Halfway To Dinner

How to Turn Pot Roast into a Month's Worth of Sunday Dinners (& Then Some)

April 18, 2016

Beef pot roast is a wonderful thing: With little more than time, you transform a relatively inexpensive hunk of meat and a handful of ingredients into a meltingly tender, satisfying dish. But why limit yourself to thinking of pot roast as an end? Instead, approach it as a beginning to a series of improvisational riffs. Combined with some strategic use of your freezer, a single batch of pot roast can set you up for a month of easy but special Sunday dinners.

Here's what you'll do:

  1. Prepare the meat.
  2. Store it right.
  3. Make a big batch of soffritto.
  4. Stock up on staple ingredients.
  5. Make 4 impressive Sunday dinners: classic pot roast, classic ragu, hearty borscht, beef udon soup.
  6. Get even more creative.
Photo by James Ransom

1. First, prepare the pot roast.

Begin with your favorite pot roast recipe. I make mine with little more than 5 pounds of beef chuck, 1 cup of red wine, 2 cups of chicken stock, a few tablespoons of instant tapioca (my preferred thickener), 4 cloves of garlic (chopped), and a few tablespoons of basic soffritto (see below). Avoid any flavorings beyond a couple of bay leaves and a bit of salt and pepper—what we're really looking for here is a lot of fork-tender beef and a rich but simply-flavored beef broth.

My preferred cooking method is the slow cooker on low for 10 hours (which minimizes moisture loss), but you can speed things up by roasting in a covered Dutch oven for around 4 hours at 350° F, or even reduce the cooking time to just 90 minutes under pressure with a pressure cooker. I consider browning a roast before cooking to be highly optional, but that's just one man's opinion.

Photo by James Ransom

For the preparations below, count on about 2 to 4 servings per pound of uncooked pot roast; so, a 5-pound roast should generally yield 10 to 16 generous individual servings—or enough for a family of four for a month (should you serve it once a week). You can scale up the roast as needed. My slow cooker holds a 9-pound roast, as should a typical large Dutch oven. (If you make a very large roast like this, be sure to increase the other ingredients and use the upper ranges of the times specified by your preferred recipe.)

2. Store it in the freezer.

  • Once the roast is done, allow it to cool somewhat and then transfer it from the cooking vessel to a large cutting board.
  • Carefully pour the sauce into a large bowl, allow to cool, and skim off excess fat.
  • While the sauce cools, shred the roast with two forks (or chop with a knife if it doesn't easily shred—it will be fine).
  • Pack the meat tightly into quart zipper-top bags and add a splash of sauce to each bag to mitigate freezer burn.
  • Allow the solids in the sauce to settle to the bottom and ladle the remaining liquid into separate quart bags (this is easier with an additional set of hands).
  • If you have room in your freezer, I find it best to label and stack the bags flat onto a large sheet pan, separated by paper towels to minimize sticking.
  • After they're frozen, you can store them in the freezer lined up side by side, like a library shelf of savory goodness.

3. Next, make a big batch of soffritto (also for the freezer).

The flavors of pot roast pair well with soffritto (or mirepoix, if you come at things from the French side of the house). Just as pot roast is a dish that lends itself to scaling up, I never make just one recipe's-worth of soffritto. Whether you enjoy the contemplative process of dicing the vegetables by hand, or you'd rather chop things into rough chunks and toss it all into the food processor for a couple of whirls, go ahead and make an extra-large batch:

  • Two parts onion, medium dice
  • One part peeled carrot, medium dice
  • One part celery, medium dice
  • 1 tablespoon butter (scaled with recipe)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil (scaled with recipe)

Don't get overly concerned with exact ratio here—I generally just use one large onion, one medium carrot and a large stalk of celery, scaling the counts as needed.

