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Braising Beef, A Winter Staple

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Having taught Basic Cooking at adult school for 20 years before starting my current business working with groups — that’s something along the line of 900 or so public classes — my interest in teaching people how to do things in the kitchen in an easy and efficient manner, has a deep history. I am dedicated to un-complicating cooking for home cooks, and sending things to you that you'll find useful. This recipe for Braised Beef (aka Pot Roast) is a great one to make over the weekend, as it is even better reheated, can be made in large enough quantities for several meals (or a crowd), freezes well, and can be enjoyed in several forms. I hope my detailed tips and photos will help you achieve success. 


BRAISED BEEF, AKA. POT ROAST
This recipe is written in standard style. Which means you do all your mise en place (get everything organized and chopped) before you turn on the flame under your pan. I frankly don’t do that. I get the meat browning, and as I’m standing there near the stove anyway, chop the onions etc. during the browning process. It cuts the time needed by a bit, and keeps you paying attention to the stuff on the stove, since you’re right there with it. Properly done, the meat takes a good 10 minutes to brown, so you’ll have time.

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Browning meat: If I see one thing repeatedly done incorrectly in a kitchen, this is it. First of all, season the meat well. This is necessary if you want the flavor of the finished dish to shine. Don’t skimp on salt & pepper here. Second, you want to add that bit of flour right before the meat hits the hot (yes, HOT) oil in the pan. So you put the oil in the pan, heat it over high heat until you see shimmering, then you quickly dredge your meat in flour, shake it off, and sit it in the pan. You want the meat to not touch if you have several pieces (I used boneless short ribs I bought at Costco for this batch). You can see in my picture, that the meat has space around each piece, which keeps it browning as opposed to leaching out juices and boiling. You want this browning very badly. It’s called a Maillard Reaction.
 

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Here’s the first bit from Wikipedia on Maillard reactions: "The Maillard reaction is a chemical reaction between amino acids and reducing sugars that gives browned food their desirable flavor." This “desirable flavor” is what makes pot roast so good.  So if you are making a lot of pot roast, brown the meat in batches. And don’t let the pan burn, or you’ll lose all that great flavor you’ve acquired through this process. In other words, turn down the heat. If the pan does start to look like it’s going to scorch, stop. Add a little of the wine from the recipe to the pan, use a wooden spatula to scrape up all the browned flavorful stuff in the bottom, and pour it into a little bowl. Then wash the pan and start over for the next batch.
 

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Once you’ve browned the meat,  remove it to a plate and add the onion, carrot and celery that you’ve so carefully chopped up, plus a little salt and pepper. Don’t add the garlic yet. Moderate the heat to medium, and cook, tossing or stirring, until the vegetables are soft, starting to lightly brown and flavorful. At this point add the garlic, and cook for another minute. Then add all the wine, turn up the heat, and cook it like crazy — you want to reduce the wine by70% of it’s volume. This concentrates its flavor nicely. Now add your tomatoes and broth, enough so the meat will be not completely under liquid, but maybe 1/2 way or a bit more. 
 

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Put the meat in and add the broth around it to achieve this. Bring to the boil and then cover and place in that 350° oven you’ve heated. After about 45 minutes, turn the meat, and continue to cook until it’s starting to get soft. Then add the carrots, and go another 20 minutes or so, to finish the meat’s cooking and soften and glaze the carrot pieces in the sauce. If you need to add a little more liquid, water is fine. You don’t want a dry pan, and the flour you dredged the meat in back when you browned it will thicken the sauce nicely. 
 

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At this point, you’ve got pot roast. Eat it, enjoy it, or cool it and refrigerate overnight, then reheat tomorrow. It does get even better the second day.

BRAISED BEEF RECIPE

Proportions: If you have 3 or so pounds of meat, you can go with one or two onions depending on size — one small one will not be quite enough. If you have 2 cups of onions, you want about 1 cup of chopped carrots and the same amount of celery. This is a little different than the French classic, which dictates 3 onion : 2 carrot : 1 celery as the proportion. But we’re adding more carrots later, and if you keep that proportion, the sauce will be quite a bit sweeter than you may want it. Carrots are sweet!

  • One 2.5-4.5 lb. beef chuck 7 bone roast, or boneless chuck roast, or boneless short ribs (or bone-in short ribs, for that matter, if you can afford them!)
  • flour for dredging the meat
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 1-2 large onions, chopped
  • 2 carrots, chopped 
  • 2-3 stalks celery, chopped
  • 6-8 cloves garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 1 cup chopped tomatoes (canned are fine) 
  • 1-2 cups beef broth
  • enough carrots, peeled and cut into 4 pieces (long way then across), so everyone can have a couple

Preheat oven to 350°F, or if making an all-day version, either use a crock-pot or a 200°F. oven. Chop onions, carrot and celery and combine in a bowl. Set aside. Peel/chop garlic, and set aside separately. Generously salt and pepper the meat on both sides. Place a heavy pan large enough to hold the meat over high heat. When it’s hot, add a tablespoon oil. Dredge meat in a little flour, shaking off the excess and immediately add to the pan, making sure not to crowd it (two batches are fine!). Cook over high heat, without turning at all, until the meat is well browned. Turn, and repeat cooking on second side, moderating the heat so that the stuck bits in the bottom don't burn, but the meat still browns. Remove to a plate and set aside. Lower the heat and add the chopped vegetables. Cook on medium heat, stirring, until softened and starting to brown. Add garlic and continue to cook another minute or so.  Add wine, cook at a high boil until most of it has disappeared.  Add tomatoes, broth and bay leaves.  Bring to a boil. Return the meat to the pot. Cover with lid, and place in preheated oven, or remove the contents to the crock pot.  

Cook for 1 1/2 hours at 350° (or longer if the meat is not tender) or 5-8 hours in the low oven or crock pot, turning meat several times if you’re around to do so.  When you’ve gone a full hour in the oven (or the meat is nearly tender in a crock pot), turn the meat and add the pieces of carrot to the pot.  Leave uncovered, and continue to cook 1/2 hour or until meat is tender when pierced with a fork.  Remove meat to a carving board, and keep warm. If the sauce is a bit too thin, boil it down for a minute or two. Slice meat, and serve with the sauce and carrots.

Variation:

Add 1 tablespoon Ancho chili powder to the pan while the mirepoix is sautéing, and instead of the extra carrots, sauté 1/2 pound quartered mushrooms in a little butter, and add these at the time you would have added the carrots.