Who doesn’t treasure memories of the meltingly tender, richly flavoursome potroast their moms or grandma’s fed them as children? I know I do! To me, it is one of the most maternal of dishes – comforting, homely and deeply nourishing on both a physical and emotional level.
It also seems to be a dish that mothers instinctively know how to make, because I’ve struggled for years to find a precise, written recipe for the perfect potroast. That is, until I found some good traditional Jewish recipe books and websites. I’ve tried supermarket-bought topside and silverside, which did not deliver good results at all – ending up much too dry for my liking. My dear mother-in-law makes a beautifully tender potroast, but says she precooks the meat in a pressure cooker first before roasting and I don’t have a pressure cooker. The idea of boiling the meat first also seems a bit strange. I do recall my own late mother being exceedingly fond of her own pressure cooker, though, so who knows? Maybe this was the method du jour of the ‘seventies. All the same, I am sure the quality of beef available to us all those years ago was superior to the mass-produced, intensively reared feedlot beef we make do with today, which is why I prefer to buy free-range, grass- and grainfed beef from Namibia or the Kalahari when I can.
Here’s my recommendation to you when you want to make a perfect beef potroast: have a chat with your butcher and ask him for advice, as well as some really good quality meat, preferably free-range. That counts for pretty much all and any meat cooking, by the way. And I’m not talking about the counter hands at your supermarket’s butchery section either; I’m talking proper, old school butchers who know their craft and are proud to be of assistance. Our butcher, Gary Zonaras of @ButcherAtUrDoor, recommended boned and rolled brisket to me, and delivered a splendid specimen of nearly 5 kg to my house that I cut in half and cooked on two separate occasions. Frankly, I’ve never seen my family tuck away so much meat in one sitting and they keep asking when I’m making it again.
Brisket is the preferred cut for a long slow roast, since it contains ample connective tissue that melts whilst cooking, thus moistenening and tenderising the meat from inside. Brisket is a cut from the lower breast part of the animal, which means it’s a well-exercised muscle and has a coarser texture than, say, fillet or shin. Long, slow cooking at a fairly low temperature – 150 C at most – in a heavy casserole with tight-fitting lid will deliver up a potroast tender enough to cut with a spoon.
Use whatever liquid you prefer – I like a dry white wine rather than red, as it doesn’t mask the beautiful flavour of the beef and cooks down into a lovely silken gravy. You can also use stock, beer, ginger ale or coca cola, just be aware the latter will render a very sweet sauce.
On with the recipe!
PERFECT POTROAST BRISKET
rolled, deboned brisket, from 1.2kg – 2.5kg in weight
2 T (30ml) sunflower oil
handful of mixed fresh herbs: rosemary, thyme, oregano, parsley, marjoram
3 bay leaves
2 large carrots, peeled and cut into thirds
1 stick celery, snapped into three pieces
1 whole onion, peeled
3 cups liquid: mix stock with wine, beer or ginger ale as you prefer
1. Preheat the oven to 150 C. Brown the brisket all over in a heavy-bottomed, oven-proof casserole with a tight-fitting lid. It only needs to have a golden brown colour. Season well with salt and pepper and add all the remaining ingredients. Put lid on and place casserole in the middle of the oven to roast for 3 hours. Check every hour and turn meat over. Let stand for 20 minutes before carving. Discard the vegetables and boil down the gravy to the consistency you prefer, skimming off excess fat. Delicious!