Photo by James Ransom

In a large skillet or Dutch oven, melt butter combined with olive oil over medium heat and add in the diced vegetables. Stir periodically and let cook uncovered until most of the water is evaporated from the vegetables and they lightly color, about 20 minutes depending on quantity. Add more olive oil or butter if the mixture seems dry. In the end, you want the vegetables to be reduced in volume by a factor of four or five, lightly browned with a sheen of fat. Add a few tablespoons to the pot roast if you're preparing this at the same time (but don't worry, you can toss it in at pretty much any point).

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After the remaining soffritto cools, spoon it onto a sheet of parchment paper and roll the whole thing up like a Tootsie Roll. Put the roll into a gallon zipper-top bag or wrap tightly with plastic wrap, and freeze. Now whenever you need some soffritto you can simply saw off a hunk directly from the freezer and add to the dish you're preparing. The combination of the fat and diced vegetables means the roll will remain fairly soft even when frozen, but you can let the roll sit on the counter for a few minutes to further soften if required.

Photo by James Ransom

4. Then, stock up on the following ingredients:

  • Plenty of canned tomatoes, tomato sauce, and tomato paste
  • Egg noodles and tubular pasta like ziti
  • Plenty of red wine
  • Potatoes for mashed potatoes
  • Carrots, celery, onions, and garlic
  • Frozen peas and frozen corn
  • Fresh herbs like parsley, thyme, and rosemary
  • Parmesan cheese and some decent bread

With these ingredients on hand, all you'll need is a couple of things from the store to prep your Sunday dinners. If you think of it, go ahead and defrost the roast and sauce ahead of time. Otherwise you can use them directly from the freezer: Just slip them out of their storage bags and allocate a bit more cooking time than specified.

5. And with that, you're ready for 4 (or more) Sunday dinners:

Photo by James Ransom

Sunday 1: Classic Pot Roast

You can credibly serve the simple roast I describe above as "pot roast" and be hailed as a brilliant cook. But a more classic American pot roast is close at hand. If you serve this directly after preparing the main roast, you can cut the meat into more traditional slices instead of using shredded meat.

  • 2 tablespoons prepared soffritto (above)
  • One large can whole tomatoes, roughly chopped, juice reserved (or substitute two cups of tomato sauce for smoother texture)
  • 1 tablespoon instant (Minute) tapioca
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 sprig thyme (or 1 teaspoon dried thyme)
  • 2 cups pot roast sauce
  • About 30 ounces (1 quart bag) shredded pot roast meat
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons chopped parsley

In a large pan or Dutch oven, combine the soffritto, tomatoes, tapioca, tomato paste, sauce and thyme. Bring to a simmer and cook on low for about 20 minutes to allow the tapioca to thicken the sauce. Taste and adjust salt and pepper. Discard the sprig of thyme if used.

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Top Comment:
“I plan to do this next Sunday - though I don’t plan to make a pot roast. Food52, we need more pieces on this approach to cooking in advance - making and freezing for later use primary components of future meals. Based on comments on other articles here, I know I’m not the only one who cannot get away with braising or roasting or making a big pot of something on Sunday to serve that night and then on Tuesday and then again on Thursday, for example. The "make it today, eat it all week" game plan just doesn't cut it for my family - or me personally, for that matter. ;o)”
— AntoniaJames

Stir in the pot roast meat (no need to defrost if frozen), return to simmer, and add some of the reserved tomato juice if the sauce is too thick. Allow to cool slightly, garnish with parsley, and serve over egg noodles or mashed potatoes, or alongside some small boiled potatoes. Accompany with some sautéed greens or a lightly-dressed green salad.

Photo by James Ransom

Sunday 2: Classic Ragu

A true ragu usually includes little, if any tomato, but most of us are more familiar with a tomato-rich variation. To make this a weeknight treat, just substitute a few cups of good-quality jarred marinara sauce (our household standard is Victoria marinara, widely available on the East Coast), mix with sauce and pot roast, and cook for just 20 minutes.

