Kitchen Notes: Small Pot Roasts

  My tiny    pot roast island  after the first hour of cooking in the Dutch oven...all it needs is some sand and palm trees.

My tiny pot roast island after the first hour of cooking in the Dutch oven...all it needs is some sand and palm trees.

Dear Readers,

I was in the kitchen last night, arguing with an annoyingly small pot roast dinner.  

Rewind to Friday. I was out grocery shopping. It was about 3 o'clock in the afternoon, and I was tired, hungry, and ready to get home.  The 4-pound chuck roast I needed for my recipe was not in the shiny glass case. Drat.

I'd been craving a tender, melt-in-your-mouth pot roast dinner, but the only non-fatty cut of beef to be found at the butcher's counter of my local grocery store on Friday was a scrawny little two-pounder of a chuck least, that was all that was available in the grass-fed section.

(BTW, if cuts of meat confuse you as much as they confuse me, please click here for a handy guide to the most popular cuts of meat you'll find at the store.)  

I cleared my throat and broached the subject with the butcher.  "Do you have any bigger, leaner cuts that would work for pot roast?" I asked.

The butcher, a hulking linebacker of a guy with very white teeth and a very white apron, looked down over the top of the meat case at me (I'm short, so it took him awhile to locate me.  Whenever I'm at the butcher's counter, I have to sort of wave my hands in the air to get the butcher's attention...otherwise I could be there for hours before anyone noticed me standing there.)  He shook his head.  "Nope.  This is all we've got today."

"Why are the bigger roasts all marbled like that?"  I pointed to a nearby display of larger cuts of beef, ones that appeared more white fat than red meat. 

"Marbled like how?" The butcher asked, in a mildly offended tone.  He picked up a red-and-white hunk of meat for effect and waved it around like a football.  "They're all marbled like this.  This is what we got this week. This is all we have."  He put the white-laced football back in the case and looked at me challengingly, his gold-and-diamond earring glinting over the top of the counter.  

I backed down.  "I'll just take the small middle chuck roast on the left, please," I conceded.  He wrapped up my tiny chuck in brown butcher's paper, and handed it over the counter.  I smiled apologetically; he didn't smile back.  Maybe I'd offended him by asking for a leaner cut, or possibly he'd just been having a bad day already, even before I arrived on the scene to insult his fat-laced roasts.

Thus, I ended up with my itty-bitty pot roast, which looked like a small, round island floating in a savory sea of beef broth, sautéed vegetables, and a splash of Côtes du Rhône.  I decided to add 1/2 cup uncooked pearled barley to the tomato-paste-and beef-stock sea, and while it did add calories to the dinner, it didn't sufficiently thicken up the broth.  

A word to the wise: if you can't talk your butcher (surly or otherwise) out of at least a four-pound, grass-fed, reasonably-lean boneless chuck, don't try to make this recipe for dinner.

I say, go big or go home when it comes to pot roast.

Yours Truly,