Pot roasts aren’t roasted with dry heat; in fact, they are poached. A pot roast is “poached beef.”
In some areas, what would have been labelled a Top Round Roast is now being labelled a Top Round Pot Roast for clarity.
You can basically substitute one cut of Pot Roast for another; you may need to just adjust the cooking time a few minutes one way or another.
Pot Roasts can be cooked in the oven, or on top the stove in a pot. Either way, cook covered to keep the steam in, as that is what will cook the meat.
Pot Roasts are very lean, coming from areas of the cow that get a real workout. It’s a myth that cooking Pot Roasts in the stock is what makes them moist. The purpose of the liquid is to provide an even cooking temperature for slow cooking, and to impart some flavour. The meat, though, will not absorb any of the liquid into it. If there is a layer of fat on one side of the Pot Roast, cooking the Pot Roast fat-side up so that the fat will melt into the meat and baste it: that is the only thing that will make it moister.
There are many different recipes for Pot Roasts. But one of the glories of Pot Roast is that it’s more of an improvised thing. You use what you have to hand. So while you should feel free to use one of the many recipes that are out there, these general guidelines are actually enough to make Pot Roast with.
1. You will need some liquid to cook the Pot Roast in, anywhere from 1/2 cup to 2 cups (4 oz to 1 pint / 125 to 500 ml). This will need to be heated to boiling, ready to go, so you can start it warming now in a saucepan. If all you have is just water, then get the kettle boiled. You may wish to use broth that you have saved and frozen from cooking vegetables and beans. You can keep adding the saved stock to a plastic container in the freezer labelled “Pot Roast stock”, then just thaw it and heat it. Many recipes will have you create elaborate stocks, but nothing beats the leftover vegetable stock. If you don’t have any stock, how about some how water and a beef stock cube, or hot water with some Worcestershire sauce splashed in?
2. Decide if you are going to cook the Pot Roast on the stove top or in the oven. The stove top can be a better choice for a hot summer day you don’t want to turn the oven on, or if the oven is already full with other things.
3. You will need a pan to brown the meat in on top of the stove. If you are going to cook the Pot Roast on top of the stove, then you can just brown and cook the meat all in one pot, something big like a Dutch oven. If you are going to cook the meat in the oven, then you need to think: if your roasting dish is also stove-top safe, then you can brown the meat in that and keep it all in one pot. If it isn’t, then you will brown the meat first in a frying pan, then transfer to the roasting dish.
4. Heat at medium heat a few tablespoons of oil in the pan in which you are going to brown the meat.
5. [Optional]. Mix up on a plate 4 or 5 tablespoons of flour, season it with salt, pepper and some herbs. Use stronger herbs that will stand up to long cooking, such as oregano, thyme or sage — forget parsley or basil. In all the herb entries, check to see which ones say “add at end of cooking”, and avoid those. Coat the meat with your flour mixture, using your fingers to pat it on all round.
6. Now you have the cooking method decided, the meat coated with seasoned flour if desired, the stock heating, and the oil heated and ready to start cooking with.
7. Brown the meat in the pan on all sides, turning every few minutes. All totalled, this should take about 15 minutes tops.
8. If you are going to transfer the meat to a roasting pan to cook in the oven, do so now (don’t forget to scrape the flavour bits from the frying pan in, too). Or if you browned the meat in a large Dutch oven and intend to cook it right in there on top the stove, leave it there. If the Pot Roast came with a side that has a layer of fat on it, then make sure that the roast is place in the pot fat-side up: Pot Roasts are lean meat, which is why they can sometimes taste dry: having the fat on top lets the fat melt naturally into the meat, basting it.
9. Either way, now add your hot liquid, any seasonings, and any seasoning vegetables such as onions or garlic or celery. Cover and cook. (See cooking times below.
10. About an hour before the Pot Roast is due to be done, add any additional vegetables and re-cover the pot. Check from time to time to ensure that there is sufficient liquid in the pan. There is no need to turn the Pot Roast, whether you are doing in on the stove-top or in the oven.
11. When the Pot Roast is done, take it out and set onto a plate, cover it with something such as tin foil, and allow it to sit for 15 minutes. This will allow any juices that were drawn to the surface of the meat by the heat to relax back into the meat.
12. [Optional]. While the meat is resting, put the liquid left in the pan in a stove-top safe pan, if it isn’t already. Bring it to a boil, then lower to a vigorous simmer to reduce the sauce. Serve with the meat.
Allow to sit out of oven for 15 minutes, covered on a plate, before carving for serving.
Also good cooked in advance, then reheated to serve.
Cooking temperature for pot roast
On top the stove, keep the liquid at a simmer (never allow it to boil, as boiling toughens beef).
In the oven, cook at 160 C (325 F).
Cooking times for pot roast
Allow about 30 minutes per 500 g (pound).
Cook until tender. If you have an instant read meat thermometer, for medium-rare cook to 63 C (145 F), for medium to well-done cook to 71 C (160 F).