold. And it only takes a minute or two to warm the slices in stock.
- For this dish, you should use a cut of meat that holds its shape well when sliced. Bottom round is our favorite, although top round works well too. You can also use chuck roast (which actually has better flavor), though it doesn’t always hold its shape as well.
- BTW, the meat you use should contain some fat. During the long cooking process, the fat (and some of the meat’s proteins) will break down, which is what tenderizes the meat. Without enough fat, the meat will tend to dry out during cooking.
- The crust that forms on the bottom of the pan when you brown meat holds a great deal of flavor. That’s why you deglaze the pan with wine (Step 5)—to capture some of that flavor.
- We prefer to make this dish in the oven rather than on the stovetop because the oven provides more even heat. But either method works. The most important thing is to keep the braising liquid just at a simmer—you don’t want it to boil.
- In either case, be sure to cover the meat with aluminum foil, crimping the foil down along the sides of the pan, just above the braising liquid. Why? Because meat braises better if there isn’t too much “headroom” (extra space) above it. The aluminum foil cover essentially reduces the size of the Dutch oven so that it exactly fits the size of the pot roast and its braising liquid.
- There’s no need to use spendy wine for the braising liquid. We typically use something in the $10 to $12 per bottle range, but even a good jug wine is fine. You want something that is hearty enough to add oomph to the dish. If in doubt, ask your wine merchant—they’ll have a suggestion.
- We often use a full bottle of wine in the braising liquid. In that case, we sometimes leave out the beef stock in Step 6 (if the wine provides a sufficient quantity of liquid), and instead add some beef base to the braising wine for extra flavor. Beef base is concentrated beef stock that’s sold as a paste—you can find it in the soup aisle at your grocery store, or online.
- You don’t have to thicken the sauce (gravy), but we like to do so. We usually thicken it with cornstarch because that’s quick and easy. If you prefer, however, you could make a roux. If you go that route, you’d probably need 2 tablespoons each of butter and flour for the amount of gravy in this dish.
- We use kosher salt for cooking. Kosher salt has big flakes, so it doesn’t fill a measuring spoon as “tightly” as regular table salt. Hence, it’s less salty by volume. If you’re using regular table salt rather than kosher salt, use only about half as much as our recipe calls for. But in any case, when it comes to salt (and pepper), you should always season to your taste, not ours.
“Vive la France! The French know how to cook,” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs, biting into her pot roast. “I’ve got no beef with this dish.”
“And pot roast goes so well with mashed spuds,” I said. “This meal is no small potatoes.”
“Yup, these mashies really beef up the feast,” said Mrs K R.
“It’s a lot of food,” I said. “We’ll need to burn some calories after this. Can’t be couch potatoes.”
“Agreed,” said Mrs K R. “In fact, based on the size of your serving, you might need an extra workout, Mr Beefcake. Maybe a ten-mile walk.”
“But I’ll have to nap first,” I said. “Otherwise, I might drop like a sack of potatoes during our hike.”
“OK, nap time first,” said Mrs K R. “Wouldn't want to see you turn into ground beef.”
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