In our house, we’re often feeding a crowd, and when the weather is chilly, I love to make pot roast. A big piece of tenderly braised meat, a favorite from my Texas childhood, always satisfies, and with very little effort from the cook. It also tastes better when made ahead, another reason that it’s perfect for company. Indeed, nestling a chuck roast and some vegetables into a pot is a sign of a good time to come.
While I often make what might be considered a classic version—beef braised in a tomato-laced broth with chunky carrots, celery, potatoes, and button mushrooms—I also like to change it up sometimes to make it more boldly flavored. To do so, I follow the same basic technique, but switch out the ingredients. Take, for example, my favorite pot roast to date: chuck roast simmered in rice vinegar and miso broth, crowned with meltingly tender radishes, bok choy, and sliced scallions stirred in just before serving.
What follows is my easy method for pot roast. At each step along the way, whether in the initial aromatics, the liquid used to deglaze the pan and braise the meat, or the herbs, spices, and vegetables added to the pot, you can vary the flavors by choosing from a list of suggestions. Though I’m partial to always including carrots and celery in my pot roast, there’s no single must-have ingredient—unless, that is, you count the family and friends gathered round to enjoy it.
If you like, you can adapt this pot roast method to a slow cooker. Since not much liquid is used, the amount can stay the same. (You may have more juices at the end, however.) Sear and deglaze on the stove as indicated below, then transfer everything to the slow cooker to finish braising. Cooking time should be 4-6 hours on high or 6-8 hours on low.
Step 1: Brown the Meat
Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat to 325°F. Season a 3- to 4-lb. boneless beef or pork roast (choose from beef chuck roast, shoulder roast, veal shoulder, brisket, pork shoulder, or Boston pork butt) all over with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. If you want neat slices, use butcher’s twine to snugly tie the roast every 2 inches or so down its length; otherwise, for a more casual pull-apart roast, leave it untied.
In a 6- to 7-quart Dutch oven or other deep, heavy pot, heat 2 Tbs. olive or canola oil over medium-high heat. add the roast and cook, adjusting the heat as necessary and flipping once about halfway through, until well browned on both sides, about 15 minutes total. Transfer the roast to a large plate and set aside. Discard all but about 2 Tbs. of the fat.
Step 2: Cook the Aromatics
Add to the pot 1-1/2 cups chopped onion (red, yellow, or white) OR thinly sliced leeks or scallions OR finely chopped shallots, plus 2 finely chopped medium garlic cloves, and cook over medium heat, stirring often and scraping up any browned bits, until softened and golden, about 4 minutes. Stir in 5 large carrots, cut into 2-inch pieces, 2 large ribs celery, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces, and, if you like, 1 or 2 of the following aromatics: 1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh fennel, 1/4 cup coarsely chopped bell pepper, 1 Tbs. finely chopped fresh ginger, 1 Tbs. finely chopped fresh, lemongrass, 1 Tbs. finely chopped fresh chile, such as jalapeño). Cook 2 to 3 minutes more (you are not going to cook them completely at this point).
Step 3: Deglaze the Pan
Adding liquid to the pot dissolves all those yummy brown bits on the bottom, which will give your sauce added flavor. Just about any liquid will do, including water, but I’m partial to vinegar because unlike other liquids that fade into the background, its distinct flavor will add some depth and character.
Add 1/2 cup of one of the following: dry red or white wine, dry vermouth, any kind of vinegar; OR 1/4 cup olive or pepperoncini brine diluted with 1/4 cup water. Cook, stirring occasionally and scraping up any brown bits, until reduced by about half, 3 to 4 minutes.
Step 4: Add Braising Liquid and Flavorings
Stir in 1 cup of the following: chicken broth, beef broth, mushroom stock, vegetable broth, whole milk, light beer, or cider. Add 2 dried bay leaves, 1 tsp. kosher salt, and at least one (up to five) of the following flavorings: 1 tsp. rubbed sage, 1 tsp. ground cumin, 1 tsp. ground coriander, 1 tsp. ground fennel seed, 1 tsp. chile powder (such as ancho), 1 Tbs. finely chopped fresh rosemary, 1 Tbs. finely chopped oregano, 1 Tbs. finely chopped sage, 1 Tbs. finely chopped thyme, 1 tsp. anchovy paste, 1 Tbs. tomato paste, 1 Tbs. miso paste, 1 Tbs. minced chipotles in adobo, 2 Tbs. prepared mustard, 1/4 cup jam or marmalade, 1 Tbs. finely chopped fresh ginger, 1 Tbs. finely chopped capers, 1/4 cup chopped fresh chiles, 1/4 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes, 1/4 cup chopped pepperoncini, 1/2 cup chopped pitted olives, 1/2 cup chopped dried fruit (apricots, figs, or prunes).
Return the roast and any accumulated juices to the pot, nestling it down in the liquid. (If necessary, spoon some of the vegetables into a bowl temporarily to make room for the roast, and then spoon the vegetables back over the top.)
Bring to a simmer. Cover the pot with a single layer of foil, crimping the edges, and then a heavy, tight-fitting lid. Transfer to the 325°F oven, and cook for 1-1/2 hours.
Step 5: Add Other Vegetables
Carefully uncover the pot, flip over the roast, and gently stir in 1 or 2 of the following chopped vegetables (2 to 4 cups total): parsnips, potatoes, rutabaga, endive, cabbage, bok choy, fennel (best cut into wedges), tomatillos (quartered), fresh or canned tomatoes, cremini or button or shiitake mushrooms, sliced water chestnuts, or bamboo shoots. Re-cover with the foil and the lid, return to the oven, and continue cooking until until both the meat and vegetables are very tender, about 1 hour more.
Step 6: Finish and Serve
Using tongs, carefully transfer the roast to a cutting board or large platter. Using a slotted spoon, arrange the vegetables around the roast.
Remove the bay leaves from the braising liquid. (If you cooked with milk and don’t like the milk solids that result after cooking, simply strain them before continuing.)
Stir salt and pepper to taste into the braising liquid, as well as up to 3 of the following finishes or garnishes: 1 to 2 Tbs. fresh citrus juice, vinegar, olive or pepperoncini brine, or soy sauce; 1/4 cup chopped fresh tender herbs (such as parsley, cilantro, scallions, tarragon, chives, or basil); 1/4 cup chopped nuts (preferably toasted) 2 cups canned beans (drained and rinsed); 2 cups chopped fresh spinach or chard; or 2 cups pitted green or black olives (or a mix). If necessary, heat for a few minutes. Serve alongside the roast and vegetables. (alternatively, use a spoon to first skim off and carefully discard as much fat as possible, if preferred.)
Remove and discard twine, if using. To suit your needs, either slice the roast against the grain for serving, or use a fork to pull apart the meat into thick chunks, discarding any unwanted fat. Serve warm, spooning the vegetables and braising liquid over the top.