Growing up in a large, traditional Jewish family, my father never cooked anything until he met my mother. He learned by watching her prepare latkes and lasagne, bistecca alla pizzaiola and brisket in the kitchen of their chartreuse and shocking pink apartment: grist for the endless dinner parties Mom’s cousins remember vividly today, though they took place more than sixty years ago.
Constitutionally incapable of following a written recipe, my parents expanded their culinary repertoires in different ways. Besides the cookbooks my mother used as departure points, there were the late night radio shows that inspired creative pancake-making forays at 3am or escarole baked with meat, raisins, and pine nuts at our next big dinner.
My father, on the other hand, was smitten with a number of food crushes. Black bean soup, after he had tasted it at the Coach House restaurant, lasted a few years. There were on and off trashy flirtations with onion soup mix and the like. But coffee added to pot roast or a stew—an idea he had gleaned from a newspaper years ago—remained a longtime companion.
I remembered the coffee recently and relied on its slightly bitter acidity to bring just the right balance to the barbeque spice flavors in this meltingly tender pot roast. To partner the meat, kasha kreplach, topped with garlicky crumbs for crunch, make a delectable, if unusual, side dish. For years I have been serving kreplach and ravioli made with wonton wrappers as accompaniments to stews and saucy meats: when stuffing is not on the menu, I sometimes prepare pureed chestnut-and-shallot-filled wontons alongside the Thanksgiving turkey, napping both with good gravy.
This is one dish I like to plate in the kitchen, instead of serving family-style. That way, I don’t have to explain how to layer the ingredients, then watch the delicate kreplach turn cold and adhere to one another while waiting for diners to serve themselves the meat first.
Combine all the flavor paste ingredients in a food processor and process to a coarse puree. Pat the paste all over the meat and let it drink in the seasonings for at least 2 hours or up to 24, wrapped in plastic or a resealable plastic bag and refrigerated.
Remove the meat from the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature. Preheat the oven to 300°F
Scrape the flavor paste off the meat (otherwise, it may bum during the initial browning) and reserve it. Pat the meat dry. In a large Dutch oven or other lidded flameproof casserole big enough to accommodate the meat, heat
Wipe out all the oil from the pan, add the remaining
Reduce the heat to a simmer. Place the meat and any juices it has thrown off into the pan; if needed, add more broth so that the liquid comes half way up to the sides of the meat. Arrange a sheet of foil over the meat, then cover tightly with the pan lid.
Oven-Braise the meat, turning and basting it with the pan liquid every half-hour until the meat is very tender, 3½ to 4 hours.
While the meat is cooking, prepare the kasha kreplach.
Transfer the meat to a carving board; keep it warm beneath a foil tent. Skim as much fat as possible from the pan sauce. If necessary, strain the pan liquid (reserving the solids—most of the aromatic vegetables will have melted into the sauce) into a large glass, wait for it to settle, then spoon off the clear fat that has risen to the top.
In a large skillet, boil the defatted pan juices and reserved solids, reducing until nicely thickened and glossy. Taste and correct seasoning.
I like to serve this already plated for guests. Slice the pot roast and arrange on individual plates. Top with some kreplach, then a generous shower of pan gravy. Scatter the challah crumbs over all.
© 2008 Jayne Cohen. All rights reserved.