Seven Days of 60s Food: Beef Pot Roast

I remember hearing a joke when I was a kid: Gracie Allen’s pot roast recipe calls for a large pot roast and a small one; she puts them both in the oven and when the small one burns, the large one is done. There’s a lot we could say about this joke in terms of mid-century food ways and sexism. But after I completely overcooked a pot roast in the name of research, I think Gracie Allen should have trod on George Burns’s foot every time he repeated it.

Again, I’ll give you the recipe and then tell you what happened and how I plan to avoid it in the future.
pot roast on platter along with green beans and potatoes

Beef Pot Roast

Adapted from The Joy of Cooking and The New Best Recipe Cookbook

3 to 4 pound beef chuck roast

3 cloves garlic, 2 minced and 1 cut in half

Flour

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 carrot, peeled and chopped

1 rib celery, chopped

1/2 green bell pepper, chopped

1 small onion, peeled, quartered, and studded with 4 cloves

1 bay leaf

1/4 teaspoon dried thyme

2 teaspoons sugar

1 cup beef broth

1 cup chicken broth

1/4 cup red wine

1/4 cup sour cream (optional)

salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Dry the roast with paper towels, rub with the halved garlic, and then dredge it in flour. Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Brown the meat, turning several times to ensure that it’s seared all over. Remove the meat to a clean plate and then added the vegetables. Cook until the vegetables are soft and beginning to color (about 5 minutes). Add the minced garlic and sugar and cook until fragrant (about 30 seconds) then add the broths and the herbs. Scrap the bottom to get up the browned bits and then add the roast and any juices. Cover and move to the oven.

Bake for 3 to 4 hours until fork tender. Check occasionally and add water to the pan if necessary. When done, remove from the oven and then transfer the roast to a cutting board. Tent it with foil while you deal with the sauce. Discard the vegetables and the bay leaf and then pour the pan juices into a gravy separator or measuring cup. Allow them to settle/cool, and then pour or skim off the fat. Transfer the rest of the pan juices to a sauce pan and heat until simmering; add the wine. Simmer until the juices have reduced to about a cup and the wine has lost its alcoholic tang. Whisk in the sour cream if desired and serve the sauce alongside the roast.

***

As has become the pattern here, all of this sounds easy, right? Except as you can see, my pot roast does not have the desired fork tender texture. It’s as dry as Gracie Allen’s small one.

close up of pot roast on platter with green beans and potatoes

What happened? My best guess is that the roast I bought at the store was not a beef chuck roast–which should have had much more marbling and fat than this did–but instead a beef chuck eye roast, which is a leaner cut of meat. That’s my working hypothesis, anyway.

I did cook this is in my slow cooker, rather than the oven, to free it up for all the other things I was making. But that shouldn’t have resulted in this. If anything, the slow cooker should cooked the meat, well, slower.

What I can say is that this recipe, which is a hybrid of the two source texts, resulted in meat with great flavor and a lovely sauce. When you smothered enough of it over the beef, it was edible. But I have loads of sympathy for Gracie now!

Many thanks again to Elisabeth Lane of Cooking Up Romance who styled and photographed my dry pot roast.

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