Being raised by a single parent meant that my sister and I shared in a lot of the household responsibilities.
It was a different time, we lived in a safe neighborhood, and my grandma lived next door. When we’d get home from school mom would still be at work and we’d have the house to ourselves. Every day we’d be met at the door with a long list of chores taped to the newel post at the foot of the stairs. The list changed daily and was usually pretty substantial, at least long enough to keep us out of trouble until mom got home. Chores didn’t just include vacuuming or washing the dishes either, we were in charge of serious cleaning jobs like vacuuming out heating vents and scrubbing the bathroom tile surround.
At the time, I don’t think it would have been humanly possible (if you consider pre-teens human) for us to hate our chores any more than we did, but looking back on it I’m incredibly grateful. After living with countless roommates through college and until meeting Russell, I now realize that beyond keeping a tidy house, mom was also teaching us valuable life skills that many of my friends and neighbors weren’t learning. I know all sorts of things about not living like a slob that many of my peers don’t, like how to wash dishes and actually get them clean. I can remember the specific moment in college when I realized I no longer wanted to fight with my roommate about who’s turn it was to do the dishes, because whenever she did them I’d end up wanting to wash them again anyway.
Another item that was usually on the list was making dinner. Working later in the day meant mom wouldn’t always have time to get dinner on the table after she got home, so she taught me a few simple recipes I could make on my own. Cooking dinner was one of the chores that I actually enjoyed doing and as time went on I started teaching myself new dishes all the time.
Pot roast was one of my old standbys, but back then I didn’t really know the “rules” when it came to braising and roasting, so to be honest my roasts weren’t very good. At the time I don’t think I even realized it, and mom never complained, but I hold myself to much higher standards nowadays. I was probably using the wrong cuts of meat, or cooking them at too high a temperature too quickly. I may have even been undercooking them, or at least not cooking them long enough to melt the collagen and make them tender. Either way, they were often as rubbery as shoe leather and flavored with little more than dried onion flakes, so as I got older I decided I didn’t really like pot roast.
Unfortunately I was a vegetarian in college, so even though I took several culinary courses, at the time I didn’t really feel the need to pay much attention during the meat classes.
If I could turn back time…
If I could find a way…
It was only a few years ago that I finally decided to give pot roast another go around, and that’s when I looked to the internet to show me the way. I tried a few recipes that came out okay; certainly better than what I made when I was 12, but not really good enough to make me want to bookmark any of them to make again.
Then, one day, I discovered the Cook’s Illustrated pot roast recipe.
Game-changing. Mind-blowing. Life-altering.
Seriously. Their method makes, hands down, the best pot roast I’ve ever tasted in my entire life.
It is a little more work than some of the other recipes I’ve tried, but it is WELL worth it. It’s important to find the right cut of meat, and to speed up the collagen melting you’ll need to do some butchering of your own. You’ll also need to tie the meat up with cooking twine so it doesn’t fall apart in the pot, and to promote even cooking you have to flip it half way through cooking. Then the sauce for the meat is made by pureeing the vegetables from the roasting pan with broth and red wine for texture and flavor. This makes it a bit more involved than the set-it-and-forget-it style recipes prominent on Pinterest, but you guys, I swear. You’ll never want to make pot roast any other way.
Because I don’t know how to leave well enough alone, I did go ahead and make a few changes to their recipe to make it my own. The cooking method is exactly the same though, and produces the same mouthwatering, fork tender, practically falling apart results. Beyond the traditional red wine, the sauce benefits from a bit of acid and the original recipe calls for balsamic vinegar to be added at the end. Instead, I added apple cider (and a bit of chopped apple) to the cooking liquid. I thought this could be a fun seasonal twist and would add a subtle sweetness. It really works and makes this roast the perfect dish for welcoming fall weather.
Instead of roasting large chunks of potatoes and carrots to serve with the roast, I decided that I wanted to serve it over a bed of mashed sweet potatoes and parsnips. I think the slight sweetness and bright color pairs perfectly with the subtle apple flavor in the sauce.
I know I already said this, but hello fall flavors. You couldn’t ask for a more perfect dish to celebrate the change of seasons. A word of warning though, the house will smell unbelievable for up to four hours and your mouth will be watering constantly.
The flavor of this meat is just so…. meaty, and you won’t believe how tender it comes out. No knife required.
