Seasonal availability aside, some foods just seem to be more suited to one season than another. Pot roast, for example, is a cozy dish perfect for winter.
First, let's define it: For a lot of people, pot roast is chuck roast.
"We get a lot of requests for chuck roast, and they want to know how to cook it," said Gary Gonzales, owner of Branded Meats in Henderson. "It's one of our biggest ones, especially in the winter."
"Boneless chucks or a boneless chuck shoulder roast are my favorites," said Ron Lutz, owner of The Butcher Block. "They have a lot of marbling, a lot of flavor."
Chuck is one of the best cuts for pot roast, agreed Dave Zino, executive chef of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, on behalf of the Beef Checkoff. A bottom round roast is an alternative, he added.
"They're both lean cuts," Zino said. "Personally, I think you get more flavor from the chuck, so I'd probably lean toward the chuck shoulder pot roast." (One of the new features on the Beef Checkoff website, www.BeefItsWhatsForDinner.com, is an interactive meat case where consumers can find information about various cuts. Just click on "shopping for beef." The site provides cooking methods, nutritional information, recipes and tips, plus alternative names for the cuts, which can vary, especially by region. The site tells us, for example, that the chuck shoulder pot roast also is known as the boneless English roast, book roast, clod roast, cross rib roast and shoulder roast.)
Lutz said another choice is top round, which has slightly less fat and is good for slicing.
Tim Jensen, owner of Village Meat & Wine, prefers a USDA Prime casino roast, which he said "comes right out of the middle of the shoulder. When it's done, you want to use a fork on it. And the flavor is a little beefier. I sell a lot of them. I can get it up to 8 pounds and as small as a pound. If you've got to feed a lot of people, it goes a long way."
OK, so now you have the cut. How do you cook it?
"Nice and slow, in its own juices," Gonzales advised. "It usually takes a good three or four hours to get it done."
Zino noted it's essential to brown the beef first.
"The browning process introduces flavor to the beef that's not intrinsic to the beef itself," he said. "Basically, what you're doing is caramelizing amino acids and carbohydrates. You can skip that step, but you'll lose flavor. And your meat will look more gray than brown."
He suggested a combination of red wine and beef broth for the cooking liquid, and filling to three-quarters of the way up the meat. Then cover and let it simmer.
"I think the biggest mistake that consumers make is that they want to rush it, pull it before it's done," he said.
Zino said he prefers cooking the roast on top of the stove, "because I like to kind of baby it along."
Gonzales suggested using a slow cooker or an oven set at a low temperature; Jensen likes to use a slow cooker (with the potatoes on the bottom because they take longer to cook), and Lutz agreed.
"I like to put them in the Crock Pot at 7 or 8 before I go to work," he said, "and when I get home at 5 or 6, they're done."
Hungry yet? Following are a few recipes from the Cattlemen's Beef Board and National Cattlemen's Beef Association for this comfort food that's perfect for January.
YANKEE BEEF POT ROAST
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
¾ teaspoon salt
¾ teaspoon black pepper
1 boneless beef chuck pot roast (arm, shoulder or blade), about 2½ pounds
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 can (14 to 14½ ounces) beef broth
½ cup dry red wine
1½ teaspoons dried thyme leaves
2 packages (16 ounces each) frozen vegetable stew mixture (such as potatoes, carrots, celery and onion)
Combine flour, salt and pepper. Lightly coat beef in 2 tablespoons of the flour mixture. Heat oil in large stockpot over medium heat until hot. Place beef in stockpot; brown evenly. Pour off drippings.
Combine beef broth, red wine, thyme and remaining flour mixture; add to stockpot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover tightly and simmer 2 hours. Add vegetables to stockpot; continue simmering 30 to 45 minutes or until roast and vegetables are fork-tender.
Remove roast and vegetables; keep warm. Skim fat from cooking liquid, if necessary.
Carve roast into thin slices. Serve with vegetables and gravy.
NORTH WOODS HEARTY POT ROAST
2 teaspoons seasoned pepper blend or garlic-pepper seasoning
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 boneless beef chuck shoulder pot roast (2 to 2½ pounds)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup beef broth
1 pound small red-skinned potatoes, cut in half, or into quarters if large
4 medium carrots, cut into 2½-by-½-inch pieces
2 medium parsnips, cut into 2½-by-½-inch pieces
1 small leek, (white and pale green parts only), cut in half lengthwise then crosswise into 1½-inch pieces
4 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons cornstarch
Combine seasoned pepper or garlic-pepper seasoning and garlic; press evenly onto all surfaces of pot roast. Heat oil in stockpot over medium heat until hot. Brown pot roast on all sides. Pour off drippings and season beef with salt.
