Praising Braising

January 22, 2010

Cold days call for hearty food, and that’s when I drag out my slow cooker to make braised Italian inspired pot roast, like Mom used to make.

Braising means that the meat is first browned in some type of fat. I prefer olive oil and bits of pancetta, (Italian bacon) for added flavor. The browning process is very important so that the surface of the meat is well caramelized; this will help to develop a delicious sauce as the meat is cooking.

After browning, small amounts of liquid are added to prevent scorching, keep the meat moist, and create flavorful juices, which can be spooned over the meat just before serving. Liquids can include broths or wine, pureed tomatoes or tomato sauce or even beer. I am partial to using wine, and I find braising a good way to use up open bottles. Plus wine imparts a very nice depth of flavor and gives a rich color to the meat and juices. No slow cooker? Cook the roast in a heavy-duty pan in a 300F oven until fork tender for several hours.

Italian Style Pot Roast
Serves 6

2 1/2 teaspoons salt
1-teaspoon coarse black pepper
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 1/2 pounds boneless chuck roast
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
1 large carrot, coarsely chopped
10-12 small all purpose potatoes, well scrubbed
2 cloves garlic minced
1 cup dry red wine
One 28-ounce can crushed plum tomatoes
1 sprig fresh rosemary
2 sprigs fresh basil
2 sprigs fresh flat leaf parsley

Mix the salt, pepper and oregano together and rub all over the roast. Set aside.

Heat the oil in a large skillet and brown the roast well on all sides. This is a really important step because it locks in juices and flavor.

Transfer roast to the slow cooker or heavy-duty oven roaster. In the same skillet used to brown the roast, cook the onion, carrot and garlic until the mixture is soft, then add them to the slow cooker or oven roaster along with the potatoes.

Combine the wine and tomatoes in a bowl and add to the slow cooker or oven roaster.

Tie the rosemary basil and parsley together with kitchen string and add to the slow cooker or roaster. Mix the ingredients well, Cover and cook in slow cooker for 4-5 hours on high or 6 to 8 hours on low. For the oven roaster, cover with heavy-duty foil and cook 3 to 4 hours or until fork tender.

When cooked, transfer the meat to a cutting board; cover and allow to stand for 20 minutes. Cut into slices and return the meat to the slow cooker or oven roaster just to reheat. Serve hot with some of the sauce.

Sauce is also good over pasta or rice.

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