Mushroom Onion Pot Roast

Mushroom and Onion Pot Roast

On Friday, I was on the subway heading home from a meeting that had gone really well, when I finally checked Twitter for the first time all afternoon. There was a deluge of tweets buzzing about the 3 finalists for Project Food Blog. At first I was shocked. Then I felt honored by the outpouring of love and support I’d seen throughout the competition (even from former competitors). That didn’t last long though because I soon realized I had nothing planned for Challenge #10!

I’d been agonizing for weeks over what I would do if I made it to the final round of Project Food Blog. Would it be a month-long project like my choucroute garnie, or perhaps an extravagant meal that sparkled like a fireworks display with gelées and foams. I’d had many ideas, but I honestly didn’t think I’d make it this far, especially given all the amazing food bloggers who were participating in the competition.

As the train thundered down the tracks towards home, I thought about all the work I’d put into the past challenges, and for that matter, all the work I’d put into this blog over the past 3 1/2 years. The reasons I started the blog and the reason I kept blogging came back to me. I started No Recipes for my friends, but what kept me blogging is all the new friends I’ve met through here since then.

It was there, in that dingy, creaky train-car that it became very clear to me what my blog is about. No Recipes is about giving you the flexibility to make good dishes better. Through the blog, I show you what I did to improve my favorite dishes, in hopes that the information helps make you a better cook. I also hope it inspires you to go “off-recipe” and take on your own culinary improvement projects.

Standing on that packed rush hour train, a sense of calm washed over me because I knew exactly what I had to do for my final post. Go back to basics.

Mushroom and Onion Pot Roast

This is the first dish I learned to make in a crock-pot, and is one that I’m sure many of you in the US are very familiar with: Mushroom and Onion Pot Roast. The classic recipe goes something like this: 1 roast, 2 cans of Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup, 1 package of Lipton’s French Onion Soup, water, carrots and potatoes.

It’s a simple one-pot affair that’s the staple of dorm room dinner parties, and yet it’s soul satisfyingly good. I’ve always wondered what it was that made this humble dish so good? Could it be the fork-tender meat the slow cooking yields? Perhaps it has to do with the amount of effort. Or maybe there’s some magical ingredient in the soup mixes.

As it turns out, it’s probably a little of all those things, but more the latter. Both Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup and Lipton’s Onion Soup contain MSG. Some of you are probably looking at the screen and wondering “What’s wrong with that?”. The answer is “probably nothing“, if saving time is your primary concern. However, adding MSG is like plating dinner with a shovel; subtle interplays between the ingredients get lost in the barrage of umami (savory taste) coming from the MSG.

Browned Pork Butt for Pot Roast

Call me crazy, but I like the challenge and nuanced flavors that come from constructing my own concoction of foods naturally high in glutamic acid and monophosphates. Glutamic acid is an amino acid that naturally occurs in many vegetables and meat. It’s what creates the sensation of umami and is what MSG tries to mimic. Monophosphates such as guanosine monophosphate and inosine monophosphate are also naturally occurring compounds that heighten the taste of umami, complimenting glutamic acid.

As Harold McGee put it in his tome On Food and Cooking, “Flavor is part taste, mostly smell”. By taste, he’s referring to our basic tastes, as in salt, sweet, sour, bitter, and umami. The fun part, and what lets us distinguish a blackberry from a raspberry, is the aroma. There are thousands of aroma-producing compounds present in food, and cooking the food rearranges them creating new aromas. This is the reason why a raw steak, a boiled steak and a grilled steak smell very different.

The Maillard reaction is responsible for many of these changes in flavor. It occurs when high temperatures cause a chemical reaction between amino acids and sugars in food. Boiling a steak just doesn’t get the temperature hot enough (water boils at 212°F) to encourage a Maillard reaction to occur. This is why most people prefer their steaks grilled or fried rather than boiled. The brown crust that forms on the outside of a grilled steak is where all those newly formed aroma compounds are. This is also the reason why most recipes have you brown the meat before adding wet ingredients. The Maillard reaction also occurs in many other types of food, such as in onions, garlic, mushrooms, flour, and milk to name a few.

