A taste of Provence: Layered Pot Roast with Anchovies, Capers and Garlic

by Terry B on March 25, 2009

Hearty pot roast gets big flavor thanks to capers, onions, garlic and anchovies in this simple dish from the South of France, Grillades à L’Arlésienne. Recipe below.

A couple of weeks ago, I admitted to being a major Francophile when I wrote about roasting chicken on a bed of lentils. I guess that makes Karin over at Second Act in Altadena an enabler. After reading that post, she told me about three different French cookbooks. Already having more cookbooks than we have shelf space for, I immediately headed for the library website and ordered them. Of course, all three showed up within days of each other.

In the interest of fairness, I decided to start with the first book Karin had mentioned—and the first one that turned up at the library, Backroad Bistros, Farmhouse Fare: A French Country Cookbook, by Jane Sigal. I can see why Karin loves this book. Its nearly 200 recipes are gathered from the French countryside—Sigal toured Normandy, Brittany, Burgundy and Provence to collect not only recipes, but stories about the land, people, shops, restaurants and chefs. And based on my first quick read, the recipes seem fairly straightforward and easy to prepare. There are any number of them I’m interested in trying—this downright simple pot roast from Arles in the South of France seemed like a great place to start.

Though it was founded by the ancient Greeks and expanded into an important city by the Romans, Arles is forever linked in my mind with the Post-Impressionist Vincent van Gogh. He traveled there in 1888, attracted by the rich colors everywhere and by the light—the bright, sunny skies of Provence. Van Gogh spent a little over a year in Arles, producing more than 300 paintings and drawings. Including this one, Bedroom at Arles, that I visit just about every time we go to the Chicago Art Institute.

The food of Arles is equally colorful. Less than 60 miles from Marseille on the Mediterranean, it is shaped by Greek and Italian influences—as is the cuisine throughout Provence. Tomatoes, garlic, herbs, eggplant, artichokes and almonds are some of the ingredients that show up often in dishes of the region. And bouillabaisse is its rightfully famous classic seafood stew, made with an assortment of fish and shellfish, tomatoes, garlic, saffron, herbs, wine and olive oil.

This layered pot roast incorporates some of the same big flavors—capers, garlic, anchovies—but mellows them with slow cooking. Still, it is so flavorful that no additional salt was required beyond what was in the capers and the anchovies. A quick note for those of you somewhat timid about cooking with anchovies [and I was among your ranks before cooking this dish]: They really do melt into the dish, adding a mysterious something to it without taking over. See the Kitchen Notes at the end for more details.

Layered Pot Roast with Anchovies, Capers and Garlic
[Grillades à L’Arlésienne]
Serves 4
Adapted from Backroad Bistros, Farmhouse Fare: A French Country Cookbook

1 large onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tablespoons capers, drained and chopped
1/4 cup fresh chopped flat leaf parsley
4 anchovy fillets packed in oil, drained and minced [see Kitchen Notes]
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2-pound boneless chuck roast, cut crosswise into 8 slices [see Kitchen Notes]

Preheat the oven to 325ºF. In a bowl, combine the onion, garlic, capers, parsley and anchovies.

Pour 2 tablespoons of the olive oil into a small lidded casserole—large enough to just hold half the meat in a single layer. Arrange 4 slices of the meat in the bottom of the casserole. Top with half of the onion mixture. Arrange the remaining meat slices in a single layer on top of the first and top with the remaining onion mixture. Drizzle the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil over the top and cover the casserole with a lid.

Place casserole in oven and roast until meat is tender, about 2 hours. [You can also cook this on the stovetop, but I think the oven is a better choice—see Kitchen Notes.]

At this point, you can serve the dish, but the flavor actually improves if you refrigerate it overnight and reheat it. I popped the cold casserole dish in the oven for half an hour at 325ºF to reheat it while I prepared the sides. [Make sure you use a casserole that can go from the fridge to a hot oven.]

Kitchen Notes

Anything fishy about the anchovies? I’ll answer with a qualified no. The original recipe called for chopping the anchovies, not mincing them. So once or twice, I got a noticeable anchovy note when eating the pot roast. Mincing the anchovies, as I’ve called for in my version, will help them more completely blend in and eliminate this issue. That said, the couple of anchovy-rich bites weren’t onerous, just noticeable. And overall, the mix of big flavors was wonderful—as I said above, I added no salt or pepper to the dish, and they weren’t missed. I’m looking forward to exploring more uses of anchovies in the future.

