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Pot roast primer

Perhaps it isn't the most glamorous meal, but the humble pot roast, slowly simmered in liquid mingled with rich flavors of onions, carrots and celery, can be a most satisfying and nearly effortless meal for family and friends.

Perhaps it isn't the most glamorous meal, but the humble pot roast, slowly simmered in liquid mingled with rich flavors of onions, carrots and celery, can be a most satisfying and nearly effortless meal for family and friends.

My husband and his four brothers were raised on a farm in North Dakota. They all grew up on beef and potatoes. So it only made sense that when his family came to visit, I would prepare the foods they loved.

With a recipe clipped from a newspaper column called Mostly for Men, I would use ingredients like MSG and bacon drippings to turn an arm roast into a mighty fine meal. These days, you won't find MSG in my kitchen and I no longer collect bacon drippings in a jar to pull out when it's time to brown meat. And arm roast - what's that? I think it goes by another name these days. A trip to the market to pick up a cut of beef to roast in a pot can be a bit confusing. Which is the best choice?

Russ Danielson, long-time faculty member in the Animal Science department at North Dakota State University, had some answers for me. With beef cattle as his area of expertise, Danielson was able to give me a quick lesson in beef cuts.

"When you're shopping for pot roast, any cut that is labeled chuck or shoulder will be a good choice" he said. "It's an economical cut that is well-suited to braising or moist cooking." Coming from the shoulder of the steer, these cuts have generous amounts of tough connective tissue that soften and stay moist with long, slow braising in a covered pot. Much of the flavor is in the fat that is visible between the muscles, or the segments of meat in the roast. Danielson says you may want to trim some of the excess before browning.

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These days, many people who are at work all day don't have the luxury of preparing a pot roast the traditional way, browning, braising and simmering in the oven for a couple of hours before dining time. But, according to Danielson, who says he's always ready to eat beef any way on any day, a pot roast can be successfully prepared in a slow cooker. Brown the meat the night before. Add a little liquid to the pot and stir up the caramelized juices. Transfer meat and any juices in the pot to a slow cooker or a bag made specifically for lining a slow cooker. Store the meat, tightly sealed, in the refrigerator over night. Prepare vegetables and store them in a large zip-top bag in the refrigerator. Put meat, vegetables and the rest of the ingredients in the crock in the morning when you wake up. Turn the slow cooker on high until you're ready to walk out the door, then turn it down to low and let it simmer away all day.

Beer-Braised Pot Roast starts with a garlic paste rubbed into the meat, then browned in hot oil, sealing in the juices and producing flavor and rich color. Fresh vegetables are also browned, releasing wonderful aroma before the liquid is added. Then, into the oven for a slow braise at a gentle simmer. Your work is done. At least until it's time to make the mashed potatoes.

I'm pretty confident Professor Danielson would give me an A+ for Beer-Braised Pot Roast.

Beer-Braised Pot Roast
1 boneless beef chuck shoulder pot roast, 3 to 4 pounds
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 teaspoons kosher salt
ยฝ teaspoon black pepper
1ยฝ teaspoons paprika
2 tablespoons olive oil, canola oil, or grapeseed oil
4 carrots, thickly sliced on the diagonal
3 medium onions, peeled and sliced thick, then each slice quartered
2 stalks celery, thickly sliced
1 (12-ounce) bottle of beer
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained, or 1 cup chopped canned tomatoes
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 bay leaf

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a small bowl, combine the minced garlic, kosher salt, black pepper and paprika. Use a fork to mash the mixture into a paste. Rub onto the surface of the roast.

Heat the oil in a large, deep Dutch oven. When the oil is hot, brown the meat on all sides over medium heat, using tongs for turning. Remove the meat from the pan and place on a platter. Set aside. There will be lots of dark caramelization stuck to the bottom of the pan. That's OK. Add the onions, carrots and celery to the hot pot and cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, for 8 minutes. Pour in beer and scrape bottom with a wooden spoon to release caramelized juices. Add tomatoes, mustard and bay leaf. Bring mixture to a boil. Add beef and any drippings remaining on the platter. Cover pot tightly and place on center rack in 325-degree oven. Roast until a long meat fork slides easily into the meat when poked, with little resistance, about 2 hours. Remove the pot roast from the cooking liquid and cover with aluminum foil to keep warm. Set the pot aside for a few minutes for the liquid to settle, then skim any fat off of the top with a large spoon. Follow with absorbent paper towels set gently on the surface and lifted off, repeating three or four times if necessary. Remove bay leaf. Carve the meat across the grain and spoon sauce over it. Serve with mashed potatoes. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Tips from the cook

--Beef broth (1ยฝ cups) may be used instead of beer.

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--I've used Killian's Irish Red and Fat Tire beers for this recipe, both with delicious results.

--Once you have removed the cooked roast from the pot, you can boil the liquid for a few minutes, uncovered, to reduce, which concentrates the flavor and slightly thickens the cooking liquid. The sauce will not be thick.

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