Caramelized Onions

Getting back to my pot roast, I wanted it to be very flavorful with a good balance between all of the tastes, and a lot of aroma. Here’s how I came up with my version of Mushroom Onion Pot Roast. Hopefully it helps you create your own version, or better yet, an entirely new dish using some of the same principles.

Protein
I like to start with meat first. For one thing, we want to brown the meat at a high temperature, and if something else has been in the pan already, it will burn. Another reason is that the oil the meat releases is perfect for sautéing our aromatics in later.

As for the type of protein it’s really up to you. Braising is a technique that benefits meats with a lot of connective tissue and fat, so cheaper cuts like chuck, pork butt (pork shoulder), and shanks work well. If you want to keep with the tradition of a “pot roast”, it should be a cut of meat that you can carve, but this is more about presentation than anything else, and cuts of meat not traditionally considered for roasts such as ribs would also work really well.

If you’re a vegetarian, you could skip this part altogether and rely on your aromatics to produce most of your flavor.

Aromatics
Aromatics are the ingredients that will add aroma to our dish. Since we want to create a dish with complex flavors, the ingredients that will benefit from the Maillard reaction—like onions, garlic and mushrooms—should be browned. Other aromatics such as the herbs can go in later with the liquid.

In addition to adding aroma, onions are also high in glutamic acid, and mushrooms contain guanosine monophosphate, which means they’re the perfect pairing to naturally add umami to our dish.

For variations you could try experimenting with different types of onions and mushrooms, but you can also add other aromatics such as celery, peppers, or tomatoes.

Liquid
This could be anything from water to wine to stock. The idea is to get a little liquid in the pan so things don’t burn. Over time, the meat and vegetables will release more liquid, so there’s no need to add a lot.

Since there are many taste and aroma rich foods in this pot roast, you could probably get away with using water, but I really wanted to double down on flavor and decided to go with a combination of wine and stock. If you wanted to make this really rich, you could use milk instead. I added a bit of cream at the very end to add the richness.

Vegetables
Here’s the easy part. Just go into your vegetable drawer and look for veggies that can cook for a while without falling apart. Root vegetables such as carrots, potatoes, parsnips, and celery root are perfect for this. You can also add softer veggies like pumpkin, baby onions, or turnips towards the end.

I used baby Yukon Gold Potatoes and left them whole, which prevents them from absorbing too much moisture and falling apart. I also added big chunks of carrot and some Cipollini Onions about halfway through the cooking process.

That’s it! The rest, such as the spices and the amount of salt are entirely up to you. If you’re still with me after all that science and pontification, here’s a short video I put together that shows the lighter side of making a great pot roast.

And of course, a recipe, just in case you want to see exactly what I made:

Mushroom and Onion Pot Roast

Mushroom and Onion Pot Roast

3 pounds pork butt
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
5 large cloves of garlic minced
2 pounds mushrooms, cleaned and sliced (I used button mushrooms)
3 very large onions, sliced thin
3 tablespoons of butter
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 cup chicken or vegetable stock
3 medium carrots, peeled and cut into big chunks
1 pound baby Yukon Gold Potatoes
2 tablespoons of kosher salt (halve if using table salt)
6 sprigs of thyme
1 pound Cipollini Onions, trimmed and peeled
1/3 cup heavy cream

Generously salt and pepper the pork butt on all sides. Heat a 5-quart Dutch oven over medium high heat until hot. Add the oil, and then put the roast in the pot. Leave undisturbed for a few minutes or until the meat is uniformly browned on that side. Turn the roast, browning the other sides in the same manner. When the pork is browned, transfer it to a bowl and set aside.

Add the garlic and mushrooms, and sauté until there is no mushroom liquid left and they are browned, about 10 minutes. Transfer the mushrooms to the bowl with the meat.

Turn down the heat to medium low and add the butter to the pot. Add the onions and sauté until sticky and medium brown (about 1 hour). Towards the end, you will need to stir frequently otherwise the onions will burn. When the onions are sticky, glossy and brown, add the wine and scrape all the browned bits off the bottom and sides of the pan. Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F.

When all the liquid has evaporated, add the stock, and return the meat and mushrooms to the pot along with the carrots, potatoes, salt and thyme. Cover with a tight fitting lid then place the pot in the oven.