A chuck roast by any other name. The original recipe called for boneless beef rump. After doing a little research and finding that the flavor and potential toughness issues were similar to chuck roast, I went for the more readily available cut. If you can find a nice thick chuck roast rather than the flatter slabs some stores offer, go for that.

Oven or stove? The original recipe advocated stovetop cooking “at a bare simmer,” offering the oven approach as an alternative. Unless you can set your stove’s burner really, really, really low, use the oven. Otherwise, you risk drying out the meat and making it tough.

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{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

Kim, Ordinary Recipes Made Gourmet March 25, 2009 at 4:04 am

Terry, I’m going to get fat just looking at that!!!! I’m so hungry now, I could eat that whole plate by myself! :D

Susan at Sticky,Gooey,Creamy,Chewy March 25, 2009 at 4:27 am

What a lovely dish! I don’t even really like capers and I’m drooling! I love using anchovies like this too. They add such a rich salty backdrop.

Debora March 25, 2009 at 9:51 am

This looks so delicious! Definitely going on my ‘must try SOON’ list. I can attest that anchovies melt into the meat without imparting an overly ‘fishy’ flavour, as one of our favourite recipes is leg of lamb studded with garlic and anchovies then slowly roasted – it adds a great depth of flavour.

Debora

Eric March 25, 2009 at 3:00 pm

Instead of minced anchovies, could you use anchovy paste as a substitute?

Terry B March 25, 2009 at 3:21 pm

Thanks, Kim!

Susan—The capers really disappear into this dish, adding just a bit of brightness to balance the richness.

Debora—Depth of flavor is exactly what the anchovies provide.

Eric—Anchovy paste would work just fine. According to a couple of sources, 1/2 teaspoon of paste equals two anchovy fillets, so use a teaspoon of paste for this recipe.

altadenahiker March 25, 2009 at 4:23 pm

Glad to share my obsession with someone who can actually cook. How can I be craving capers & anchovies at 8 in the morning? Beautiful photo.

Laura March 25, 2009 at 4:47 pm

I love that you get cookbooks out of the library too! It is the best way to try them out and avoid cluttering up your house with mediocre ones. I’m going to have to dip my toe into the anchovy pool now that you have…I’ve been holding out for too long…

Terry B March 26, 2009 at 4:30 pm

altadenahiker—Thanks again for recommending this cookbook. I’ve already found other recipes I want to try. And with this layered pot roast, I’ve not only discovered a great new recipe, but a wonderful new roasting technique to explore.

Laura—Yep, we’re total library geeks.

Dawn Smith March 26, 2009 at 7:35 pm

Sounds delicious…I’m definitely going to give it a try….right away I am going to order the ingredients from http://www.myethnicworld.com.

Niko March 27, 2009 at 1:47 am

I am no Francophile… but… but… I like everything about this dish! Pot roast, anchovies, capers and garlic? All you’d have to do is add chocolate and there’d be my top five. Lovely photo and post. I’m intrigued enough to check out the book.

hadley March 27, 2009 at 1:52 am

This looks delicious! It would be great with polenta or new potatoes.

Christina March 27, 2009 at 5:56 am

It’s funny that you chose to include that Van Gogh . . . after college, my college roommate moved into a basement apartment in Dupont Circle. The bedroom of that little apartment looked just like this painting–we used to joke that she’d have to cut her ear off if she lived there too long. The room was slightly misshapen, the floor a well-worn green, and she had a very similar looking bed in just the same spot.

You’ll be glad to hear she still has both her ears.

This is a very intriguing recipe here; I love anchovies, but I’ve never considered using anchovies quite this way. However, in my mind-taste, I imagine it really working. It’s beginning to warm up though–this one may wait until fall for me.

Terry B March 27, 2009 at 3:20 pm

Dawn—Actually, there’s nothing very esoteric in this recipe. You should be able to find everything in most supermarkets.

Thanks, Nico. Yep, I’ll probably explore this cookbook a little more here at Blue Kitchen. I’ve already bookmarked a couple of recipes to try.

hadley—We had it with some buttermilk mashed potatoes, a perfect match. But I did consider roasting some new potatoes as well, and the cookbook mentioned baked potatoes. Dang. Now I want a baked potato.

