Smoky, savory and sweet: Chipotle Pot Roast with Onions and Sweet Potatoes

by Terry B on December 10, 2014

Beef pot roast, a winter comfort food stalwart, gets livened up with sweet potatoes, onions and smoky, spicy chipotle peppers in adobo sauce. Recipe below, with tips on adjusting the heat and smoke.

Chipotle Pot Roast with Sweet Potatoes

Turkey and I are taking a break. After some intensely enjoyable time together—Thanksgiving dinner, a delectable soup of dandelion greens, white beans and stock made from the turkey carcass, numerous sandwiches, and random pieces of cold turkey eaten with nothing more than a shake of salt—we hit a bit of a wall. So we both agreed I should see other animal proteins for a while.

For a change of pace from turkey, you can’t do much better than beef. Specifically, a big, meaty pot roast, chewy and marbled with fat that melts into it during the long cooking process. Pot roasts of one kind or another have been one of my favorite carnivorous pleasures from childhood on. Chuck roasts and other tough cuts of beef from cows’ hardest working muscles are the most flavorful. And if the slow cooking they demand doesn’t exactly make them filet mignon-tender, it yields a more robustly delicious dining experience, perfect for chilly December.

In looking for something different to do with my basic approach to pot roast—potatoes, carrots, onions, red wine, broth—I thought of canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce. Their smoke and heat help fire up chili as I make it these days. The sweet potatoes and onions were inspired by a roasted sweet potatoes and shallots dish that’s another favorite here. You can dial the smoke and heat up or down by adjusting how much chipotle peppers and adobo sauce you add. See the Kitchen Notes for details.

Chipotle Pot Roast with Onions and Sweet Potatoes
Serves 4 to 5

2 to 2-1/2-pound boneless chuck roast, at least 2 inches thick (see Kitchen Notes)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
olive or canola oil
2 medium onions, halved lengthwise and sliced into thick half moons
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 or 2 canned chipotle peppers, minced (see Kitchen Notes)
1 tablespoon adobo sauce from the chipotle peppers can
3/4 cup water, plus more as needed
2 bay leaves
1-1/2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks

Preheat oven to 325ºF. Pat the roast dry with paper towels and season generously with salt and pepper. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large, deep, lidded ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. (You can also use a Dutch oven, if the roast and sweet potatoes will fit comfortably in the bottom.) Brown roast on both sides, 4 to 5 minutes per side, reducing heat to medium when you turn roast. Transfer to a plate.

Add onion to pan, drizzling in more oil, if needed. Cook until just softened and translucent, about 3 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent browning. Add garlic to pan and cook until fragrant, about 45 seconds. Add tomatoes, with their juices, and broth to pan. Add chipotle pepper(s), adobo sauce and 3/4 cup water, stirring to combine and scraping up any browned bits. Bring to a boil.

Return roast to pan, along with any accumulated juices. Liquid should come about halfway up the sides of the roast. Add a little more water if needed (if liquids are a little high around the roast, don’t sweat it). Tuck the bay leaves into the tomato mixture, cover the pan and transfer it to the oven.

Cook the roast until meat is very tender, about 3 hours, checking every half hour or so to see if you need to add more water (mine had suddenly cooked way down about 2 hours in—I chalk it up to our crazy rental apartment oven). About 45 minutes before roast is due to come out of the oven, nestle sweet potatoes all around the roast.

Transfer roast to a serving platter, tent with foil and let rest for 5 minutes or so. Taste sweet potato and tomatoes mixture and adjust seasonings as needed. Spoon sweet potatoes around roast. Serve, slicing the roast at the table.

Kitchen Notes

The meat of the matter. I like my chuck roasts nice and thick, two inches or so. Less thick roasts will work too, as long as your pan is big enough to also accommodate the onions and sweet potatoes around it. Bone-in will also work fine. Look for a well-marbled chuck roast (or round roast)—the fat will melt into the roast, making it juicy and flavorful.

How much smoke and heat? Cooking this with just one chipotle pepper will add subtle smokiness and spiciness to the finished dish. Very subtle, in a “what’s in this?” kind of way (said in a good way). To dial up the heat and smoke, add another pepper—or even another half pepper. Please note that even if you use just a single pepper, when you first stir it into the sauce and do a taste test, it will be hot, possibly alarmingly so. Don’t panic. Over three hours, the heat (and smoke) calm way down.

When I cooked it this time, I used just one pepper. The smoky taste was mostly evident in the sweet potatoes and onions, giving them a wonderfully savory finish with just a touch of sweetness. The heat was so subtle as to be nearly unnoticeable to our brutalized taste buds. More sensitive palates might register more heat.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

[email protected] Riffs December 10, 2014 at 9:12 am

This is my kind of dish! Easy, hearty, and loaded with flavor. I love the combo of sweet potatoes and anything spicy hot and/or smoky. And this dish has both! Really good. I haven’t made a pot roast in months, and have had it on the brain lately. Thanks for reminding me how great they are. Oh, and I agree — it has to be at least 2 inches thick!

M December 16, 2014 at 7:01 pm

Can you use a cast iron skillet for this recipe?

Terry B December 16, 2014 at 7:48 pm

Thanks, John!

M, many cooks advise against cooking acidic foods such as tomatoes in cast iron, especially if they’re in contact with the pan for a long time. The pan can impart a metallic taste to the food. With this dish, it’s three hours or more, so I would err on the side of caution and use another pan. If your cast iron is highly seasoned, you can cook dishes with tomatoes, citrus, wine or other acidic ingredients for short periods of time.

Please note that I don’t use cast iron (have just never taken to it), so I’m maybe not the best authority on the subject.

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