  • 3 tablespoons butter, divided
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 4 tablespoons prepared soffritto (above)
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • One large can of whole tomatoes, roughly chopped, juice reserved (or substitute two cups of tomato sauce for smoother texture)
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 2 cups pot roast sauce
  • About 30 ounces (1 quart bag) shredded pot roast meat
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 cups of frozen peas (optional)
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving

In a large Dutch oven, heat 1 tablespoon of the butter and the olive oil over medium low and add the frozen soffritto and allow it to melt, pressing it from time to time with the back of a wooden spoon. Increase the heat slightly and add the garlic; sauté briefly until fragrant and well blended with the soffritto. Stir in the tomatoes, red wine, pot roast sauce, and shredded meat (no need to defrost if frozen). Bring to a simmer over medium heat and reduce heat to low.

Cook, uncovered and barely bubbling, for about an hour. If the sauce gets overly thick, thin with reserved tomato juice or water. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, prepare a tubular pasta like ziti until al dente. Combine the ziti directly into the sauce and simmer briefly, adding the (optional) peas, Parmesan, and parsley at the very end just before serving. Serve alongside sautéed carrots, steamed broccoli, or a nice green salad. Put on some Sinatra and pass the Parmesan.

Sunday 3: Hearty Borscht

Beets and cabbage vary significantly in size, so consider these ingredients as suggested ratios and don't worry about being overly exact.

  • 2 tablespoons prepared soffritto (above)
  • 2 to 4 heaping cups of diced, cooked beets (about 2 medium beets)
  • 2 to 4 cups shredded raw cabbage (about 1/2 a medium cabbage)
  • 2 to 4 cups sliced onions (about 2 to 3 large onions)
  • 6 cups pot roast sauce
  • About 15 ounces (half of a quart bag) shredded pot roast meat
  • Sour cream, dill, parsley and caraway seeds, for garnish

Combine all the ingredients (except the garnishes) in a large Dutch oven and simmer for an hour. Add water if the borscht becomes too dry, but you're shooting for a very thick stew in the end. Garnish and serve with hearty, toasted bread. Sturdy wooden bowls and rustic peasant garb are optional.

Sunday 4: Beef Udon Soup

This soup is by no means authentic, but I'm fairly sure you could open a noodle counter in Tokyo serving it and do a brisk business. All the ingredients in this recipe are readily available at a typical Asian market and are useful to keep in your pantry: Dashi, miso, and tofu make for delicious and satisfying miso soup; soy sauce, mirin, and sesame oil all have long shelf lives (when properly stored) and can be bought in volume at an Asian market for a fraction of what most standard American grocery stores charge. Frozen udon noodles are sold in large, pre-portioned blocks, making this dish an easy weeknight meal as well. You can substitute frozen soba noodles or dried udon noodles, as well.

  • 6 cups pot roast sauce
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly crushed with a knife blade
  • 4 small pieces peeled ginger, lightly crushed with a knife blade
  • 1/2 cup mirin (optional, available at most Asian groceries, or substitute white wine or vermouth)
  • 2 teaspoons powdered dashi (optional, available at most Asian groceries, sometimes labeled "hon dashi")
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • About 15 ounces (half of a quart bag) shredded pot roast meat
  • Small handful of julienned carrots (about one carrot)
  • Small handful of julienned snow pea or green beans
  • Small handful of enoki mushrooms (or julienned shiitake, stem discarded, or other mushroom)
  • 3 to 4 portions of frozen udon noodles, no need to defrost (available at most Asian groceries)
  • 1 tablespoon mild miso per serving
  • 2 scallions, sliced finely
  • Garnishes: shichimi togarashi (Japanese spice mix), cubes of tofu, sesame seeds, dried seaweed, frozen corn kernels (thawed), soft-boiled eggs

Bring the pot roast sauce to a low simmer and add the garlic and ginger pieces. Allow them to steep in the liquid for about five minutes, then remove with tongs and discard. Add the mirin, (optional) dashi, soy sauce, and sesame oil. Taste and add more salt or soy sauce to taste (remember, you can always add more). Stir in the meat, julienned vegetables, and frozen udon noodles and increase to heat to medium until the soup comes to a gentle boil, about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, put one tablespoon of miso into a large, deep bowl for each diner. Add some warm water or a little of the simmering broth and stir briskly with a fork until the miso fully dissolves (miso becomes grainy when boiled, so the extra step is necessary).

