There’s something special about the aroma of a roast as it slowly cooks to fork-tender perfection. The savory smell is homey, comforting, and makes me want to curl up on the sofa with a good book.
Curiously, I recently read that one’s sense of smell accounts for 75 to 95 percent of a food’s perceived flavor, and that without being able to smell the difference between, say, an onion and potato, it would be difficult to tell them apart.
My mom apparently read something similar several decades ago, because one night when I was about 10, she called the whole family into the kitchen where she revealed two small piles of white cubes. She had peeled and diced a potato and an apple for this particular experiment, and explained her simple taste test. We had to hold our nose while we ate sample A and B, and then had to tell her which bite was the apple and which was the potato.
I honestly don’t remember if I got it right or wrong. But I do remember that not all of the guesses were correct, thereby shoring up the argument that one’s sense of smell does, in fact, impact perceived flavor.
Supposedly, one of the most evocative smells from childhood is that of crayons. I don’t doubt this, and I did my fair share of coloring as a child, yet I find that food smells allow me to travel back in time just as well. That slowly roasting piece of meat that I mentioned, for example, takes me right back to my grandmother’s kitchen.
That could be part of the reason I think the following dinner tastes so good. This wasn’t her recipe, but the aroma seems like a perfect match to something she would have pulled out of her oven.
Like many meals that are made over the years, the following recipe has evolved. In it’s early renditions, I added water to partly cover the roast and then slowly simmered it on the stovetop. Over time, I found that replacing the water with broth and drastically reducing the amount of liquid, in general, yielded a far more flavorful outcome. Likewise, transferring the seared meat to a low oven instead of simmering it on the stovetop practically eliminated the need for monitoring.
When buying a roast, plan on a half pound of meat per person. This might seem like a hearty portion–and, if you’re lucky, you’ll have leftovers–but there’s a reason. Chuck and rump roasts, as well as other cuts of meat from a cow’s hip and shoulder area, have a lot of fat and connective tissue. A long, slow braise, however, allows these parts to break down and essentially melt away. Once cooked this way, any residual fatty parts can be easily separated from the flavorful, tender meat. The braising liquid takes on this fat, but it can be removed in a few different ways, as mentioned in the notes section below.
- 3-4 pounds beef roast (I like to use chuck roast; rump roast is another good option)
- 2 tablespoons (28 mL) olive oil
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 cup (136 grams) ketchup
- 1/2 cup (120 mL) red wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons (24 grams) lightly packed brown sugar
- 1 (14.5-ounce) can low-sodium beef broth
- 1/2 teaspoon each kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
- Preheat the oven to 275 degrees F.
- Heat the olive oil in the bottom of a Dutch oven or other large, lidded, ovenproof pot over medium heat. You want enough oil to lightly coat the bottom of the pot.
- Mix the ketchup, vinegar, and brown sugar in a small bowl. Set aside.
- Sprinkle the beef all over with the salt and pepper, and then place in the heated pot. Brown the beef on all sides, about 2-3 minutes per side. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant but not turning brown, about 30 seconds more.
- Add the beef broth, and then pour the ketchup mixture over the browned beef to evenly coat. Lift up the bottom of the roast to let the mixture flow underneath, too.
- Bring the liquid to a boil, cover the pot, and then place it in the preheated oven. Bake a 3-pound roast for 3 hours; plan on 4 hours for a 4- to 5-pound roast. The meat should be very tender and fall apart easily.
- Serve over mashed potatoes, mashed baked potatoes, or egg noodles, if desired.
- If you’d like a thickened gravy: About 5-10 minutes before serving, remove the beef from the pot, tenting with aluminum foil to keep warm. Mix 1/4 cup of cold water with 2 1/2 to 3 tablespoons of cornstarch until there are no lumps. Bring the liquid in the pot to a low boil. Gradually stir in the cornstarch mixture, stirring and simmering a few minutes until thickened. As a personal preference, I usually do not thicken the gravy, instead drizzling a bit of the unthickened au jus over the meat—it’s very flavorful as is.
- A benefit of preparing in advance: As noted above, the fat and connective tissue in the meat break down and cook out of the roast over the several hours of slow cooking, so the pan juices do become very fatty. This can be skimmed off the top or, for those who like gadgets, removed with a fat separator. Also, once the roast has cooled, the fat will harden in an even layer on the surface and can be easily scraped off. If you are concerned about removing as much fat as possible, you can cook the roast in advance—even the day before—allow it to cool, and then refrigerate until ready to eat. Prior to reheating, remove and discard the hardened layer on top (place in the trash, not down the sink), and then gently warm the meat in the flavorful juices that remain. For ease, you may choose to enjoy the roast the first night with judicious use of the pan juices, and then perform this step prior to eating any leftovers. I do think the meat tastes every bit as good—even better—once it has rested in the juices overnight.