Bay and Star Anise Pot Roast with Gravy (in a Slow Cooker)

Pot roasts are old standbys that, depending on how the cooking was at your house growing up, either makes you have to wipe a little Pavlovian drool from your lips or leaves you in a cold sweat and reaching for the delivery menu. I’m thankful to have grown up in a home where pot roasts were of the drool inspiring variety. They were always made the same: an assortment of vegetables layered in the bottom of the pot to soak up all the juices from the roast laying on top. For as much as I agree with the philosophy of not cooking your veggies to death, I must admit that there is something magical that happens when you stew carrots, potatoes, and onions for six hours in beef drippings.

It has taken me a long time to get comfortable cooking meat. Not because of any past dietary principles (I’ve always been quite the omnivore), but simply because I was intimidated. I stuck with plain ground beef for a long time– all through college, post college, and probably my first year of marriage. Ground beef is the one cut of meat I remember helping my mom with while growing up. It was frequently my job to brown the beef for whatever other dinner applications it was destined for. I felt confident in knowing how ground beef worked. Throw it in the pan, break it up with a wooden spoon, and cook until it’s all the same color. No confusing steps like “sear till a crust forms,” “slice across the grain,” or “carve.” Unlike other cuts of beef that might turn raw in the middle if you looked at them wrong, it was easy to tell when ground beef was done. Even once I was a more confident cook and could roast a whole chicken with the rest of ‘em, I still had a mental block against any other cuts of beef. So it wasn’t until I’d gone in with a friend and bought a side of beef from a farmer friend that I really began cooking steaks and roasts on an actual stove or oven. I’ve studied the cookbooks, watched the YouTube videos, and scrutinized the how-to charts while broiling, sauteing, roasting, searing, and grilling my way through a quarter of a cow.

And so other cuts of beef are no longer as intimidating as they once seemed. Like any skill, it takes time, patience, attention to detail, and multiple tries to get it down. That and a willingness to swallow your pride, take the platter from the table, and put the roast back in the oven for 15 minutes to finish cooking.

For those of you who might secretly also have hunkabeefphobia, this is a simple recipe that is really hard to mess up and so is sure to build your meat cookery confidence. What’s more, it takes advantage of the cheaper cuts of beef that have a lot of chewy connective tissue that takes hours to melt down. So even if you do mess it up, it’s at least not as expensive of a “misteak.”

The method is the same for any pot roast in a crock pot– put the meat in, cover with some liquid, and let it cook for about 6 hours. Other ingredients, like vegetables, can be added. You can also be creative with your spice use. Don’t feel limited to the same old salt and pepper. Try¬† a Mexican spiced combination, or go for an herby Italian roast. I’ve tried pot roasts lots of ways, and most of them have been quite good. However, the bay leaf and star anise combination I’ve really come to love. I prefer subtle flavors to let the gorgeous beefiness of my grass-fed roasts shine, and these two spices play backup singer quite nicely. The bay imparts a floral aroma and herbal taste while the star anise adds a surprising zing of Asian flair and permeates the whole dish with that can’t-quite-put-your-finger-on-it umami flavor.

Bay Leaf and Star Anise Pot Roast with Gravy (in a Slow Cooker)

A 4ish pound roast (shoulder, chuck, rump, round, London broil)
3 cups water
1/2 cup cider vinegar
salt and pepper
2 star anise or equivalent amount of pieces
2-3 bay leaves
2 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped (opt)
2 stalks celery, roughly chopped (opt)
2 onions, peeled and cut into chunks (opt)
2 potatoes, cut into chunks (opt)
4 Tbs butter
6 Tbs flour

If using the veggies, layer them in the bottom of the slow cooker. Sprinkle both sides of the roast with salt and pepper and lay in on top of the veggies. Pour in water and vinegar. Float the bay leaf and star anise on top. Put the lid on, turn the cooker to low and cook for 6-8 hours. (Less time will leave you with a more structured roast that holds together. Longer time will give you falling off the bone meat. Both are good.)

When the meat is done to your liking, remove it and tent with foil to rest and reabsorb its juices. Also remove the veggies and keep in a warm oven. Pour the liquid into a large saucepan and bring to a boil. In a separate bowl, mix together 4 tbs butter and 6 tbs of flour. Whisk this mixture into the liquid thoroughly and bring to a boil. Simmer gently, stirring often, until it thickens into a gravy. Serve it over the meat and veggies.

You will probably have leftover gravy. I chop up any extra roast, mix it with the reheated gravy, and serve it over crusty bread the next day.

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Posted in Uncategorized 7 years, 5 months ago at 9:09 pm.

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4 Replies

  1. Hmmm… I’ve wanted a crock pot roast recipe to try out. This sounds a bit different. Do the bay leaves make it sweet? I’m not crazy about them. Having said that, you wowed me with the roast chicken and vegetable – which we are having this week! Also, did you sear the meat? If not, could you?

  2. Rachelle Jan 17th 2011

    Mmm! We just got a 1.5 qt slow cooker for Christmas. I’ve figured out how to fit a roast and veggies in it (step 1: ignore instructions to fill no more than 3/4 full) so I think I will try this recipe this week.

  3. Shawn,
    I didn’t sear the meat, but mostly just cause I was lazy and late for work. If you do take the time to sear it, the flavor of your roast will be that much better. I don’t know if I’d say the bay leaves make it sweet…more herbal. You could always leave them out and just use the star anise.

  4. Let me know how it goes Rachelle! I always wonder how my recipes work out for other people. I worry that too much is lost in translation between my memory and the written out recipe.


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