When I met my husband, he had been living alone with his two children, 8 and 10 at the time, for several years. I was a 30-something having little experience with children, let alone ever any responsibility for anyone except myself, and an only child at that. As I slowly began to settle in the vast and unknown terrain of parenting, the kitchen was the place where I felt the most comfortable. That’s where I sort of knew what I was doing, and where I could literally bring something new to the table. I remember the times when both kids climbed on the kitchen island to watch me cook.
After a while, to make room for my stuff, I started sorting through the kitchen cabinets, giving away what I knew I would never use, and moving other things into the basement for storage. I could not believe it when my eyes fell on a clay pot from Germany, known under the brand name Römertopf. “Where did you get this?,” I asked my husband. He shrugged his shoulders. “At the kitchen store in D.C. I was told that anybody could cook with this, and that it was foolproof.”
Although I had never cooked in a Römertopf and did not own one myself, it was a very familiar item. Clay pots have of course been around for thousands of years yet the Römertopf, just like the fondue pot, is for Germans clearly associated with the 1970’s. The only thing Roman about it is the name. The pot was introduced in 1967 and it is still being produced in Germany today. The company now makes different models, sizes and shapes, though I still like the classic model the best.
Initially I only used the pot to store bread. The first chicken I braised in it made me change my mind. The meat comes out wonderfully moist and succulent. And the pot is indeed foolproof; the only thing you must do is soak it in cold water, and place it in the cold oven.
Our son has been home for spring break, and before he goes back to college this weekend I wanted to make a pot roast. There is no more climbing on the countertop these days but as always he showed up in the kitchen while I was cooking, telling me how good it smells, and that he cannot wait for dinner.
For me, this is the epitome of comfort food.
Pot Roast from the Römertopf
Recipe adapted from The Way to Cook by Julia Child
1 5-pound bottom round of beef, fat removed
6 parsley sprigs including stems
3 thyme twigs
6 black peppercorns
3 whole cloves
4 allspice berries
1 large bay leaf
3 large garlic cloves, smashed
2 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped carrot
1½ cups chopped peeled tomatoes
1½ cups dry red wine
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1. Place the Römertopf, bottom and lid, in a sink or a large container filled with cold water and soak for 20 to 30 minutes. The pot should be completely immersed in water. Drain and dry.
2. Tie the roast with butcher twine every 1.5 inches. Gather the herbs, spices and garlic in a triple-folded piece of cheesecloth and tie it at the top with a piece of butcher twine.
3. Heat the oil in a large skillet and brown the roast from all sides. Transfer the roast to the Römertopf.
4. Sauté the vegetables until the onion is translucent. Place them around the roast, together with the tomatoes. Add the bouquet garni and enough wine to come about half way up the meat.
5. Cover the Römertopf with the lid and place it on the medium rack of the cold oven. Set the oven temperature to 400 degrees F. Cook for 2 to 2.5 hours, or until tender. Salt lightly after 1 hour.
6. Remove the roast from the pot and cover to keep warm. Strain the liquid through a fine sieve into a saucepan, pressing down the vegetables to extract maximum flavor. Bring the liquid to a boil. Dissolve the cornstarch with 2 to 3 tablespoons cold water and whisk it into the liquid. Cook, whisking constantly, until the gravy thickens. Season with salt and pepper.
7. Remove the twine from the roast. Carve it and serve the slices and the gravy separately.
Makes 10 servings