After 3 hours, add the Cipollini Onions. Cover and braise for another 3 hours or until a fork effortlessly goes through the meat. Remove the meat and vegetables from the pot. If the sauce seems watery, you can reduce it by boiling. When it’s the right consistency, whisk in the cream.

Carve the roast and serve it with the vegetables, covered in the mushroom onion sauce.

If you are using a crock-pot, just put the meat and mushrooms into the crock-pot when they are done. Then, pour the onion/wine/stock mixture into the crock-pot along with the thyme, salt, and vegetables. Set it to low and let it do it’s thing for 6-8 hours.

  • http://twitter.com/College_Cooker The College Cooker

    I LOVE the pot roast pantomime! It was so cute and funny! I’ll definitely try this recipe, probably in a slow cooker, ’cause I am ALL about the slow cooker.

    Check my out on my blog!

    http://www.thecollegecooker.com

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Peter-Minaki/560410552 Peter Minaki

    Congrats on making it to the final 3 and I must tell you that I steered clear of this event from the start. I did not want to participate in something that has become somewhat of a popularity contest and I was skeptical that the rules would be fully enforced (they weren’t).

    I also did not want to choose one food blogger friend over another or act like a touter trying to woo tourists into a restaurant or bar.

    So, here you are, in the top three and you’ve presented creative posts, good writing and you’ve stretched your own boundaries within media and in your own kitchen. You’ve given me some faith for the next challenge!

    In the meantime, I await for the voting to open up and give you my vote…congrats!

  • http://twitter.com/EthanAdeland Ethan Adeland

    wow, so that’s a post when you haven’t put “too” much time into it, huh? The pictures, the information, the great looking pot roast, the video and of course the acting were all incredible like everything else you did during PFB2010. Amazing job and good luck!

  • http://hecooksshecooks.com Heather @ HeCooksSheCooks.com

    We participated in the contest (made it to round 6) and agree with Peter.

    You were always one of my favorites and to see you in the final 3 makes me smile. Your site name alone is pretty much how we cook. And live. Shooting from the hip. And our food, and our life – always turns out tasting so good.

    You have our vote. You always did.

  • Stephanie

    Awesome. Just awesome. I laughed so hard when you walked away with the butt. And then came back!

  • Anonymous

    I am now really hungry for pot roast! I’ve enjoyed each and every one of your posts. You’ve given it your all, stretched and confirmed to many of us why we root for you. Job well done.

  • Brian@A Thought For Food

    Marc… that video. That I needed much selling, but that brought such a smile to my face. Can you please do a whole website with those videos?

  • Anonymous

    This was a great post and video Marc as have all the other posts. Its always good to remember why we do what we do and not get lost in the minute details. The mime got a name :D ?

  • http://www.athoughtforfood.net Brian @ A Thought For Food

    Marc… that video. Not that I needed much selling, but that brought such a smile to my face. Can you please do a whole website with those videos?

  • http://www.ohsheglows.com Angela (Oh She Glows)

    Great final post with so much detail. Your video was very cute too and brought a smile to my face. :) Goodluck in the competition! It has been great following your entries.

  • http://www.dinnersanddreams.net Nisrine | Dinners & Dreams

    Wonderful pot roast recipe, Marc. I’d happily have that any day!

  • Nancy @ The Wife of a Dairyman

    I’m routing for you in PFB. I love how you represent all types of food in your posts……. you’re ideas are not limited to only certain foods and I think that is SO important when representing the food industry. Thank you!

  • http://inthekitchenwithkath.com Kath

    Bravo! I loved your discussion about umami, and your pot roast looks fabulous! Fun video, too!

  • Amelia from Z Tasty Life

    Marc: I like how you have come full circle here with your true [no recipes] philosophy. It’s about the concept, the idea, and working on it until every single element is dissected, analyzed, revisited until you arrive at a final perfect product. The simplest things are the hardest ones to perfect. Oh, and you are funny to boot!

  • http://www.thedailyspud.com DailySpud

    Yukon Golds as promised, gotta like that! Fingers crossed for you Marc.

  • http://twitter.com/torontogirlwest TorontoGirlWest

    I REALLY enjoyed that video!!!!!!! :)

    Congratulations on all you have accomplished so far!