Add broth to stockpot; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover tightly and simmer 2 hours. Add vegetables; continue cooking, covered, 30 to 45 minutes or until pot roast and vegetables are fork-tender.
Remove pot roast and vegetables; keep warm. Strain cooking liquid; skim fat, if necessary. Measure 2 cups cooking liquid (add beef broth or water to cooking liquid to yield 2 cups, if necessary); return to stockpot. Combine water and cornstarch; stir into cooking liquid. Bring to boil, stirring constantly; cook and stir 1 to 2 minutes or until mixture is thickened.
Carve pot roast into thin slices. Season with salt, as desired. Serve with vegetables and gravy.
BEEF POT ROAST WITH MAPLE SWEET POTATOES
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 boneless beef chuck shoulder roast (3 to 3½ pounds)
1¾ teaspoons salt (divided use)
¾ teaspoon pepper (divided use)
1 cup chopped onion
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
1 cup ready-to-serve beef broth
¾ cup apple cider
3 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled, cut crosswise into 1- to 1½-inch pieces
4 cloves garlic, peeled
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
2 tablespoons cornstarch, dissolved in 2 tablespoons brandy or water
Heat oil in stockpot over medium heat until hot. Place roast in stockpot; brown evenly. Remove roast; pour off drippings and season with 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper.
Add onion and thyme to stockpot; cook and stir 3 to 5 minutes or until onion is tender. Add broth and cider; increase heat to medium-high. Cook and stir 1 to 2 minutes or until browned bits attached to stockpot are dissolved. Return pot roast to stockpot; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover tightly and simmer 2½ hours.
Add sweet potatoes and garlic to stockpot; continue simmering, covered, 30 minutes or until sweet potatoes and roast are fork-tender.
Remove roast; keep warm. Remove sweet potatoes and garlic with slotted spoon to large bowl, leaving cooking liquid in stockpot.
Add maple syrup, ginger, remaining ¾ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper to sweet potatoes. Beat until sweet potatoes and garlic are mashed and smooth; keep warm.
Skim fat from cooking liquid; stir in cornstarch mixture. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly; cook and stir 1 minute or until thickened.
Carve pot roast into slices and serve with mashed sweet potatoes and gravy.
AFTER-WORK BEEF POT ROAST DINNER
1 envelope (0.7 ounces) Italian dressing mix
1 boneless beef chuck shoulder pot roast or bottom round rump roast (3 to 3½ pounds)
2 large onions, each cut into 8 wedges
2 cloves garlic, peeled
2 red bell peppers, cut into 1½-inch pieces
½ cup ready-to-serve beef broth
2 zucchini, cut into ¼-inch-thick slices
2½ tablespoons cornstarch, dissolved in 2 tablespoons water
Salt and pepper
Press dressing mix evenly onto all surfaces of roast. Place onions and garlic in 4½- to 5½-quart slow cooker; top with roast. Add bell peppers and broth. Cover and cook on high 5 hours, or on low 8 hours. Add zucchini. Continue cooking, covered, 30 minutes or until pot roast is fork-tender.
Remove pot roast and vegetables. Strain cooking liquid; skim fat. Combine 2 cups cooking liquid and cornstarch mixture in medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly; cook and stir 1 minute or until thickened.
Carve pot roast into slices; season with salt and pepper, as desired. Serve with vegetables and gravy.
Serves 6 to 8.
BRAISED BEEF POT ROAST WITH LEEK-MUSTARD AU JUS
1 teaspoon pepper
2½ to 3 pounds boneless beef chuck shoulder or cross rib pot roast
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 can (14 to 14½ ounces) reduced-sodium beef broth
3 cups chopped leeks (divided use)
2 tablespoon country Dijon-style mustard
Press pepper evenly onto all surfaces of roast. Heat oil in stockpot over medium heat until hot. Place roast in stockpot; brown evenly. Pour off drippings.
Add broth and 2 cups of leeks to stockpot; bring to boil. Reduce heat; cover tightly and simmer 2 to 3 hours or until pot roast is fork-tender.
Remove pot roast; keep warm. Skim fat from cooking liquid. Bring liquid to a boil and reduce for 5 minutes. Combine cooking liquid and remaining 1 cup leeks in stockpot. Reduce and simmer, uncovered, 6 to 8 minutes or until leeks are tender. Stir in mustard; remove from heat. Carve roast into slices. Serve with au jus.
Serves 6 to 8.
Contact reporter Heidi Knapp Rinella at hrinella@review journal.com or 702-383-0474.