Serving can be a bit messy: I recommend evenly ladling the broth into each bowl and then using tongs to portion out the noodles and vegetables. Garnish with scallions and allow the diners to add their own garnishes from the suggestions above. Don't miss the sesame seed garnish, particularly if you can find the nicer toasted sesame seeds available at the Asian food market.

6. Now get even more creative.

Using pot roast as a starting point opens up many other dishes, and armed with the meat and broth in your freezer you can get creative, even on weeknights.

Some further ideas:

  • 2 cups béchamel, 2 cups frozen "leaf" style spinach, and fresh or no-boil lasagna noodles can turn the above ragu into a sophisticated lasagna.
  • 1 cup barley and some diced carrots combined with the meat and sauce makes a deeply satisfying beef barley soup.
  • A quick simmer of 2 cups shredded meat and 2 cups sauce with 1 tablespoon canned chipotle en adobo sauce, 1 teaspoon dried oregano, a half an onion, and an orange half makes a credible taco filling; garnished with radishes, queso blanco, and chopped red onion.
  • Thoroughly crisp up the shredded meat in a hot wok with a little oil, then add to basic fried rice or stir-fry. Again, the toasted sesame seeds as a generous garnish is a revelation.
  • Sauté some finely chopped shallots, scallions, garlic, and ginger and mix in the shredded beef and a splash of sauce. Fill wonton or gyoza wrappers (also a great freezer resource) and serve with more of the pot roast sauce thinned slightly with mirin, sesame oil, and soy sauce as a dipping sauce.
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A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).

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Mark A. Denner

Written by: Mark A. Denner

Dad, husband, cook.


donnab September 8, 2020
great ideas! I am a chef and never thought of doing mirepoix and freezing it in a roll! now that I am retired and cooking for only two these ideas are supper.
nannydeb April 21, 2016
My mother could've written this article! Her creative use of leftovers taught me a lot!
Juliebell April 20, 2016
Left over shredded pot roast and some of the broth/gravy makes the best beef vegetable soup which freezes well.
AntoniaJames April 18, 2016
What a clever idea, making and storing soffrito this way. I plan to do this next Sunday - though I don’t plan to make a pot roast.

Food52, we need more pieces on this approach to cooking in advance - making and freezing for later use primary components of future meals. Based on comments on other articles here, I know I’m not the only one who cannot get away with braising or roasting or making a big pot of something on Sunday to serve that night and then on Tuesday and then again on Thursday, for example. The "make it today, eat it all week" game plan just doesn't cut it for my family - or me personally, for that matter. ;o)
Krista C. April 24, 2016
Agree. Love the make ahead recipes!
M.McAwesome April 25, 2016
Yes please!
This is the sort of thing that I think Barbara Kafka is getting at in the beginning of her book "Roasting: A Simple Art". If I remember it correctly she calls it something like continuous cooking. Basically you are cooking something today that you will enjoy but you will use it again tomorrow and so on. Continually using and reimagining leftovers and adding new things to the mix.
I have occasionally been able to achieve this when I have access to a grill. But I run out of ideas or I get bored or I forget to move the leftovers to the freezer. Having a better plan and ideas like those put in this article helps a lot!
Marie C. January 22, 2017
Totally agreed! While we all wish to make new recipes and try out the blogs latest recipes... reality is we need a real life guide to cooking! This is an amazing article and I want more!!!
HalfPint April 18, 2016
You can also take the meat, grind up a little more and make a ravioli filling.
Smaug April 17, 2016
I don't know about this stuff, but pot roast does make a great hash.