  • http://www.pigsaredelicious.com The Accidental Wino

    I didn’t get to look at many food blogs during PFB, mostly because of working a day job and writing my own posts. Plus, I didn’t want to get psyched out during the competition, especially as all of the serious blogging talent began to emerge. This is one blog that I definitely plan to peruse, now that the competition is finally over for me. I would’ve definitely had to scramble for Round 10, as well. I had done a lot of brainstorming along the way, but had nothing in the works! Best of luck, Marc!

    • Anonymous

      Welcome! I enjoyed your PFB posts, especially about the pizza from my home town. It’s come a long way from the Papa Joe’s on Lincoln and Domino’s on Jefferson!

  • http://www.highlowfooddrink.com/ Andrea @ High/Low

    Congrats Marc on making it into the finals! Your final post was so thoughtful and your video was hilarious!

  • Rhonda

    Can I just say you are adorable! Back to the basics was definitly the way to go. I can’t wait till voting starts!

  • Joan Nova

    Where do you come up with these ideas? The video was such fun, very Charlie Chaplin-esque. And I noticed you didn’t need a knife for that pot roast so it was perfectly cooked. Good luck Marc.

  • Prerna@IndianSimmer

    LOL.. SO loving that video :-)

  • Cherine

    This is scrumptious!

  • http://www.thelittlefoodie.com Mariko

    Nice. I like that you’ve realized your focus. Your focus is strangely similar to what I’d like mine to be (except that I’m so unfocused, I’ll never get there).
    I think you do everything well, so maybe you don’t need a focus anyway.

  • http://theindolentcook.blogspot.com/ the indolent cook

    That video is made of win! Love it, was smiling throughout the whole thing. You overachiever, you!

  • http://www.oilandbutter.com Rich

    Dude. That video is greatness!
    And you’ve done with this post what I think the point is to do: After reading this, I really want to make Mushroom Onion Pot Roast for dinner tonight.

  • http://kitchen-confidante.com Liren

    Marc, very well done. I love how you took a basic, Americana crock pot dish and elevated the recipe, and I especially love the technical approach. I’ve always found that dishes like this, when treated this way, get the respect they deserve. Best of luck Marc, and job well done throughout the entire competition.

  • http://prettypeasrecipes.blogspot.com/ Heather

    Fantastic. :) I have truly enjoyed reading all of your PFB posts. Best of luck!

  • http://cajunchefryan.rymocs.com/blog2/ Cajun Chef Ryan

    Good luck in the competition!

  • Zach

    The most impressive part of the video is how you managed to hold the meat filled dutch oven in one hand while opening your oven door with the other hand! You are soooo strong…

    Good luck buddy… I’m pulling for you!

  • http://www.indochinekitchen.com Jun

    The best of them all. You are really great, inside and out. I hope you win!

  • http://www.skiptomalou.net skip to malou

    Marc, I have asked myself since the time we exchanged tweets that where was i all these months??? but glad that I could still show my support even at the very tail end of the race. GOOD LUCK! I want you the next PFB 2010 winner!!!!

    • Anonymous

      Thanks Malou, I’m always amazed at how many cool food bloggers there are out there that I don’t know about, so appreciate every chance to meet a new one:-)

  • http://inthekitchenwithkath.com Kath

    Great post! I just voted for you…good luck! :)

  • TW Barritt at Culinary Types

    I just placed my final vote for you – fingers crossed! I’ve learned a thing or two about beef in the last couple of years, and your pot roast is a beauty! I can even tell during the pantomime when you abandon the knife because the roast is “fork tender!” All the best!

  • Belinda @zomppa

    What a beautiful dish! Congratulations! It’s been great to get to know you!

  • Stay-At-Home-Chef

    Cute video! Best of luck in the final round of PFB…can’t believe it’s all over :(

  • http://savour-fare.com Kate @ Savour Fare

    My grandmother’s recipe is Golden Mushroom Soup and Lipton Onion Soup Mix and the genius addition of Bourbon (we’re WASPs we put liquor in everything). I’ll have to try it from scratch! With the bourbon, natch.

