That ’70s cooking experience: Slow Cooker Pot Roast with Carrots

by Terry B on December 11, 2013

This is my first experience cooking with a slow cooker—pot roast with carrots, onions, rosemary, bay leaves, garlic and red wine. Recipe below.

slow-cooker-pot-roast-carrots

This recipe is brought to you by Black Friday. For some years now, Marion and her sister Lena have treated Black Friday as an annual, mostly-for-entertainment ritual. At some point on Thanksgiving Day, the ad-fat Chicago Tribune is explored and a plan of attack is, well, planned. Lena arrives at our house in the predawn hours on Friday and they head off. By late morning, they’re breakfasting in some pancake house and relishing the shopping adventures they’ve just shared. My total involvement in previous years’ predawn sorties has been to open one eye and wish Marion good hunting as she departed.

This year, we slept in. After a leisurely breakfast, we all headed out mid-morning with just a couple of goals in mind. A slow cooker was not one of them. But as we stood in a checkout line, wildly discounted mattress pads and comforters filling our arms, we saw the impressive tower of slow cookers, also impressively priced.

To be honest, we’ve always been ambivalent about slow cookers. Wherever we live, there never seems to be enough counter space. Worse, our current kitchen has exactly two double electrical outlets, both inconveniently placed. The biggest issue for me, though, is that, in my admittedly limited experience of eating slow cooker food, everything has tasted at least a little like canned Dinty Moore beef stew.

But slow cookers have been experiencing a bit of a renaissance, with people who love food and know a thing or two about it embracing them. There are entire food blogs devoted to them. So when we approached the tower of four-quart Crock-Pots priced at under 20 bucks, we made a what-the-hell-why-not decision.

Slow cookers gained popularity in the 1970s as a growing number of women entered the workforce. Their primary selling point was convenience. You could throw various ingredients into them in the morning and come home to a cooked meal, ready to eat. Recipes tended to reflect that mindset as well as the times. Canned cream of mushroom soup was featured in an alarming number of them, as were packets of dried onion soup mix.

This approach to slow cooker cuisine still has plenty of proponents, relying on heavily processed food products and producing meals that are familiar, if prepackaged in flavor. Happily, there are also many cooks working with fresh ingredients and big, exciting flavors. Longtime food blogger Kalyn Denny recently launched the blog Slow Cooker from Scratch as a “resource for home cooks looking for tested slow cooker recipes that use whole food ingredients.” Food writer Anupy Singla has created The Indian Slow Cooker, an accessible cookbook with 50 authentically Indian recipes.

For my first foray into slow cooker cooking, I chose pot roast. Chuck roast is a flavorful beef cut that lends itself to long cooking, perfect for the eight or more hours required. I grew up loving this hearty, if often chewy roast. Over the years, I’ve prepared it numerous ways here, including adding a mysterious quality with Indian biryani curry paste and giving it a Provençal flavor with capers, garlic and anchovies.

This time, I wanted something a little more straightforward, but still with some flavor and complexity. A mix of red wine, onions, garlic, carrots, rosemary, bay leaves and beef stock sounded like it would do the trick. The resulting roast was a hearty, stick-to-your-ribs meal perfect for the cold snap and snow that invaded Chicago last weekend. It was less complex than I expected—the long cooking time muted the rosemary and bay leaf. But it’s the kind of meal that would be great to come to after a long day.

Slow Cooker Pot Roast with Carrots
Serves 4

2 to 2-1/2 pound boneless chuck roast
salt and freshly ground black pepper
flour
2 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
2 medium yellow onions, coarsely chopped
5 to 6 carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch sections
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1-1/4 cup dry red wine
1-1/4 cup reduced sodium beef broth
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons cornstarch

Season the roast generously with salt and pepper and dust it lightly with flour on both sides. Heat a large skillet over medium flame and brown the roast on both sides, about 10 minutes, turning occasionally.

