on dining alone

“When dining alone is necessary, the mind should be disposed to cheerfulness by a previous interval of relaxation from whatever has seriously occupied the attention, and by directing it to some agreeable object.” – Thomas Walker, as quoted in M.F.K. Fishers’ Serve It Forth

It was directed toward a braise--more specifically, a trussed chuck roast bubbling away with onions, garlic, tomatoes and red wine. There’s a magic that happens in a pot like that, tucked away with great care in a moderate oven, when you ask ingredients to spend quality time together, to soak in a hot-tub of juices and share secrets for hours. The end result is always magnificent—it feels like being taken care of, of being 6 years old and having Dad carry you to bed, of triumphantly declaring the day over as you plop on the couch and think of all you accomplished. And most importantly, there’s a romantic quality to a roast just falling apart, of your carefully chosen aromatics melding and flowing together in unspoken routine. Like love hitting its stride. Like the most sincere, “stay.” Like smiling through just your eyes.

pot roast 1

For me, dining alone is an act of self-care. I have routines in the kitchen; I make messes and don’t feel stressed out about them. They are my messes. They are the necessary by-product of a larger goal: to make a meal that can pull me back into the present. I don’t often give myself such latitude in other areas of my life. We are taught to have patience for others and not patience for ourselves; most of us do not know how to openly talk about this affliction. We deal with our burdens because they are ours alone and resist the urge to speak. I do the same thing, all of the time.

pot roast 2

Somehow, this braise allowed me to let it all go. I was able to sip my wine with abandon and to avoid the pitfalls of endless introspection.

pot roast 3

 I was Jesse and that was it.

All expectations aside. 

Braised Pot Roast
Adapted from Deb Perelman’s Oven Braised Beef

4 strips of hickory smoked bacon
1 whole onion, diced
¾ c. dry red wine 
3-3.5 lb chuck roast, trussed (you can ask your butcher to do this for you)
1 28 oz. can of whole tomatoes
3 sprigs of thyme
1 head of garlic, cloves separated with skin on

Handful of parsley stems

Preheat oven to 300 degrees and place rack in the middle position.

Generously salt and pepper all sides of the chuck roast.

Open can of tomatoes and use a pair of kitchen scissors to roughly chop the tomatoes. Do it in the can exactly how Deb does in the link above. No need for perfection.

Brown the bacon in an oven-proof Dutch oven over medium heat, 7 minutes. Once crispy, add onions and cook until they begin to turn translucent, 5 minutes. 

Pour the wine into the Dutch oven, scraping off any brown bits that have formed in the bottom of the pan.

Place your roast into the Dutch oven—don’t worry if you have to cram it a bit. Pour tomatoes directly over roast. Scatter your garlic cloves all the around the pot. Nestle the thyme sprigs and parsley stems alongside the roast (this way you can fish them out later). 

Cover the pot and place in the oven. Cook for 3-4 hours until the roast is falling apart. 

Once done, remove roast from the pot and place on a cutting board. Skim any accumulated fat from the top of your braising liquid (alternatively, this dish gets better as it sits. So if you cook it the day before, you can chill the liquid overnight and all of the fat will rise to the top and solidify. Mush easier removal). 

Slice roast and serve on a bed of orzo, couscous, or mashed potatoes. Spoon braising liquid with tomatoes, onions and garlic over the top.  Anything is delicious.