  • Lemons and Anchovies

    I was already a fan before PFB but you’ve continued to inspire–so happy for you that you’ve made it this far. Well deserved! :-)

  • Barbara | Vino Luci Style

    I just made Beef Bourguignon the other day which has a lot of similarities to your dish and the same similarity in ingredients that make it so different from Mom’s version…fresh veggies and wine and, well…I can almost smell this across the page!

    Nothing so fancy it’s not doable for everyone, great information and superb food. Why you should win.

  • http://twitter.com/simplyrecipes Elise Bauer

    Ah, what a great video. Adorable!

  • Stacey Snacks

    Marc,
    I was shocked that you owned a crockpot!
    Congrats on making it this far!

    Stacey

    • Anonymous

      I actually don’t here, but had one while out west. Wish I had space for one, they are awesome!

  • Liz Barrett

    That vid – so cute. Just used my only vote on you – good luck! And guessing I’ll be buying a pot roast cut soon for this recipe!

  • http://www.spinachtiger.com Spinachtiger

    I’m afraid you have my vote, again! I first of all love that you put out real food done in a real way that is just right for my viewpoint. And, then the humor (and dare I say) humility can’t be beat.

  • http://www.tomaytotomaaahto.com Ruby

    You taught me something, which is a wonderful thing in a food blogger. That, and the fact that you started Blog Away Hunger (similar to my effort with Foodies Sans Frontieres) gets you my vote. Good luck and, even if you don’t win this, congratulations on a job well done!

  • http://www.spinachtiger.com Spinachtiger

    P.S. Several weeks I narrowed it down to two bloggers that I thought would be in top 3. It was you and another favorite blogger. He didn’t make this cut, so I think it just has to be you.

  • http://alittleyum.com/ A Little Yumminess

    Love this post and your blog. Almost everything you make seems mouth-wateringly good! You are the cook I aspire to be. Best of luck!

  • http://bonvivant.wordpress.com/ Danielle

    Love the video!

  • Peter G

    Gorgeous. Tasty. And that video gives yo my vote! LOL! Good luck Marc! I hope you win!

  • Anonymous

    Haha… love the video. Awesome post, Marc!
    Voted! I hope you win!

  • http://www.foodgal.com Carolyn Jung

    Best of luck to you in the finals. It’s awesome that you’re in the Top 3. You should be very, VERY proud. Kudos to you!

  • http://bibberche.com Lana

    A pork pot roast! Awesome! We are a piggy eating family, but we also love pot roast. I like the idea of going back to basics.
    I have voted and I hope that you win:)

  • Anonymous

    Excellent post! Like all of your past posts, this post is well written, informative, and entertaining to boot! Oh, and of course the photos are beautiful. :) I’ve really really enjoyed reading all of your posts in this competition. You have a natural writing style that is just inviting to read.

    And yes, inquiring minds want to know, what is the mime’s name? ;)

    • Anonymous

      Thanks! The mime’s name is Pot Roast of course;-P

  • Wcchris

    You have my vote. You deserve to win. Very impressed with your video.

  • Princess Gourmet

    Awesome post and video. I really enjoyed it and am going to try and recreate this dish. Good luck in the competition!

  • Bron

    Good luck! This sounds amazing – plan to make a version very soon.

  • the constant hunger

    I love that you went with a simple dish for this final challenge. It shows your confidence. I learned a lot about adding flavor to food vs. just getting a recipe to try. As a food nerd, I like to know the “why” of things. I wish you the best of luck. I am rooting for you all the way!

    • Anonymous

      I’m totally with you on asking “why”. I think it’s the key to learning to cook without recipes: learning they “why”.

  • Marianne @ Mealmixer

    Brilliant. I like how you inspire people to go with their gut, but still provide the framework recipe.

  • http://islandgirlok.com Vivian

    In love pot roast. Such a great classic and I love all the comforting flavors. Perfect dish :-)

  • http://www.speakeasykitchen.com Charmaine Rose

    Thanks for staying true to your blog. This is why we love it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Lael-Sara-Caplan-Hazan/1172858247 Lael Sara Caplan Hazan

    I love that you have gone to the comfort of back to basics! Congratulations on a wonderful post and a terrific “project food blog” experience. The pictures of the onions were FABULOUS!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=625208824 Mariel García M

    I have followed Project Food Blog for a few weeks now, and I didn’t know who to vote for in any of the preliminary rounds. I decided to vote for you now because I appreciate the way you share your knowledge with the community (I didn’t know any of what you wrote in this post!). I will be following your blog for sure. Good luck!

