YANKEE POT ROAST
Few early American farm houses had ovens, so roasting was done over hearth fires in a pot oven with a flat bottom and a lid that was depressed on top. Sometimes the pot was suspended over a fire on a crook, sometimes it sat on three legs directly over embers on the hearth. Embers also were placed in the lid depression so that heat came to the pot both from above and below.
What Americans call Yankee pot roast has global origins. Daubes appear in early American cookbooks, reflecting French influence from Canada through New England and in the American south. German immigrants brought sauerbraten, vinegar marinated roasts, to Pennsylvania and the Midwest. Jewish adaptations of Hungarian, Austrian or Russian braised beef dishes are common in many parts of the country.
Wherever they originate, pot roasts are of the “spend some time and save a dime” school of cooking. They call for cheaper, tougher cuts of beef with lots of connective tissue and very little fat, lean parts of the animal that have seen a lot of action. When browned then braised slowly in liquid (stock, wine, water) and aromatics over low heat, the collagen in connective tissue melts, tenderizes the meat and adds body to the braising liquid, creating a rich, velvety sauce.
The best cuts for a beef pot roast are:
- Brisket. Cut from the breast and lower chest, brisket is a long flat piece of meat. It is usually sliced against the grain to maximize tenderness.
- Chuck. Cut from the front portion of the animal.
- Round or rump. Cut from the rear leg area of the animal.
Pot roasts should be tied by your butcher for a more attractive presentation and more compact slices. They improve if cooked a day ahead, refrigerated overnight and then reheated. The sauce also is better if it rests 24 hours, refrigerated, before being gently reheated.