29 July 2009

Recipe: John's Cajun Pot Roast

Pot RoastAnother version of Pot Roast Image by Offbeat Photography via Flickr
From Denny: Here in Louisiana we aren't shy about dining on meat even in hot weather. Pot Roast is a perennial American favorite and Cajuns have their spin on it. My father-in-law, John, was Cajun and a wonderful cook. He didn't have a wide range but what he cooked was awesome and everyone licked the plate! :)

He had been an Army cook in WWII. Originally, he was an infantry soldier in General Patton's pack. The story goes that Patton's troops were forever outrunning their supply lines. What that means to those of you who have never been in combat is that they often were on rations or went hungry. Everyone knows an army runs on its stomach.

Well, John was not about to be denied a good meal. Like any good Cajun country boy he just went out and shot himself a big plump rabbit. He soon had it skinned, skewered and roasting over an open fire. The whole camp smelled it and came moseying over for a friendly meal. John looked at them and yelled, "Ya bunch of Momma's boys! Go get your own damn rabbit!"

Of course, John was an only child and yes, a Momma's boy but at least he knew how to hunt and was independent enough to take care of himself. He had a real disdain and fear for those spoiled soldiers whose mothers did too much for them. Why? Because he saw them get shot first, killed and in large numbers during the war. He was upset they refused to be teachable in order to save their lives. "War is not a country club!" he often used to say.

It was then that the Army realized the man was resourceful and could cook better than anything listed for recipes in the Army handbook. John was taken off the field and placed on Kitchen Duty where he fed at least 4,000 men a day, three times a day.

He used to tell stories of what it was like to clean the Army cooking pots. We all would scratch our heads, wondering why that was such a big deal. Then he would describe how he had to get a ladder - he was a tall man too - to climb down into the pots to scrub them! Can you imagine how long it took for water to boil in pots that large? It must have taken hours for what we do in smaller portions for our families in only 15 minutes!

John used to cook a wonderful simple Cajun version of Pot Roast on Sundays, his favorite meal. As a new bride I was fascinated with his cooking. He also was a friend of the famous Justin Wilson who started the national obsession with Cajun and Creole food.

Justin Wilson was a fishing and hunting buddy of my husband's maternal uncle, J. B. Roux - yes, Roux really is his last name. Uncle J. B. was an incredible gumbo cook, a big bear of a man and terribly funny. He and John cooked together often, especially on Christmas Eve when they cooked gumbo together for everyone when they came by to visit during the holiday.

Anyway, Justin Wilson was interested in recording all the campfire recipes and Cajun style cooking he could. Uncle J. B. and the other friends were so used to their cooking they thought it was silly. They thought everyone knew how to cook like they did. In their minds, they could not conceive of anyone being a bad cook or not knowing how to cook the obvious.

Anyway, Justin recorded it, started up a local cooking show, wrote and sold books, made videos, went national and then international. If not for Justin Wilson, Uncle J. B.'s recipes and that of his friends would never have been published and perished with them when they died.

Over the years I've adapted John's recipe to make it my own.

John's Cajun Pot Roast

From: Denny Lyon

Total: 3 hrs 40 mins
Active: 40 mins
Makes: 6 to 8 servings

Ingredients:

3 teaspoons salt (or to your taste)

3 Tablespoons Tony Chachere's (Cajun seasoning, or to your taste)

2 teaspoons freshly ground cracked black pepper (or to your taste)

1 4-pound boneless chuck roast, trimmed of excess fat

3 Tablespoons canola oil

1 large red/purple/Cajun onion, coarsely chopped

4 medium celery stalks, coarsely chopped

1 green bell pepper, diced or sliced in strips

8 medium garlic cloves, slivered lengthwise in strips

3 Tablespoons tomato paste

2 cups low-sodium beef broth

4 fresh thyme sprigs

Optional: 8 dahes Tobasco sauce (John liked some heat!)

Optional: Fresh mushrooms

Directions:

Heat the oven to 325°F and arrange a rack in the lower third or you can place this roast in an electric skillet on the kitchen countertop like John did to simplify cleanup.

Here comes the fun tactile part: Take a small paring knife and poke and dig lots of hole in the meat all over, including the fat area. Then push the garlic slivers into each hole with a little of the spice combination or a salt and pepper combination, your choice.

Combine all dry spices in a small bowl. Evenly rub spice mix on all sides of the roast; set aside.

Heat oil in a Dutch oven/electric skillet or a large, heavy-bottomed pot with a tight-fitting lid over medium heat until smoking, about 5 minutes. Add meat and sear it, browning on all sides, about 20 minutes total; remove to a plate.

Add onion, celery, bell pepper and leftover garlic to the pot, season with salt, and cook until just softened, about 5 minutes. Add tomato paste and stir to coat vegetables. Pour beef broth into the pot and scrape up any browned bits called "fond" from the bottom.

Add thyme, meat, and any accumulated juices to the pot and bring to a simmer. Add Tobasco sauce if you are including some spicy heat. Cover and cook in the oven/electric skillet until fork tender, about 2 1/2 to 3 hours. At the last 20 minutes, add the fresh mushrooms if you are including them. John loved mushrooms and used them often.

Melt in your mouth, exploding with flavor! Serve over rice or with fresh parslied and buttered new potatotes. It's quite awesome when you get a bite of roast with a mellow garlic flavor from the simple cooking technique of inserting those garlic slivers into the meat before searing. Enjoy!

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