One of the oldest, most frequently used clichés in a food columnist’s lexicon is “my grandmother’s ________.” As a food writer one can fill in the blank with just about any foodstuff. In my case I have often written about my grandmother’s pancakes, fried chicken, leg of lamb, and turkey and dressing.
Many of us write about our grandmother’s cooking because it is where we were first exposed to good food. Our culinary taste and sensibilities were cemented at formal dining room tables with fine lace tablecloths at an early age.
I aspire to my grandmother’s cooking, often. I still have never made biscuits as good as my grandmother’s. I have tried for years to no avail. Almost everything my grandmother made was better than what I can cook. She was a seemingly effortless cook and entertained with ease.
There is only one dish I have ever made that is better than my grandmother’s version— pot roast.
In my second cookbook, “Deep South Staples or How To Survive In A Southern Kitchen Without A Can Of Cream Of Mushroom Soup,” I took all of the classic dishes we grew up with and updated them, oftentimes adding professional cooking techniques and preparations. The pot roast in that book, and the one I make at home for my family is— dramatic pause, followed by a moment of revered silence— truly better than my grandmother’s.
It’s the one thing that I cook that reminds me of how my grandmother’s kitchen smelled when I was a boy. I think it’s the gravy. My grandmother had a doctorate in gravy making. The gravy that becomes a byproduct of this roast recipe is dark, rich, flavorful, and smells like a home kitchen ought to smell. My friend, and the world’s only full-time Sweet Potato Queen, Jill Conner Browne, says of this pot roast recipe, “I have had guests sneak down to the kitchen and eat the leftovers cold. Any gravy that is so good that you can eat it cold— that is some good gravy right there!”
The beauty of the recipe— and the secret to the rich, dark gravy— is that the gravy is made on the front end. Typically gravy is the final procedure in the process, using the juices and pan drippings derived from the cooking of the protein. This gravy cooks for hours and is finished once the dish is ready and pulled from the oven.
Pot roast is probably the king of all comfort foods. Everyone I know likes pot roast. When the weather begins to cool and the days grow shorter, pot roast’s stick-to-your-ribs wholesomeness can’t be matched. Browne’s friend Wanda asks for this pot roast recipe as a gift, “and she won’t share it with anyone.”
The beauty of pot roast is that it’s almost always at least two separate meals and leftover pot roast falls into the category of foods that are almost better tasting the next day. Whereas I don’t eat it cold, I do like it on a split and toasted piece of French bread, slathered with gravy as a roast beef po-boy the next day. Browne once said, “heavily pre-buttered and toasted oatmeal bread topped with RSJ pot roast and gravy is the best thing, ever.” I should hire Jill to be the publicist for my next book.
One of the other redeeming qualities of this pot roast is the way it makes the kitchen smell. “I recommend anyone trying to sell a house to have it cooking in a crock pot during showings,” Browne says. Ultimately, that might be the kicker for me. It tastes great and it’s easy to make, but anything that makes my kitchen smell like my grandmother’s kitchen is worthy of the time and effort, clichés be damned.
RSJ Pot Roast
2½ -3 lb Beef shoulder roast
1 Tbl. Kosher salt
2 tsp. Black pepper
1 Tbl Steak Seasoning
1 /4 cup Bacon grease (or canola oil)
1 /4 cup Olive oil
1 /2 cup Flour
2 cups Onion, diced + 1 large onion cut into wedges
3 cups Beef broth, hot
2 large Idaho potatoes, peeled and cut into quarters
3 Carrots, peeled and cut into quarters
1 /4 tsp. Thyme
2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. Salt
1 tsp. Black pepper
Preheat oven to 275 degrees.
Season the beef with Kosher salt, pepper and steak seasoning. In a large heavy-duty skillet, heat the bacon grease over high heat. Brown roast on all sides and place in a roasting pan. Lower heat on the skillet and add olive oil and flour to make a peanut butter-colored roux. Add diced onions and thyme and continue to cook for four to five minutes. Add hot beef broth, Worcestershire sauce, salt, pepper and stir until smooth. Pour liquid into roasting pan with the pot roast. Cover with foil and place in oven. Cook two hours. Remove foil and add carrots and onions. Return to oven and cook uncovered for another hour. Remove, add potatoes and cook for one more hour. Yield: 8 servings