Easy to prepare, the pot roast is one of the pleasures of cooking in the cold season.
Mastering the art of this cooking technique will pay dividends. Cheaper cuts of meat need long slow cooking so they become tender enough to almost fall apart. Meals can be prepared well ahead, and by introducing a variety of herbs, spices and added vegetables, it’s easy to change the flavour of any recipe.
Pot roasts usually develop their own saucy liquid, too, so there’s no need to fiddle with sauce and gravy-making at the last minute.
It is essential to start cooking a pot roast by browning the meat, onions and garlic before adding any liquid. Wine, stock or even water can be used as the liquid, and in an unusual turn, this week’s pork recipe uses milk in place of those three. The long slow cooking creates a delicious milky skin, and the lemon in the flavourings turns the milk into soft, tasty curds.
Herbs, spices and even a dollop of high-quality flavourful vinegar will liven up any pot roast. I’ve always insisted on fresh herbs, but I have recently been playing with dried herbs to add an even greater depth of flavour – they’re perfect for winter dishes. Just make sure your dried thyme, tarragon, parsley or mixed dried Mediterranean herbs have not been stored away at the back of the cupboard for more than 12 months.
A heavy pot with a heavy lid is critical to pot-roasting success. Enamelled cast iron is the best choice. I invested many years ago in a heavy-lidded Le Creuset casserole, which still cooks beautifully, allowing rich flavour development without burning or catching on the base.
Classic beef pot roast with parsley pesto
1.5kg piece of topside or blade steak
salt and freshly ground pepper
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 onions, sliced
2 slices bacon, cut into lardons
300ml red wine
2 carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
2 bay leaves
a few sprigs thyme
400g tin crushed Italian tomatoes in juice
large bunch of fresh parsley
1 tsp Dijon mustard
salt and freshly ground pepper
30g parmesan, grated finely
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
Season the beef on all sides with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a large ovenproof casserole dish and brown the beef on all sides. Remove to a plate.
Brown the sliced onions and bacon together in the dish, then add the wine and bring to a simmer, scraping or deglazing the residue in the dish. After 2-3 minutes, add the carrots, bay leaves, thyme, tomato with its juices, and bring the liquid back to a simmer.
Add the chunk of beef back into the simmering liquid and cover. Leave to simmer for about 2½ hours until the beef is tender.
Meanwhile, make the parsley pesto by whizzing everything together in a food processor or blender until it forms a paste.
When ready to serve, take the beef out, put on a plate and cover with foil and a towel on top of that to keep it warm while you skim off any extra surface fat.
Bring the liquid back to a simmer and reduce until thick and syrupy.
To serve, slice the beef, spoon over the sauce and drizzle over the parsley pesto.
Wine match: syrah
Pork cooked in milk
1.5kg free-range loin of pork, skin removed
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 thin strips lemon peel
1 tsp coriander seeds
4 sage leaves
1 litre whole milk
Remove the rind from the pork and cut away most of the fat. Season generously with salt and pepper.
Heat the olive oil in a heavy casserole dish that will fit the pork snugly. Brown the pork on all sides until it is golden and then remove to a plate so you can pour off the oil and fat.
Add the lemon peel, slightly crushed coriander seeds and sage to the dish. Return the pork to sit on top of these and pour in enough milk to come about halfway up the pork. Bring the milk to a simmer and cook for about 90 minutes, with the lid slightly off. Check frequently and stir back into the liquid any skin that forms on the sides of the dish. Do not allow the milk to boil over, and top it up if it reduces too much. A golden skin will form after about an hour and the milk will curdle. This is ideal, as the curds make a delicious sauce.
When the meat is cooked and tender, remove it very carefully and carve into neat, thin slices. Scrape up the curds and spoon them over the top.
Can be served hot or cold. Nice accompanied with a salad of fresh mixed green leaves.
Wine match: chardonnay
Carving set from Quail Farm Collectables, Omaha Flats Rd, Omaha Beach; Casserole dishes and little bowls at Le Creuset stockists, 0800 52 69 74.
This article was first published in the June 3, 2017 issue of the New Zealand Listener.