The Humble Pot

A cheap cut of meat and some aromatic vegetables. This used to be thought of as a poor folks dish. An inexpensive way to feed a lot of mouths for little cost. Slow food revolution, back to basics cooking, whatever you want to call it, this pot of humble beginnings is what it’s all about. I haven’t seen it make the comeback that it rightfully should, but in time I’m sure it will.

A rich aroma that passes through the house gets anyone within reach feeling hungry. The warmth of the oven makes the kitchen a cozy place to wander in and stay. Second only to bread, a dish made in a single pot can warm a house and gather everyone to the kitchen before they are called for the meal.

I am not talking about hotdish (for you non-Minnesotans, casserole) although, those can be good and an easy way to use up leftovers, a humble pot dish is so much more. In the way of comfort food there is really nothing better. The meat- super tender and juicy, some of the vegetables- cooked down until they reach a rich, flavorful sauce, the rest have soaked up all sorts of great seasoning. Everything mingles together in one pot. No single ingredient more important than another (except salt, that rules all).

Recently, I have been making these more and more. Mostly because I work full time in town and still want a decent homemade meal for my family. A humble pot dish can be started the night before or morning of and placed in the oven with a timer and left to cook for the better part of the day. Some people use crockpots for such dishes. I do sometimes, but more often than not, I find it is not roomy enough to get the full potential from the ingredients inside. The vegetables need space to cook down and work with the added liquid of choice. I prefer to use cuts of meat that have the bone in tact, not only does it add richness to the dish but it also adds more nutrients too. Even a small roast or bird take up a considerable amount of space when coupled with vegetables and broth.

For all of these dishes I use a heavy enameled cast iron pot. The whole thing can go into the oven, lid and all. The lid is important; a foil covered dish just doesn’t make the same results. I think it has something to do with how the lid retains more of the steam and helps the insides to keep a more even temperature… or I am just full of it. It’s just a guess. In addition to the collection of cast iron skillets in my kitchen, I also have a variety of these pots as well. In a perfect world I would set up a pot for each weekday on Sunday, place them in the fridge and have them ready for the week. Maybe someday, if we end up with an extra refrigerator, right now there is no room in the one we have.

I must admit, not every humble pot I make looks very pretty, in fact most don’t. The taste more than makes up for the lack of visual appeal. Honestly, over time the look doesn’t change but the dishes start to look better and better just because of the anticipation of the deliciousness to come. I know it’s possible to make such a meal vegetarian style, I have yet to make one as such. Considering we just made the last chicken in the freezer, this may be something to look a little closer at. I can and have “offed” a chicken on a meal by meal basis, but it’s not something I would like to make a habit of. I would like to stretch the beef supply as long as possible. I really don’t want to have to start getting meat at the store. I could. I don’t want to.

The method is simple:
Start with a combination of aromatic vegetables, most common around here is onions, carrots and celery in a 2:1:1 ratio.
Sauté the vegetables.
Add any herbs, spices or seasonings.
Add meat. ( a cut with the bone in tact will produce more flavor and nutrition)
Add dry rice, par cooked beans, or raw potatoes or squash.
Add liquid. (water, broth, wine, beer etc.)
Cover and cook slowly until done.

With this simple “recipe” there is an endless amount of meals that can be made.

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