Transfer the roast to a 4- to-5-quart slow cooker, cutting into 2 pieces if necessary to make it fit. Add onions, carrots, garlic, wine, broth, rosemary and bay leaves. Cover slow cooker and cook on low for 8 to 10 hours.

Using a slotted spoon, transfer carrots and onions to a bowl and cover to keep warm. Transfer roast to a platter and tent with foil. Turn slow cooker to high. Combine cornstarch and 2 tablespoons of cold water in a small bowl and whisk until it is smooth and lump-free. Add add a couple of spoonfuls of liquid from the slow cooker to slightly warm it, stirring to combine. Whisk cornstarch mixture into the liquid in the slow cooker, stirring constantly, until it thickens slightly into a sauce, about 1 minute or so. Taste and adjust seasonings with salt and pepper as needed.

Slice pot roast and serve slices with carrots and onions, spooning sauce over everything. I also cooked mashed potatoes, which played nicely with the sauce.

Kitchen Notes

Okay, your turn. Do you cook with a slow cooker? What are your go-to recipes, your tips? Leave a comment.

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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

borisa December 11, 2013 at 6:49 am

Delicious!!!

Foster December 11, 2013 at 8:40 am

It may be old school, but on a wintry Sunday afternoon a pot roast is hard to beat. I would also recommend Molly Stevens book “Braise”.

John@Kitchen Riffs December 11, 2013 at 10:29 am

I like the idea of slow cookers in theory, but my results have been mixed — too many dishes taste as if they’ve been put through the deflavorizing machine (the muting of the rosemary and bay leaf you mentioned). I like them best for soups where I can add seasoning at the end, and in particular beans. Although I have a clay bean pot I prefer simply because it’s so pretty, cooking soaked, dried beans in the slow cooker produces excellent results. But I haven’t really played around with mine enough (and I’ve had it 20+ years!). Anyway, your post roast sounds terrific. You’re brave to face the Black Friday crowds!

randi December 11, 2013 at 2:42 pm

I have to agree with Kitchen Riffs. So many thing I’ve made all taste exactly the same. I have trouble cooking with beans but don’t think I’ve tried them in a slow cooker.
That said I do love a good pot roast.

Terry B December 11, 2013 at 3:13 pm

Thanks, Borisa!

You’re right, Foster. And as soon as I read your comment, I ordered Molly Stevens’s book from the library.

John, you and Randi have confirmed what I suspected about slow cookers. That said, I do want to try one of the Indian recipes in Anupy’s book next. With many Indian recipes, you start with such big flavors that even after they meld together with long cooking, they’re still plenty flavorful.

Dr. M December 11, 2013 at 7:05 pm

My favorite thing to make in the crock-pot is short ribs, and we have some braising now actually! It always amazes me how your posts seem to line up with what I have planned. My first several attempts at slow cooking always resulted in that similar flavor, but the more you make, the more you can tweak recipes for your particular cooker, because they all vary a little.

For the herbs, many recipes call for adding them in the last hour to half hour of cooking, depending on the herb. That way the flavors will remain and yet still have a chance to mingle.

Kate December 11, 2013 at 7:54 pm

I think you probably cooked your roast too long. Just because the recipe recommends 8 hours doesn’t mean it will take 8. I love my slow cooker and have cooked all sorts of things In it. However, mine has a high and a low setting, and 4, 6, 8 and 10 hour settings as well as a keep warm setting. My mother has cooked turkey breast in the slow cooker and it is always perfectly moist and tender.

Kalyn December 11, 2013 at 8:10 pm

I’m so glad you’re giving the slow cooker a chance. There are some amazing recipes coming out for this little gadget. Lydia from The Perfect Pantry has some that are especially good, and of course I think mine are good too! Happy cooking!

Mellen December 11, 2013 at 8:55 pm

We use ours a few times every winter with generally good results, but we are natural over-seasoners, so maybe we haven’t had the same experience with losing flavor. We use huge amounts of beans and légumes, and sometimes we just don’t have the time to keep running to the stove to stir and taste We have had great results with white bean and ham and sage soup; spicy Turkish red lentil soup; classic pork and fava bean soup from the Périgord (couldn’t find any nettles here, but it worked); a variety of chilis; tajines; daube de boeuf; blanquette de veau; jarret de porc; and a bunch of recipes we’ve learned to make the old-fashioned way in France (with different cuts of meat, to be sure, but they are tasty and quite reminiscent of the real deal).

