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updated: 3/16/2011 12:22 PM

Cut, temperature key to midweek pot roast

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Through a tough winter like we've just had, I spend some of my indoor time considering comfort food. Most of my favorite comfort foods warm my kitchen and take time to prepare, a perfect combo in any chilly weather.

Slow-cooked, falling-apart pot roast with carrots, cabbage, celery, and potatoes and the natural deep-brown onion-flavored gravy ranks at the top of my list of comfort foods favorites, but the four-plus hours it generally takes to cook keeps me from making one very often.

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One recent cold Saturday afternoon, I decided it had been too long since tender slices of a pot roast had tickled my palate and set out to roast a better roast.

My favorite piece of beef for pot roast is a thick, I mean thick, seven-bone chuck roast. This hasn't been on my dinner plate too often because the USDA's nutrition database doesn't contain information for that cut so I can't determine the pot roast's fat or calories.

A seven-bone chuck roast delivers big beefy flavor, not just because it's chuck (ground chuck makes a tasty, yet high-fat hamburger), but because that bone (it's shaped like a 7, hence the name) adds flavor.

To estimate a seven-bone's fat content, I compared it to a very well trimmed braised chuck arm roast that is in the USDA's database. A 3-ounce cut of that meat delivers just 212 calories (32.3 percent from fat) and 7.6 fat grams. Passable.

With that knowledge under my belt I set out to tackle the long cooking time hassle-factor.

I turned to Pam Anderson's 2002 "CookSmart" for a possible answer. I remembered spotting a pot roast recipe that took 90 short minutes from start to finish. Intriguing.

Anderson made several pot roasts before she found the fastest way to braise one that looked and tasted like a slow-cooked one; a level of expense and tenacity I was unwilling to duplicate. Her diligence determined that a pot roast cooked at 450 degrees (a much higher temperature than usual), sealed with foil in a heavy-bottomed, tightly covered pan without added vegetables turned out beautifully.

How?

According to Anderson, that method created a modified pressure cooker that produced a juicer roast than what might be expected.

Deciding to do Anderson one better, I soaked my pot roast in a beer-based speed-brine (just 45 minutes) to add moisture, flavor and start breaking down chuck's tough muscle. I did take Anderson's advice to par-cook vegetables separately and then finish cooking them in the gravy before serving them with the pot roast.

How did my pot roast turn out? Sensational.

Hard to believe that my pot roast, braised in high heat for just 90 minutes, not only duplicated the slower method, but also produced a luxurious gravy.

Want to give my twist on Pam Anderson's pot roast a try? Here's how.

• Don Mauer welcomes questions, comments and recipe makeover requests. Write him at don@theleanwizard.com.

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