UPDATE: I tried using Cab Franc instead of pomegranate juice since I was out of the juice, and it came out delicious! So feel free to experiment and replace the juice with similar wine.
Yeah, pot roast has a bad reputation for its dry, stringy meat devoid of flavor. I've tried a bunch of recipes, am still in the process of tinkering, but this one is the result of yesterday's trial and error and is damn good, so I thought I would share.
Does grass-fed matter?
Yes. Most cattle are fed grains, which their digestive systems are not meant to handle (sound familiar? If not, please read Pasta Sans Pasta). They evolved on grass, not corn. The grains are the reason they are pumped full of antibiotics and need supplementation to survive. Grains fatten them up fast for the slaughter, are cheap, and allow cattle to live out their lives in confinement. Not healthy, and not the meat I want to eat. Beef production is one reason why there are moral vegetarians. The alternative? Feed cattle what they evolved to eat and DON'T finish them on grains. You want 100% grass-fed and NEVER "grain finished." Grain finished means fattening them up on grains a few months before the slaughter. While grass-fed might not mean ideal lives on green coastal cliffs like those we see on Highway 1, it is a step in the right direction.
A better diet for the cow translates into healthier meat. Compared to grain-fed beef, grass-fed beef is much richer in healthy omega-3 fatty acids. It has more vitamins E, B, and C; minerals like calcium, potassium, and magnesium; and more CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), which has been effective in weight loss and reducing cancer risk. Grass-fed beef is also leaner, more like the prey animals our ancestors ate that we evolved upon. It even looks better: darker red and slightly yellow fat. Finally, it just tastes better--it is richer, meatier, and more complex in flavor than grain-fed beef. Period.
Method to the Madness
I found Emeril's Garlic Studded Pot Roast and gave it a try. His idea of tucking the garlic inside the roast is brilliant to avoid burning the garlic, which a searing roast is apt to do. To one up his idea, I also tuck in sun dried tomatoes to infuse the meat with a tomato flavor. On this culinary excursion, I tried pomegranate juice because I didn't want wine or plain water and had no beef broth on hand. It added a fruity acidity like wine and a flavor complexity that rivals cabernet.
Then there is arrowroot. I was SO excited when I first found a substitute thickening agent for corn starch and flour. It is called arrowroot powder. It is a root! Arrowroot is native to the West Indies, and its name derives from its use to draw out the poison from a poisoned arrow. Neat! Can't you see me jumping up and down? The conversion is 2 tsp of arrowroot for 1 T of cornstarch or 1 tsp arrowroot for 1 T flour. It thickens at a lower temperature than the others, so cool the liquid you add it to and then raise heat after adding. You can even use it for baking (recipes to come!). You can find arrowroot powder in an expensive little shaker in most supermarkets or sold as a powder out of the spice bin area in stores like New Leaf. NOTE: I originally posted saying arrowroot is paleo, but here is more information: Since the paleo diet doesn't like tubers, arrowroot would fall into the same category as potatoes and not be favorable. In my paleo-style world, however, it is an acceptable alternative to wheat or corn products. Tubers are an essential part of my diet and that of many paleo-diners--though perhaps not an everyday carbohydrate. There is some debate about how much our ancestors relied upon tubers and whether tubers should be excluded from the paleo diet. See Troubling Tubers for more details.
Not Your Mama's Pot Roast
Cooking Time: 4 hours start to finish (yeah, it takes a long time, but it is a pot roast, what do you expect? And 3 of those hours are down time for you.)
Zone Blocks: 1.5 oz of roast = 1 block of Protein, gravy is a pretty minimal Carb source: 2 blocks if you down all the gravy yourself
1 3lb boneless chuck roast of grass-fed beef, room temperature (leave out for an hour or two before cooking)
1/2 C pomegranate juice
10 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced in half or quarters, lengthwise ideally
6 sun dried tomatoes cut into thin strips width-wise
1.5 C water
freshly ground black pepper
Prepare the sun dried tomatoes and garlic (yes, this is sticky and messy and NOT fun, but wouldn't you miss this fun if you bought chopped garlic? No... so perhaps I should buy some). Start heating a dutch oven over med-high heat. Cut slits in the roast and insert garlic and tomatoes into each. I found this went faster when I made larger slits and stuffed in a bunch or used the fat marbling and got up under it like getting spices under chicken skin. Whatever works, but prepare both sides of the meat this way.
When finished, wash those meaty hands and rub the roast in salt and pepper. Add the roast to the preheated dutch oven and let 'er sear. Give it a few minutes per side and look for tasty brownage. The browner, the better. Try to brown the sides too by holding the roast vertical with tongs. Okay, done with the browning.
Now, three things need to happen fast: 1. turn the heat down to 3ish (keep a low simmer throughout, so wherever that translates to on your burner). 2. add the water and juice. 3. with the tongs, move the roast around to get the brown bits off the bottom. Finally, lid the sucker and let 'er sit for 3 hours. It'll be worth the wait! Make sure periodically that your roast is doing okay in that little hot box and has some liquid on the bottom. I haven't had a problem with the liquid vanishing, but I always see this in recipes, so might be worth mentioning.
Once you are salivating and can wait no longer, check to make sure the roast is fall-apart tender. If so, evacuate the roast. Let it rest on a plate. Crank up the heat on the pot to medium or medium high. Add 1 tsp of arrowroot powder at a time using the slurry method (put arrowroot powder in a shallow cup/bowl, add a little cooking liquid, mix well for no lumps, then pour back to the pot). NOTE: I haven't had the greatest success with this thickening process, so try to cool the liquid slightly (run bottom of cup under cold water or use an ice bath before adding the arrowroot). Repeat to thicken and reduce as long as your heart desires (or you just want to eat the damn roast already!). For me, it took 2 tsp arrowroot and perhaps 15min to thicken to a light syrupy thickness. Makes a great au jus or gravy if you are willing to wait that long!
I had mine with plantains (damn I love those way too much) and my husband had freezer homefries (just potato in the ingredients, but still NOT ideal). Starches and roasts just seem to go together, even if it might not be ideal (I need to do more research in this area).
Better options: rice (cauliflower rice, that is--recipe soon to come!), grilled or sauteed veggie medley, or fruit. There are so many paleo carbs out there, go nuts (well, nuts are a fat, but you get what I mean).
And about nuts, we have added NO FAT! Yay! That means you can use your fat blocks elsewhere like a tasty dessert muffin perhaps? :)