I’ll tell Steve about the Indian book. He’s really good at Indian meals and that would appeal to him (me, too).

You deserve some sort of medal for braving Black Friday!

Raven December 11, 2013 at 10:08 pm

Use the slow cooker *all* the time.

My favorite is carne adovada. Pork roast, trimmed, smothered in homemade chile colorado. Cook on low until falling apart.

We also do beans. Place in slow cooker (no soaking), cover with a few extra inches of water, cook on low until done. I usually start them at night and wake up to cooked beans. I make the entire pot full so I have them on hand all week in the fridge.

Audrey December 12, 2013 at 1:25 am

Had that same dinner yesterday! Except… Instead of red wine we used a can of coke. It makes the meat just a bit sweeter, and the leftover meat is excellent on nachos!

Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) December 12, 2013 at 5:05 pm

Of course I was going to point you to Kalyn’s Kitchen for great slow cooker recipes, especially with beef. I’m fairly new to slow cooker cooking but I absolutely love it, and I’ve got quite a few recipes on my blog. I know you’ll enjoy experimenting. (PS: lately I’ve been doing meatballs in the slow cooker, and they are a new favorite.)

Terry B December 12, 2013 at 11:09 pm

So funny, Dr. M! If I hadn’t found a nice chuck roast, I was going to try short ribs. Those are definitely on the list.

Kate, I’m obviously going to have to experiment a bit to get the most out of our slow cooker.

Kalyn, I’m sure I’ll be hitting your site hard. Lydia’s too.

Mellen, Black Friday can actually be fun if you focus and don’t take it too seriously.

Raven, carne adovada is actually something that came to mind. I cooked it once conventionally after a trip to New Mexico. But it would be perfect for a slow cooker.

Audrey, nachos sound like an excellent use of this tender beef.

Lydia, I’m going to look for meatball recipes on your site. That sounds delicious.

Carolyn Carrera December 15, 2013 at 8:12 am

Rummaging in the freezer, I found a bag of raw butter beans, and immediately thought of my slow cooker. In went the beans, onions and carrots I’d browned in bacon drippings, two slices of the partially rendored bacon, vegetable stock, some left-over beef stock, and herbs of oregano, thyme, rosemary, a shot of worcestershire and tabasco sauce. Oh, yeah, and at sone point I threw in some brown rice. The smell was amazing. The beans tasted wonderful and now reside back in my freezer in meal-sized portions. Yumm.

eeka December 16, 2013 at 11:37 am

Slow cookers can turn out some nice food, if handled right. My friend is currently raving about the Indian Slw cooker cookbook you mentioned…. and Raven’s note about Carne Adovada has me salivating. Just googled slow cooker carne adovada, found a mention of it for Christmas dinner… hmmmm….

Terry B December 16, 2013 at 12:18 pm

Carolyn, those beans sound delicious. At some point, bacon will be involve in a slow cooker experiment at our house. I’ve also thought about beans and a ham hock.

Thanks for the encouragement, eeka. More slow cooking to come.

Barry Larking December 17, 2013 at 2:29 pm

I have had good results just cooking in an oven that is barely on using a large well sealed tin casserole. What does it matter? The results are marvelous. Slow cooking in these austere times makes a lot of sense economically too. Cheaper, because usually tougher, meat becomes something else with slow cooking. Good wholesome grub!

Terry B December 17, 2013 at 2:52 pm

Barry, your low heat in a well sealed casserole (or Dutch oven or lidded pot) is exactly how these dishes were cooked before the advent of slow cookers. The only thing the slow cooker brings to the party is that you can go away for hours without worrying about it. Your approach makes even more economical sense during cold weather, because the oven is helping warm your home too.

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