There are many ways to make a pot roast, but because we live in the high desert, we have access to ingredients that give us the chance to deviate from some of the traditional choices. I made two pot roasts this week testing this idea.

In the first version, I stayed close to classic preparations, braising the beef with mirepoix (onion, carrots, celery), thyme, wine, canned tomatoes and broth. I even added a fire-roasted green chile right before braising, to give it a kick. This roast was rich and satisfying, but I couldn’t shake the feeling there was a different version that could not only hold more flavor and complexity, but also reflect the ingredients we are lucky enough to have all around us.

So I headed back to the core characters that make up the Southwest pantry. I could have added more green chile — I’m sure this would result in a delicious pot roast, not unsimilar to flavors found in the green chile and beef stews we love so much. When I started thinking through this second attempt, the only thing I was sure of was wanting to leave out canned tomatoes altogether. From there, each choice became easier. Red chile made sense to use since I was leaving out tomatoes; adding mushrooms added a savory, earthy flavor that led me to adding sage, which caused me to think about mushrooms and sage, which took me straight to the bottle of cognac tucked away in the cupboard. I thought about adding a splash of cream to the braising liquid to round out the aromatic components, but in the end decided to let the red chile broth stay brothy and landed on adding a little creamy (and traditional!) side of horseradish creme fraiche, with a pinch of lavender to add a hint of woodsy floral home.

I love this latest version, snuggled up to a spoonful of mashed potatoes, but it’s also lovely on its own, in which case I would suggest serving a loaf of crusty bread on the side.

Mountain Pot Roast

Makes: 8 servings; total time: 1 hour of prep

plus 3 hours of cooking

3-4 pounds beef chuck roast

1 tablespoon corn flour

Salt and pepper

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 yellow onion, sliced

4 large carrots, peeled and sliced

4 large celery stalks (and any leaves inside), sliced

8 ounces cremini mushrooms, sliced

A couple sprigs of fresh rosemary, juniper or pine

A couple sprigs of fresh sage

4-8 garlic cloves depending on size, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1½ cups red wine

¼ cup cognac

1 14-ounce tub mild red chile purée

3 cups beef broth

For the creme fraiche:

1 small tub (4 ounces) creme fraiche

¼ cup freshly grated horseradish or 2 tablespoons prepared horseradish

1 teaspoon crushed culinary lavender

¼ cup minced chives

Salt and black pepper, to taste

Preparation: Preheat the oven to 275 degrees. Dust the meat with corn flour, salt and pepper on all sides. In a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat, sear the roast on all sides until it’s a deep caramelized brown. Transfer the roast to a large bowl and reserve. There should be some fat left in the pot.

Add the onion, carrot, celery, mushrooms, herb sprigs and garlic to the pot. Let this cook, stirring occasionally, for around 15 minutes or until the water in the vegetables has evaporated and the mushrooms start to caramelize. Push the vegetables to one side, add the tomato paste directly to the bottom of the hot pot and let it cook for a few minutes, letting the tomato paste caramelize. Now stir in the wine and cognac to deglaze, making sure to scrape any bits that are stuck on the bottom with a wooden spoon. Let this simmer for 10 minutes. Add the red chile purée and beef broth, and let this mixture come to a simmer. Return the seared roast to the pot along with any juices, submerging the meat completely. If needed, add more broth or water to make sure the meat is covered. Cover with a tight-fitting lid (or foil) and braise in the oven for 3 hours, or until the meat is tender and easily pulls apart. Remove the herb sprigs and discard. Carefully transfer the roast to a bowl and when it’s cool enough to handle, pull apart the meat with a fork or tongs or slice the roast, discarding any excess fat as you go. Return the meat to the pot with the vegetables and broth.

To make the creme fraiche, stir together the creme fraiche, horseradish, lavender, chives, salt and pepper. Serve on the side with pot roast.

Marianne Sundquist is a chef and writer who in 2020 co-founded Stokli, an online general store. Find her on Instagram @chefmariannesundquist, and email her at marianne@stokli.com.

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