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.

Posted 13 years, 6 months ago at 9:09 pm. 4 comments

Holiday Roast Turkey (or chicken) and Gravy

For the fowl:
1 bird of your choice
1-3 oranges, limes, lemons, ect
1 stick of butter, divided
2 tbs of dried herbs (we used rosemary)
1-2 cloves of garlic
1 tbs oil

For the gravy:
all the drippings from the bird
1/4-1/2 cup wine or vinegar
2-8 cups stock
1/2 cup water
1-2 tbs flour, cornstarch, or arrowroot powder
1-2 tbs herbs

Preheat your oven to 400°. Melt butter and let cool slightly. Thoroughly thaw your bird and remove any giblets from the cavity. Either store the giblets in the fridge for later use or boil them in a pot of water for an hour to use in the gravy. Pat the bird dry with paper towels or a clean dish cloth. Place it on the rack of you roasting pan or use carrots and celery to build a rack in the bottom of your biggest baking pan, ideally one that can go on the stovetop as well. A big pot would work too, if you don’t have a burner safe pan.

Roll the oranges gently on the counter to release their juices.  Cut them in half and place them in the cavity. Don’t stuff them too compactly though, or it will affect the cooking time of the bird.

In an small bowl or mortar grind the herbs. Add minced garlic, a pinch of salt, and a drizzle of oil. Gently loosen the bird’s skin with your fingers.  Try not to tear it. Using your fingertips, rub the herb and garlic mixture under the skin as evenly as possible. Reserve any extra for the gravy. Skin is a barrier Then massage the bird all over with the melted butter. You can use your hands for this or a pastry brush. I prefer my hands for more even coverage. If you are using unsalted butter, you might want to sprinkle a little salt over the skin too.

When the bird is thoroughly greased, spread him out like he’s sunbathing; pull the wings and legs out from the body. This will give you crispy skin all over. If you have one, insert a probe thermometer into the deepest part of the breast, making sure to not hit any bones, which would give an inaccurate temperature. Set the alarm to go off at 160°.  Put the bird in the oven and immediately reduce the heat to 350°. High heat at the beginning helps the fat essentially fry the skin as it renders. But having high heat for too long will leave the skin burnt and the meat raw.

When the breast has reached 160°, test the thigh meat on the opposite side.  Remove the bird from the oven and place it on a pan or cookie sheet to rest.  Use your roasting rack to keep the bottom from getting soggy. The resting period is essential. Do not skip it! Straight from the oven, all the yummy meat juices are loose. They would run out if you cut it, leaving you with dry meat.  During the resting period, the meat reabsorbs the juices and leaves you with beautiful succulent meat.  A turkey needs to rest at least 30 minutes, a chicken at least 10 minutes.  If you are worried it will get too cold, loosely tent a piece of foil over it.

While the bird is resting, make the gravy.  If you want to see the proper method to make gravy, go look it up on your favorite cooking site, because I cheat and don’t skim the fat off first. Straddle your pan over two burner and turn them on high.  When things start to sizzle, which shouldn’t be too long, deglaze the pan by pour in the wine/vinegar. Using a wooden spoon, scrape up all the little brown bits. Not only are they not burned, they are incredibly flavorful caramelized juices from the meat.  Believe me, you want them in your gravy! Once you have them all scraped up, add your stock. This is where you get the volume in the gravy.  So, if you have a big crowd, at a lot of stock.  If it’s just a few people, add less. A good guideline might be 3/4 to 1 cup per person, to allow for evaporation (and leftovers).

Next, mix your starch (flour, cornstarch, arrowroot powder) into about 1/4 cup of water.  This mixture is referred to as a slurry. Adding the starch this way prevents it from turning lumpy in your gravy. Add the slurry to the gravy and mix thoroughly. Some starches take awhile to take effect, so let it simmer for a good 5 minutes before adding more. When your gravy is thickened to your liking, add a couple pinches of salt, a grind or two of fresh pepper, and any herbs (like the extra from the spice rub). Simmer for another minute to let the flavors meld.  The key to good gravy is to taste early and often.  Get used to how the flavors develop. Then remove to a gravy boat or other serving vessel (I use a cream pitcher).  You can stick it in the oven to keep warm.

Now back to the bird. After it has rested, it’s time to carve.  This takes practice! Don’t expect to do it at the table until you are more proficient at carving.  The first several times you do it, expect it to be a hacked up job.  Just focus on learning where the joints are and the overall process.  Since a picture is worth a thousand words (and a video even more), here is a link to a video explaining how to carve a chicken.

If the worst should happen:
If you carve your bird and it is not cooked in the middle, do not panic.  Simply finish carving the bird and put the pieces on an oven safe plate, cover in foil, and place it back in the oven until it’s done.  You might end up with slightly drier meat, but that’s okay, because you have awesome gravy.

Posted 14 years, 7 months ago at 10:48 pm. Add a comment