This is a recipe to conjure with — except for those vegetarians of you out there. As presented in the book, it is striped down to its essentials. Make it once and a world of possibilities opens up.
My friends and I have been experimenting quite a bit with slow-cookers. How do you avoid all the liquid that’s produce by 10 hours of slow-cooking? That’s the fundamental problem with slow-cookers. Too much liquid accumulates and the surface of meat exposed to air doesn’t crisp. We have come to the inescapable conclusion that braising in slow-cookers requires more work than the manufacturers or even most recipes that call for them admit to. But that’s okay. I’m willing to leave a slow-cooker on my counter for hours at a time, whereas a slow eight- to twelve-hour oven braise, even at 250 degrees, does not free me from the anxiety of leaving my house while the oven is on.
I have a choice of few methods, although depending on how much liquid a particular kind of meat produces I might have to employ both. If you use a slow-cooker, you have to accept that the price of four hours of freedom of movement is the time it takes to reduce all that liquid in a saucepan afterward. And I have found that popping the slow-cooked meat into a moderately-warm oven (350) for 20 minutes will dry the surface of the meat and make it crisper. You can do that while you reduce the liquid.
It’s possible to dry and crisp the surface of meat braised in a slow-cooker for eight hours similar to what a long oven braise in the oven achieves. Periodically during the eight hours of cooking — even only once every four hours — remove with a baster most of the liquid that has accumulated while you’re cooking beef or pork. Don’t let liquid accumulate higher than halfway up the meat. The tricky part is removing the liquid without releasing too much of the heat when you lift the lid. Work quickly and, if you can, hold the lid close.
Rosamaria and I have become good at slow-cooking pork butts in delicious spice mixtures of chipotle, achiote paste, garlic, lime juice, dried oregano and freshly toasted and ground cumin.
So, let’s begin with Ruth’s pot-roast — let’s face it, that’s what it is and oh boy I’ve never had such an inviting aroma wafting through my house quite like this one!
1 (28-oz) can whole tomatoes in juice
1 (3 to 3 1/2 lb) boneless beef chuck roast, rolled and tied
1 head garlic, separated into cloves but left unpeeled
salt and freshly ground pepper
Accompaniment: cooked orzo
Put a rack in middle of oven and preheat oven to 300 F.
Coarsely chop tomatoes, with their juice, in a food processor. Put roast in an ovenproof 4- to 5-quart heavy pot or a casserole dish with a lid, pour tomatoes over it, and scatter garlic around it. Season with salt and pepper.
Cover and braise in oven until very tender, 3 to 4 hours.
Remove string and discard. Cut roast into 1/4-inch thick slices and serve with sauce, orzo, and garlic.
How I did it:
Since I’m cooking only for myself, I bought a beautiful 1 1/2 lb chuch roast, but I did not tie it. Why? I used one can of whole tomatoes prepared as called for. Put everything into the slow cooker at 10 am.
Over the day, the liquid did not rise higher than half way up the beef, so I let it be.
About half an hour before the eight hours were up, I tested the meat. It still held its shape, but a fork could pull it apart with no effort. I ladled out most of the liquid into a saucepan and reduced it by half.
Meanwhile, I put water on for the orzo. I cooked 3 oz orzo for 7 minutes. Once I drained it and put it in a warmed pasta dish, I took out my best olive oil and sprinkle just a little over the orzo and then mixed it together. With tongs, I extracted a chunk of beef with some tomoto clinging to it and placed it on the bed of orzo. I drizzled a bit of reduced sauce over it.
I see no point in tying up a roast like this, even if it’s smaller than what’s called for. It will hold together sufficiently. Mine did.
I stuck a warm plate in a 200 oven to warm it. That’s now my standard practice. What a difference it makes!
Make sure to salt the chuch roast well. It can take it. Don’t be shy.
In a slow-cooker, the beef will brown just a teeny bit, if you’re careful to not let the liquid rise too high.
My pal Rosamaria serves this over polenta.