I love the crock pot. If you’re intimidated by cooking or you just don’t enjoy it in general, slow cooking is your best friend. It takes some rather ordinary (and typically, inexpensive) ingredients and transforms them into something restaurant-worthy with relatively little effort. This is my go-to beef roast recipe. My biggest tip for beginner crock potters is this: brown/sear your meat first. It makes a world of difference. You don’t have to do it, but it takes the whole meal up several notches and it doesn’t really take much extra time.
This time around, I seared all the meat and the veggies first (H/T Pioneer Woman), but I didn’t notice enough of a difference to do that every time. I think, if you have the extra time, it may add a bit more flavor, but I’m certain that is also isn’t necessary.
Since we only buy locally-raised meat from farmers we know or whose practices we support, the crock pot is helpful in two ways:
- We can stretch more expensive ingredients. In this case, I used only one pound of beef chuck roast for a meal for four adults and four hungry kids. I doubled up on the veggies in the crock pot and served two veggie sides (broccoli cauliflower gratin and mashed sweet potatoes) plus a salad.
- Slow cooking transforms cheap cuts of meat (tip, rump, bottom roasts are typically the least expensive) into something delicious. We buy meat mostly in bulk (a half of a cow or pig), so we get all sorts of cuts. This saves a ton of money because we wind up paying so much less per pound than we would if we bought everything individually. It also leaves us with some cuts that we might not otherwise buy in the store, but slow cooking them has turned some of those “cheap” cuts into some of our favorite go-to meals.
Michael Pollan in Cooked and Tamar Adler in An Everlasting Meal both make very compelling points about braising (slow cooking) as a possible solution to so many of our food problems…I don’t know if they would say it like that exactly, but they both got me thinking along those lines after reading their (very compelling) books. If cooking is less intimidating, we’ll presumably do more of it. Home-cooked meals are healthier than their packaged or restaurant alternatives, which will help to alleviate the obesity epidemic and sick-care crisis. If people are making more meals at home, they’re likely eating them together, making for more close-knit families. Getting people making more meals at home means they’re possibly out consuming less or at least producing less waste. They’re saving money, so maybe they have a little extra to spend on starting a pot of tomatoes or at the farmers’ market or on a CSA share. Do you see how my mind works?
So make a beef roast soon, and pat yourself on the back for doing a little bit to save your corner of the world.
- 1 pound beef roast (use any roast cut here - chuck, rump, tip)
- 2 tbsp grapeseed oil (or whatever oil/fat you have around)
- 2 onions, cut in half
- 4-5 stalks celery, diced
- 5-6 carrots, peeled cut in large chunks
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 2-3 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1/2 cup red wine (or just double up the water if you would prefer to skip the wine)
- 1/2 cup water
- Sprig rosemary, optional
- Salt and pepper
- I used chuck roast here that was already cut up in about one-inch chunks, but I typically don't cut up the roast first. You do want to salt it really well. Use more salt than you think you'll need. Rub it into the meat, and let the meat come to room temperature if possible. I like to salt the meat, then let it set while I get the veggies ready.
- Cut up your onions, carrots, and celery. If you want to sear the veggies first, check out Pioneer Woman's easy directions, but I wouldn't bother unless you have some extra time. Otherwise, add the veggies to the bottom of the crock pot.
- Put a pan (cast iron works best, I think) on your stove over medium-high heat. Add 1-2 tbsp of oil and "swish" it around the pan until the pan is coated with the oil.
- Just before you put the meat on, sprinkle it generously with freshly ground pepper. Put the meat in the pan. It should sizzle. Keep the heat up, and let the meat brown on each side - even on the sides too if it is a large cut of meat. You want it do be a dark brown color, which is typically about two minutes to a side.
- Once the meat is browned on all sides, dump it in the crock pot.
- Put the tomato paste in the pan that you used to cook the meat. Add the remaining oil, and stir the oil/paste mixture around a bit. This "blooms" the flavor of the tomato paste and gives it a bit of a roasted flavor. Add the garlic to the mixture and cook for about 30 seconds more.
- Then add the water and wine to the pan and continue to cook, scraping off the yummy browned bits from the meat. After the paste is completely dissolved into the water/wine mixture, dump the pan into the crock pot.
- Add the rosemary on top if you have it and a few turns of freshly-ground pepper.
- Cook on low for 8 hours (or high for 4-5).
*This recipe works as-is for up to two pounds of meat. It is scaleable, so if your piece of meat is 3-4 pounds, double the rest of the ingredients. If it's larger than that, you'll want to triple the remaining ingredients.