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