Wednesday October 30, 2013 | 07:03 AM

Some confusion exists amongst home cooks as to the difference between a pot roast and braised meat.  There shouldn’t be because both terms refer to the same cooking method.  A pot roast is a braised piece of meat that is slowly cooked in a small amount of liquid, with the addition of aromatics like onions, carrots and celery.

For a pot roast of beef, the simplest method  is to dredge the meat in flour, brown it in a large ovenproof casserole like a Dutch oven, add a pile of sliced onions on top and moisten with a half cup  of stock, water or wine (depending on the size of the beef), cover tightly and cook slowly for several hours..  It can be cooked on top of the stove over very low eat,  but it’s preferable to put it in the oven for more even cooking.

There are endless variations on braised beef with the addition of vegetables, spices, the braising liquid and the cut of meat.  For beef pot roast either brisket, shoulder or a chuck roast work best.  Pork can also be substituted, giving the essentially neutral tasting pork lots of flavor from the braising liquid.

The recipe I’ve included here is for a sweet and sour pot roast that is slowly cooked with raisins,  which have been soaked in sherry for several hours.  The resulting sauce is fantastic, and the cut of beef I used here is a brisket, which benefits from this slow-cook method.

I once served this dish to an old friend, Martin Roaman, who was a formidable New Yorker and businessman, who said, “This is the best pot roast I’ve ever had.”  Whenever he and his wife, Carol, came for dinner he always asked if I were serving pot roast.  I never did and I’m not sure why, so I dedicate this roast to Martin.

Martin Roaman’s Sweet and Sour Pot Roast

Servings 4 to 6

1 cup raisins
1 cup dry sherry
2 1/2 to 3 pounds beef brisket
1/2 cup flour
Freshly ground black pepper
Sea salt, to taste
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 large onions, peeled and diced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 cup chicken or duck stock
3 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons red-wine vinegar
2 tablespoons brown sugar

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Put the raisins into a 1 cup glass measure and fill with sherry just to cover.  Set aside to steep for several hours while the beef is braising.

Put the flour on a board or large plate and season very generously with salt and pepper, mixing the spices into the flour with your hands. 

Dredge the beef all over in the flour mixture, shaking off any excess.  Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven or large casserole with cover until hot, but not smoking.  Add the beef to brown, several minutes per side, without burning the meat.   Brown all sides of the beef. 

Brown the beef all over to produce a nice crusty exterior before braising

Remove the beef to a plate or board and add the chopped onions and garlic; lower the heat and sauté until the onions darken in color and become soft.  Put the beef back on top, scooping up some of the onions to put on top of the beef.  Add the stock; bring to the simmer, stirring well to combine.

Spoon some of the sauteed onions over the top of the beef before putting in the oven to braise

Remove from the heat, cover the pot tightly and cook for 2 hours in the oven, checking the pot occasionally to make sure the liquid is not cooking too fast. It should simmer gently. If it is lower the heat slightly. 

After 2 hours, remove the pot roast from the oven and add the tomato paste, the raisin mixture, brown sugar and red-wine vinegar.   Stir to combine. Cover the pot and return to the oven.

Raise the oven temperature to 350 degrees and cook for another 30 minute to an hour, or until the meat is fork tender and the liquid has darkened in color and reduced somewhat.  It should render itself into thick, syrupy gravy. 

Remove the meat to a carving board, slice it against the grain and arrange on a platter.  Spoon the sauce over the meat. 

The braised beef with raisin sauce

Note: The beef can be made a day in advance, which is actually preferable allowing the flavors to intensify.  After it has cooked, allow the pot-roasted beef to come to room temperature, cover tightly and refrigerate overnight. The fat will have congealed on the top; skim this off and reheat slowly over very low heat.


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John Golden has written about food, dining and lifestyle subjects for Downeast magazine, the Boston Globe, Cottages and Gardens magazine, Gourmet magazine, Cuisine magazine, the New York Times and the New York Post.

In his highly opinionated blog, John reports on his experiences dining out all over Maine and his visits with food personalities, farmers and farmers’ markets throughout the state.

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