Big Little Recipes

5-Ingredient Pot Roast (Featuring 40 Cloves of Garlic)

October  2, 2018

A Big Little Recipe has the smallest-possible ingredient list and big, BIG everything else: flavor, ideas, wow factor. Psst: We don't count water, salt, pepper, and certain fats (say, olive oil to dress greens or sauté onions), since we're guessing you have those covered. Today, we’re flipping a garlicky French classic on its head.

In 1927, acclaimed food journalist Waverly Root left America for Europe. At the time, he wrote, "You were looked down upon if you ate garlic." When he returned to the States 13 years later, "You were looked down upon if you didn't."

Indeed, the mid-20th century in America marked a garlic awakening. A garlic enlightenment, a garlic renaissance, dare I say a garlic revolution. For which we have the French to thank—and James Beard.

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Affectionately known as the father of American cookery, Beard snagged some of his greatest culinary inspiration from, well, not-America. During World War II, he served as part of the United Seamen’s Service, which took him from Puerto Rico to Marseilles. The latter, writes Robin Cherry in Garlic, an Edible Biography, was the game-changer:

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Top Comment:
“I peeled the garlic by shaking twenty cloves at a time in a martini shaker. Worked well. Mine did get a bit mushy at 3 hours, so I will likely check at two hours for a well browned 3 lb. roast.”
— carole G.

“Garlic was known as the truffle of Provence, and Beard returned from Marseilles with two garlicky recipes that would become his signatures.”

Enter Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic. Since the 1940s, Provençal cooking was becoming more and more popular in the States, and garlic tagged along for the ride. Beard’s recipe gave Americans permission to use the ingredient with abandon.

Photo by Jenny Huang

Basically, you pan-sear chicken parts and garlic cloves, deglaze with vermouth, add celery, herbs, and broth, then braise for 1 1/2 hours. During this time, the garlic melts into a mellower, sweeter, creamier version of its raw self, becoming the sidekick chicken never knew it needed. Americans loved it.

And they still do. Decades later and the 40-clove hype has yet to fade. Cooks Illustrated published their version in 2003. Helen Rosner published hers in Saveur in 2012, noting “you can use up to 100 cloves.” Leite’s Culinaria, earlier this year. And don’t forget Nigella Lawson and Ina Garten and Martha Stewart.

I could have thrown my hat into the ring but I had another idea: If 40 cloves of garlic is so good with chicken, what else is it so good with? What other slow, saucy, meaty braises could it upgrade?

Pot roast.

Thanks to geniuses Betty Wason and Nach Waxman, I’m a big believer that simple does it when braising beef. You only need a few ingredients and a lot of time.

Photo by Jenny Huang

This recipe is no different—except, I increased the quantity of one ingredient. For some perspective, let’s take a gander at that Nach Waxman recipe. It calls for 6 pounds of brisket and 3 cloves of garlic. My recipe calls for 3 pounds of beef chuck and 40 cloves of garlic. Which means it uses over 26 times as much garlic.

Is that wrong? And if it is, do we really want to be right? Just like with the chicken, the garlic melts into the coziest gravy, which makes peeling three (ahem, to four) heads of garlic totally, absolutely worth it.

I won’t bother trying to convince you that this is a quick kitchen task, because it's not. So instead, some tips: Lightly smush the clove with the side of a knife. (Lightly because, here, I like them to stay as whole as possible.) Dump the cloves in a bowl of warm water and peel them there. (This encourages the skins to slip off and is kinder on your fingernails.) Or, as one of my old coworkers used to do, add the garlic cloves to a container and shake the living daylights out of it. This is even more fun if there’s music playing in the background.

You could do 39 cloves or 49 cloves and, for sure, your pot roast will still be the stuff of sweater-weather dreams. But 40 just sounds better, doesn’t it?

Have you ever made Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic? Tell us about it in the comments!

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Emma was the food editor at Food52. She created the award-winning column, Big Little Recipes, and turned it into a cookbook in 2021. These days, she's a senior editor at Bon Appétit, leading digital cooking coverage. Say hello on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.


carole G. January 7, 2019
Made this last night. It was delicious over potatoes! I peeled the garlic by shaking twenty cloves at a time in a martini shaker. Worked well. Mine did get a bit mushy at 3 hours, so I will likely check at two hours for a well browned 3 lb. roast.
Deborah S. January 6, 2019
Yes I love chicken thighs with 40 cloves of garlic with Cognac! Serve it over rice.
geekchorus January 6, 2019
I've used the boiling water trick below--it's genius. But there's another, perhaps heretical approach--you can buy peeled garlic now in a lot of stores, at least where I live. I've not used it, but friends swear that in an emergency, it works just fine! I'd hate people to miss this recipe. My 40-clove recipe (prior to this one) was lamb shanks, rosemary stalks, and vermouth. 2.5 -3 hours low temp. The whole house smells edible for days.
Big P. October 17, 2018
This was a big hit for a mid-October dinner. I used a nice piece of chuck - about 2 lbs., something like 20 cloves of garlic and low-sodium beef broth. Served over egg noodles. Dee-lish!
Emma L. October 18, 2018
Great to hear—thank you!
Teresa B. October 7, 2018
Here's a suggestion for peeling the garlic--when I make Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic, I drop the unpeeled garlic cloves in boiling water for 1 minute, drain and the peels come right off. My recipe is an ancient one from Bon Appetit.
Emma L. October 7, 2018
Oo! Thank you for sharing this tip, Teresa!
Christina E. October 3, 2018
Can I make this recipe in an instapot?
Emma L. October 4, 2018
I bet you can! Though I haven't done so myself. If you give it a whirl, please report back!
Leah October 22, 2018
I've made pot roast a bunch of times in the instantpot with great results. Here's how I do it and I typically use a 2.5 lb cut of meat.

1. Sear the pot roast on all sides using the saute function
2. Then cook the meat with 2 cups stock and seasonings on high pressure for 85 minutes and let it naturally depressurize
3. Then if you want, you can throw chopped raw potatoes/carrots/onions in and cook it all at high pressure for 5 min; let it depressurize naturally for 10 min; and then let quick release the pressure

I've never tried it with this much garlic though! I've used just a couple of cloves in the past.
Emma L. October 22, 2018
Thanks so much for sharing your method, Leah!