    • Anonymous

      I’m glad you were able to learn something. Learning something new is one of my favorite things about visiting other blogs, so I’m glad I could contribute:-)

  • Cooking with Dawn

    Have loved your dishes and your incredible knowledge of foods and flavors. I am printing your recipe for the Pot Roast and will make it tonight, it’s 7 degrees outside and such a warm, flavorful comfort dish is just what this day calls for. Congrats on making it to the finals. I hope you win!

    • Anonymous

      Thanks Dawn! Let me know how it goes:-)

  • http://www.tastesofhome.blogspot.com Tastes of Home (Jen)

    Voting for you! Hope you win and congrats for being in the top 3.

  • Julie@tablet

    Marc – best of luck in the contest! I swear, what can’t you do? Good luck and you got my vote!

    • Anonymous

      Sit still and do nothing ;-P Thanks!

  • Anonymous

    I really enjoyed reading this post, very insightful. Great info on MSG and real flavour in foods! Good luck!

  • http://www.lunchboxproject.com Lisa Orgler

    Great job and congrats on making it to the top three!!

  • http://www.possgroup.com/ business legal advice

    congrats to to all your learn how to cook ..im sure that menu is perfect.

  • Yesim

    congrats for TOP 3 , voted for u…

  • Eleonora

    Here’s my vote. Loved the pantomime, but you had me at “back to basics”

  • Hellolizzie3

    the reason you are getting my vote is that this post is not only interesting, it’s informational. you are teaching me things and giving me a recipe while telling me a few things about yourself (without over sharing). when i look at all the blogs, I tend to measure them all against my favorite blogger David Liebovitz. David is always sharing a little of his view of the world, teaching us something new and personalizing without over-personalizing. Your blog shares some of these qualities. Thank you and good luck!

  • http://twitter.com/tasteblog Lori Lynn

    Hi Marc – the pot roast looks fabulous, thanks for the lessons too. Good luck, it’s been a wild ride!!
    Lori Lynn

  • Ali

    Beautiful site – I’m glad this contest has introduced me to your blog! Kudos to your writing talents too – you’ve got a great voice – and I know this because I’ve been reading a lot of horrible undergraduate writing lately :-)

  • Cheryl in Silicon Valley

    This looks fantastic. I think I’ll make it for dinner. Best of luck!

  • Margaret @ Savory Sweet Living

    Pot Roast is one of my favorite things to cook and one of the first dishes I entertained with so it’s great to see that you kept it simple for this last post. I really loved the concept of your blog from the first time I read it. I’m thrilled you made it to the final and way to represent NY. Best of luck!

  • Carol Peterman/TableFare

    Pot roast pantomime! It’s going to be the new Macarena, or at least it’s going to be what’s for dinner. Nice Job.

  • Anne

    That video was adorable… but dude, I think you left the oven on ;)

  • http://www.bostonfoodrules.com Jazz Rules

    Your video cracks me up. You are one character! Good luck in the finals!

  • http://twitter.com/JunBelen Jun Belen

    You have my vote, Marc. This post is a clear example of why I follow you and your blog. Wonderful run in PFB. You deserve to win.

  • http://www.thelittlekitchen.net/ JulieD

    Good luck! Your video is hilarious! I love it.

  • http://www.ofmusesandmeringues.blogspot.com Beth

    Your pot roast looks great. What a great idea to take it back to the beginning!

  • Susan Scott

    Delightful. Your video is a hoot, and I also liked the scientific part too! But most of all, I could make this dish! I hope you win.
    Susan

  • jaden

    Your video is hilarious!!!! So creative, my friend!

  • http://www.vincentbakery.wordpress.com Anthony Shelley

    I adore your blog. Mouth-watering throughout!

  • http://www.facebook.com/misheel.chuluun Misheel Chuluun

    I love this dish. Yummy! I made it tonight and it turned out great. Can’t wait for my husband to get home and have some!!!

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Welcome!

I'm Marc, and I want to teach you some basic techniques and give you the confidence and inspiration so that you can cook without recipes too!