Pot roasting is perfect for large, inexpensive and less tender cuts of beef, as the long, slow cooking infuses them with flavour and makes them extremely tender. The beef is browned all over and then very slowly braised with a little liquid in a covered pan. Although pot roasts traditionally use beef only, we have also used this method to cook succulent lamb and pork dishes. Vegetables are often added to a pot roast. We used a classic combination of vegetables (carrot, onion and celery) not only to give flavour but also to provide a base for the meat to sit on and prevent it from catching. Liquid is then added (we used wine, but stock is also suitable), the dish is covered and the meat slowly cooks in the liquid and its own juices. When cooked, the meat is tender and moist, and the juices form a deliciously flavoursome sauce.
Pot roasts are best cooked in an enamelled cast-iron casserole dish with a lid. Cast-iron is ideal because it distributes and holds heat well. There are also many suitable flameproof casserole dishes available, made of earthenware, glass or ceramic. It is a good idea to use a casserole dish that is not too much larger than the piece of meat. This will help the meat remain moist, as the level of liquid will be higher up the side of the meat and less liquid will evaporate. A tight-fitting lid is recommended - if you don't have one, cover the dish with a piece of foil and then the lid, scrunching the foil around the lid to seal it well.
The bolar blade comes from the shoulder and is the ideal cut for a beef pot roast. It is an inexpensive cut which is easily carved. A rolled and tied beef brisket is also suitable. They both have a lot of connective tissue that softens and becomes tender when simmered gently for a long period of time. More expensive cuts, such as fillet and rump, do not contain as much connective tissue and become dry and tough when cooked for a long time.
Rub beef all over with salt and pepper. Heat 1/2 the butter in a large heavy-based, flameproof casserole dish over medium-high heat. Add onions, carrot, celery, bay leaves and thyme. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, for 8-10 minutes or until vegetables soften. Remove dish from heat.
Meanwhile, heat remaining butter in a large heavy-based frying pan over high heat. Add beef and cook, turning occasionally, for 8-10 minutes or until well browned all over. It is easiest to turn the beef using 2 pairs of tongs. Remove beef from frying pan and place on top of vegetables in casserole dish. The vegetables will soften during cooking and form the basis of the sauce.
Add wine to frying pan and bring to the boil over high heat. Boil, scraping base of pan with a wooden spoon to dislodge any residue, for 1 minute. This technique is called deglazing and lifts all the browned flavoursome bits of beef or vegetables from the base of the pan. Pour wine mixture into casserole dish.
Cover casserole dish and bring to the boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low (move casserole dish to a smaller hot plate if possible), and cook, covered, using tongs to turn beef 3-4 times during cooking, for 2 1/4 hours. As you turn beef, also check level of liquid. If beef or vegetables are beginning to stick, add a little water to the dish. The level of liquid will vary depending on how quickly the pot roast is cooking and the type of casserole dish you have used. Add only enough water (3-4 tbs) to prevent sticking. Too much liquid will water down the flavour of the pot roast. Add potatoes, cover and cook, turning beef once, for a further 45 minutes.
The beef is ready when it can be easily pierced with a carving fork. Transfer beef to a chopping board ready to be carved. Cover with foil to keep warm. Remove bay leaves and stems of thyme from dish. If sauce is too thin, return dish to high heat and boil, uncovered, stirring occasionally to prevent vegetables from sticking, for 10-20 minutes or until sauce reduces and thickens.
Tilt dish and use a large shallow spoon to skim excess fat from surface. Serve carved beef and vegetables with sauce drizzled over.