Friday, August 29, 2014

Whole 30 Simple Slow Cooker Roast With Gravy

This post is dedicated to all of the people who want to eat better but don't know how to cook or don't like to cook. It's dedicated to those who know that convenience foods aren't healthy but they fall back on them because, well, they're convenient. Eat this roast for dinner; use the leftovers for a salad, sandwich, or a wrap tomorrow; it would even be tasty with a side of asparagus topped with a couple of eggs for breakfast. Use it to make a stew or a stroganoff. When you put your slow cooker to work it is easy to have real food accessible any time of day.

Each shopper values different things so choose the things that matter to you. Here are some of the things that matter to me:

Remember that grain fed beef is full of inflammatory Omega-6's whereas grass fed is full of anti-inflammatory Omega-3's. Cows raised on feed lots contribute to water pollution and they also have significantly higher levels of e.coli. Unfortunately grass fed is more expensive because the government does not subsidize grass, they subsidize corn. Think back to your parents or grandparents generation where they didn't eat huge slabs of meat because it was expensive. Apply those same recipes and stretch your costly cuts with more vegetables. As far as I know Americans definitely have room in their diets for more vegetables. According to half of your plate should be comprised of vegetables. Your best source of meat will be from a local farmer or butcher. You can ask as many questions as you like and see how the animals are raised. Odds are that it will be slightly cheaper than what is found in a supermarket, especially if you buy a package bundle. Buying locally you will know how the animal was treated and you'll also support your local economy.

My goal was to put this recipe together with few ingredients but maximum flavor. This recipe also works well for those who are cooking on a budget. Cheaper cuts of meat, (chuck roast pictured), are best suited to a long slow cooking process because they need the extra time for the connective tissue to break down. 

The most crucial step is in the beginning. Browning the roast is where the meaty broth/gravy is created. I have made other recipes by skipping this step and the result reminds me of a sub-par canned stew. Edible, but nothing to get excited about. Trust me, spend a few minutes and brown your roast. In the photo above you'll notice that the roast is sitting on paper towels. Before seasoning with salt and pepper it is crucial that the surface of the meat is patted down with paper towels to remove excess moisture. If the moisture isn't removed the meat will steam in the pan and it won't brown properly. After drying off the roast generously season it with salt and pepper. The roast pictured was 3-4 lbs and I used 1-1.5 tsp of salt and freshly ground black pepper. Brown the side of the roast with the thickest layer of fat first in a pre-heated pan over medium/medium-high heat. This will provide cooking oil for browning the other sides of the roast. Fancy equipment is not required. In the photo below you will see that I used 2 forks to rotate the roast in the pan. Make sure the pan drippings don't burn while you are browning the roast because we're going to use them to help create the gravy for our roast.

After the roast has browned on all 4 sides place it into the slow cooker and add 2 cups of water to the hot frying pan. Using a spoon or spatula, scrape the brown bits off the bottom of the pan and then add the liquid to the slow cooker with the roast. My favorite part about this step is that you've nearly cleaned the pan you just used. To the slow cooker, add 1 tsp of thyme, 2 cloves of garlic, and 1 bay leaf into the liquid. Turn the slow cooker to low and cover it with the lid. That's it! I cooked this roast for 7.5 hours and it was difficult to remove because it nearly fell apart, always a good sign. Place the roast on a plate or a cutting board that has a rim for catching juices and cover the roast with foil to let it rest while you make a gravy. Resting is also important before the roast is cut so that the juices have time to reabsorb. If you cut it right out of the pot it will be dry.

 For the Roast:

3-4 lb chuck roast/pot roast
1-1.5 t of salt
generous pepper
2 C water
1 t dried thyme
1 bay leaf
2 cloves of garlic crushed

For the Gravy:

2 t arrowroot powder
2 c of broth from the slow cooker*
salt and pepper to taste

In a sauce pot on the stove bring the broth to a gentle boil. Dissolve the arrowroot in a tablespoon or so of cold water. It will clump and not dissolve if added to hot liquid. Slowly add the arrowroot while stirring the gravy and remember that its full thickening potential won't occur until the gravy boils. As you can see below this ratio doesn't make a very thick gravy so if you like yours thicker add another teaspoon of arrowroot. I prefer arrowroot to corn starch because I know it is not GMO and it is paleo whereas corn is not.

* Optional: After removing the bay leaf I used an immersion blender to homogenize the broth with the garlic

Roasted Root Vegetables

Carrots can be added to the slow cooker to cook with the roast but I opted for roasted vegetables instead. Dice any root vegetables you like. In this photo I used carrots, parsnips, and a turnip but in the past I've added sweet potatoes, onion wedges, or cloves of garlic with the paper on. Whatever combination sounds good to you.

Toss the vegetables with your favorite oil, salt, pepper, and dry thyme. Roast on a sheet tray lined with parchment paper or a silicone mat at 425 F until the vegetables are tender and browned to your liking. Roasting times will vary depending on the size of your vegetables but it should be somewhere around 45 minutes.