The pureed veggies in the sauce add a great rich and roasty flavor, and gives the sauce a nice thickness without having to make a roux for gravy.
Adding parsnips to the mashed sweet potatoes really helps balance their sweetness and adds a depth of flavor. Taking the time to brown the butter gives them an extra richness, and helps them feel well paired with the roasted meat.
Go make this.
Classic Pot Roast with Sweet Potato Parsnip Mash
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated
3 1/2- to 4-pound boneless beef chuck-eye roast
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 medium (or 1 large) onions, halved and sliced thin (about 2 cups)
1 large carrot, chopped medium (about 1 cup)
1 parsnip, peeled and chopped medium (about 3/4 cup)
2 celery ribs, chopped medium (about 3/4 cup)
1/2 firm tart apple (I used Braeburn), peeled cored and chopped medium (about 1/2 cup)
2 medium garlic cloves, minced or crushed (about 2 teaspoons)
1 cup beef broth, plus more for sauce
1/2 cup dry red wine, plus another 1/4 cup for sauce
1/2 cup fresh apple cider
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 bay leaf
1 large sprig plus 1/4 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
Ground black pepper
chopped fresh parsley for garnish, if desired
Sweet Potato Parsnip Mash:
3/4 pound parsnips, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces
2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and quartered
6 tablespoons butter
1 to 1 1/2 cups milk
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste
Pull your chuck roast into two pieces at the natural seam, and trim off any large layers and knobs of fat. Sprinkle both pieces of meat with 1 tablespoon salt (1½ teaspoons if using table salt), place on wire rack set in rimmed baking sheet, and let stand at room temperature 1 hour.
Adjust your oven rack to the lower-middle position and preheat oven to 300 degrees.
Heat butter in heavy-bottomed Dutch oven over medium heat. When foaming subsides, add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and beginning to brown, about 10 minutes. Add carrot, parsnip, celery, and apple; and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes more. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about one minute. Stir in 1 cup of broth, ½ cup wine, apple cider, tomato paste, bay leaf, and thyme sprig; and bring to simmer.
Pat the roasts dry with paper towels and generously season on all sides with pepper. Use kitchen twine to tie each piece of meat into a loaf shape for even cooking and prevent it from falling apart.
Nestle the meat on top of the vegetables. Cover pot with a tight fitting lid and transfer to the oven. Cook beef for three hours, flipping halfway through. Check and, if necessary, continue cooking until beef is completely tender and sharp knife easily slips in and out, about 30 minutes to 1 hour. This extra time is best used to start your sweet potato parsnip mash, recipe below.
Once fully cooked, transfer roasts to cutting board and loosely tent with foil. Strain liquid through mesh strainer into a large liquid measuring cup. Discard bay leaf and thyme sprig. Transfer cooked vegetables to blender jar. Allow liquid to settle 5 minutes, then skim any fat off surface. Add beef broth as necessary to bring liquid amount to 3 cups. Place liquid in blender with vegetables and blend until completely smooth, about 2 minutes. Transfer sauce to medium saucepan, add remaining wine and chopped thyme, and bring to simmer over medium heat. If sauce is too thick it can be thinned out with more beef stock. If too thin let it reduce to the desired consistency. Once reduced taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.
While sauce heats and reduces, remove twine from roast and slice against grain into ½-inch-thick slices.
Sweet Potato Parsnip Mash:
Place sweet potatoes and parsnips in a large stockpot, cover with salted water, and bring to a boil. The parsnips can take longer to cook than the sweet potatoes, so it’s important that they’re in smaller pieces. Once the pot comes to a boil reduce the heat to medium and cook until vegetables are fork tender. This should take about 15 or 20 minutes, but can vary depending on the size of the pieces.
Once tender, transfer sweet potatoes and parsnips to a colander to drain. In the same pot heat the butter over medium heat just until it begins to brown. Stir occasionally and watch it closely or it can burn. Remove from heat. You can either push the drained sweet potatoes and parsnips through a potato ricer or food mill and add them back into the pot, or add them to the pot first and mash them with a potato masher. Stir in milk, a little at a time, until you reach your desired consistency. Add nutmeg, and salt and pepper to taste. Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary.
Serve the meat on top of the mash and top with sauce and a sprinkle of chopped parsley.