Beet-Braised Pot Roast with Horseradish and Potato Knaidlach

Preparation info

  • Difficulty

    Medium

  • Yield:

    8–10

    servings

Appears in

The last preparation was called pot roast, and I wanted to lick the dish after it.

—BABYLONIAN TALMUD: MEGILLAH

When the Purim revelries had passed, cooks in the Ukraine and northern Poland turned their attention to the long process of preparing rosl. They placed beets in earthenware crocks, covered them with fresh cold water, and let them slowly ferment, skimming the froth and foam weekly. A month later, a tangy, vegetal beet essence perfumed the shtetls, and the clear scarlet rosl was at last ready to be braised with pot roast or brisket and served as the popular Passover main course, roslfleisch.

With my cramped little kitchen and bulging closets, I’ve never had a place to secret a pot of fermenting beets for more than a day or two. So I substitute a delicious fresh beet soup or even jarred borscht as the braising liquid. To replace the tart, beautifully nuanced flavor of the traditional rosl, I add a bit of sour salt, then call upon beet’s longtime partner, freshly grated horseradish, which throws off its clean bite when cooked and blooms with complex earthiness.

Tender, homey potato knaidlach, or dumplings, echoing the horseradish flavor, soak up the wonderful sauce the brisket provides. To make them I use prepared horseradish because the texture of freshly grated would be too coarse and woody for the dumplings, and the vinegar in the prepared kind preserves more of the kick, even after cooking.

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Ingredients

Pot Roast

  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3–4 pounds boneless beef pot roast (choose chuck roast, beef shoulder roast, or brisket)
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 very large onion, chopped (2–3 cups)
  • 4–5 large garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • 2 flavorful, tart-sweet apples, peeled, cored, and cut into large dice (Use McIntosh, Northern Spy, or Cortland)
  • 4 cups beef borscht, preferably homemade, or good-quality bottled (if using bottled, strain out any pieces of cooked beet and discard or reserve for another use)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2–4 tablespoons freshly grated horseradishy plus more for garnish
  • sour salt (available in Middle Eastern and European markets and specialty stores) (optional)

Beets and Knaidlach

  • 1 pound fresh beets
  • 5 large or 8 medium russet (baking) potatoes (about 3 pounds), scrubbed but not peeled
  • 2 large eggs
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • About cups matzoh meal
  • About cup prepared white horseradish, drained

Method

  1. Make the pot roast. Rub salt and pepper to taste into the meat. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil over medium-high heat in a 6-quart Dutch oven or wide, heavy pot. Add the meat and brown it well on all sides. Transfer it to a platter.
  2. Wipe out the pot, add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil, and heat until hot. Add the onion and sauté over medium heat until softened and golden at the edges, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and apples and sauté, tossing and turning the ingredients for 5 minutes longer. Add the borscht and bay leaves and bring to a boil over high heat. Continue boiling for about 5 minutes to reduce the mixture slightly and concentrate the flavors. Turn the heat down to the lowest setting, add the meat and spoon the vegetable-fruit mixture all over it. Cover the pot, leaving the lid slightly askew, and simmer the meat until it can be easily pierced with a fork and its juices are clear or palest rose. This could be anywhere from 2–3 hours or more, depending on the thickness of the meat. Turn the meat every 20 minutes or so, using spoons to avoid piercing it. Make sure the liquid is gently simmering, the bubbles just barely breaking—if needed, use a flame-tamer or blech or stack two burner grates together to maintain a very low flame.
  3. Stir in the horseradish, season with salt and pepper and cook for 5 minutes. Transfer the meat to a platter and wrap loosely with foil. Strain the pan sauce, reserving the solids. Skim as much fat as possible from the liquid. Puree the reserved solids with as much of the defatted braising liquid as necessary in a blender or food processor, or use an immersion blender. Return the puree to the pot, add the rest of the defatted braising liquid, and reduce over high heat until you have reached the consistency you prefer. Taste for seasoning. I love the tangy undertone ¼—½ teaspoon sour salt imparts to the sauce. If you choose to add it, start with a small amount and keep tasting until you reach a beautifully subtle acid-sweet balance. And you can add a bit more horseradish if you’d like (freshly grated and heated briefly, it is more robust and earthy than pungent). Just cook for a few minutes after adding additional seasoning to marry the flavors.
  4. While the pot roast is braising, prepare the beets and knaidlach. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Trim the greens (save and cook like spinach or chard) and the root ends from the beets. Scrub the beets well, but don’t peel them. Tightly wrap each beet in foil and place on a baking sheet. Bake until tender, 1½—2 hours (if they are very large). Carefully remove the foil and set aside until cool enough to handle. Peel and cut the beets into quarters and set aside.
  5. Make the knaidlach. Cover the potatoes with cold salted water, bring to a boil, and cook, partially covered, until fork-tender, 30–45 minutes, depending on the size and age of the potatoes. Drain the potatoes and set aside until cool enough to handle. Peel the potatoes and mash them well (no lumps wanted here), using a ricer or food mill or by pushing through a strainer. Spread them out on a sheet of wax paper to cool to room temperature. In a large bowl, combine the potatoes with the eggs, about teaspoons salt (or to taste), and several generous grinds of pepper. Add cups matzoh meal and knead with your hands for several minutes to combine the ingredients well. Transfer the dough to a work surface, lightly dusted, if necessary, with matzoh meal. If there is too much dough to handle easily, divide it in half and knead each separately. Add a bit more matzoh meal if the dough is sticky, but avoid adding too much, which would make the knaidlach heavy. Keep kneading until the dough is smooth. Shape the dough into four balls, then divide each into smaller balls about 2 tablespoonfuls each, a standard coffee measure. Flatten the balls slightly. Place a heaping ¼ teaspoon of horseradish in the center, then pinch the edges together to enclose the filling. Reshape each into a ball. Gently press the ball over the convex bowl of a teaspoon, flattening and indenting it slightly. (This will ensure that the knaidlach will cook through before the outside begins to disintegrate.) Continue stuffing and shaping the knaidlach until you have used up all the dough. (If you wish, you can refrigerate them at this point on a platter or in a baking dish, in a single layer, not touching, for 2–3 hours.)
  6. Bring 4 quarts of water and about tablespoons salt to a boil in a large wide pot. Cook the knaidlach in batches, so you don’t crowd the pot, dropping them one at a time into the boiling water. Reduce the heat to moderate, and cook, uncovered, for about 10 minutes or until cooked through. The knaidlach will rise to the top, swell up, and become fluffy around the edges. To check for doneness, remove one from the pot and either taste or cut open. If knaidl is dark in the center, ascertain whether this is the horseradish filling or an uncooked part. Don’t overcook the knaidlach or they will fall apart.
  7. Remove the cooked knaidlach with a skimmer or large slotted spoon—they are too delicate to be poured into a colander. Place them on a platter and moisten them lightly with a little pot roast sauce or melted margarine, and tent with foil, as you prepare the remaining knaidlach. Or keep them warm in a 250°F oven.
  8. To serve, slice the pot roast very thin, against the grain. Surround with cooked beets and potato knaidlach. Nap everything generously with sauce. If desired, sprinkle some freshly grated horseradish over all, or offer guests some to season their food instead of freshly ground pepper. Pass additional sauce separately.

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