Christina, I don’t even want to hear about “it’s beginning to warm up here.” We could get snow this weekend. Glad your friend still has both her ears, though.

kitty March 28, 2009 at 2:43 am

ah…you must know of the cookbook store in NYC? I walked by it the other day. Here’s a link:
http://www.bonnieslotnickcookbooks.com/

I have to say I LOVE anchovies. But they’re not for everyone.

Allison March 28, 2009 at 5:52 am

I never thought to combine anchovies and capers with pork, but now that I’m thinking about it, it makes perfect sense! I’m not the biggest fan of pork, but my husband is, and I think this is a preparation for it that I would love. I will definitely try this recipe – thanks!

Terry B March 28, 2009 at 9:19 pm

kitty—I’ve never been to Bonnie Slotnick’s store, but I’ve heard about it from Laura over at What I Like who also mentions Kitchen Arts & Letters on the UES as another wonderful cookbook store. I’ll have to check them both out next time I’m in New York.

Allison, actually this is a beef dish. Not sure it would work with pork—I think it needs the big flavor of beef.

Toni March 30, 2009 at 12:13 am

OK, you’ve convinced me that anchovies may not be a bad idea. At least you admit to being skeptical about them. I’m all for big flavors, and I’m all for the simplicity of a long slow oven dish. I’m in!

(Never saw this dish in Arles. Maybe it’s time to go back???)

Ping March 30, 2009 at 6:59 am

There’s a fear of anchovies in North America, fueled by the silly addition of cheap straight-from-the-tin oil-packed anchovies on top of bad pizza. Enough to make anybody hate the little fishes.
Anchovies (and other small “bait” fish) have been used for centuries to flavor food; Worcestershire sauce is a condiment with an ancient formula that includes fermented fish. I could go on, with asian fish sauces, ancient Roman garum, etc. The point is that preserved anchovies, just like soy or fish sauce, add undetectable layers of flavor to a braised beef dish that might otherwise taste flat or stodgy.
Also, Jane Sigal’s “Backroad Bistros…” is a terrific book, one of the few that I use regularly.

giz March 30, 2009 at 6:33 pm

This is my first visit to your beautiful blog. Wouldn’t you know I’d happen upon a recipe that’s so intriguing. The pot roast is always such an under rated dish and I love the boost in this one.

Terry B March 30, 2009 at 6:44 pm

Do try it, Toni—and come back this Wednesday for a recipe that makes delicious use of the leftover anchovies from this dish!

Ping—Thanks so much for your insights. And you’re right about fish sauce; we use it all the time, and it adds great flavor without any fishiness at all.

Welcome to Blue Kitchen, giz! Yeah, we love pot roast a lot here.

Recipe man March 31, 2009 at 8:15 am

YUM!
this is so provence. i miss it already

Wellnow March 31, 2009 at 10:34 pm

This recipe sounds delicious. I was cleaning my cupboard this weekend and noticed that I had a little jar of capers and a tin of anchovies. As I put them back into the cupboard, I wondered what I was going to do with them, now I know.

Jann April 1, 2009 at 2:22 am

Yep, now I know what I can do with my stored anchovies~and I need to get that cookbook!!! Cheers to you!

Phil April 4, 2009 at 10:55 am

Hi,
What a great site this is. I love cooking “bistro” meals and combining fish with poultry and meat. Gingham table cloth, wine in a rustic jug and a candle burning and Django playing in the background. Why not create a bistro atmosphere at home it’s fun.
Thanks,
Phil

ken mac April 4, 2009 at 7:36 pm

wow!

Terry B April 5, 2009 at 11:23 pm

Thanks, Recipe Man!

Wellnow—Hope it turned out well!

Jann—Personally, I’m looking forward to exploring this cookbook some more myself. Seems to be a lot of good stuff in it.

Phil—Or even a little Edith Piaf!

Thanks, ken mac!

Lynn D. April 17, 2013 at 3:25 pm

I made this dish when it first appeared I usually don’t jump right on a recipe when I see it in a blog) and it is fabulous. I have a hankering to make it again and as I was browsing your site for the recipe, I was struck by how wonderful and approachable the food in your blog is. From now on when I need inspiration I’ll check out Blue Kitchen first!

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