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Beer-Braised Bison Chuck Roast

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[Photographs: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

Pot roast may not be the most glamorous dish in the world, but goddam if it ain't one of the most delicious on a cold November night. Bison has a reputation for being lean (because it is), and without that excess fat to help keep things lubricated, getting tender and moist results requires a bit of care and attention. Braising is the perfect way to get it there, and beer and onions are good partners to take along for the journey.

Here's how we do it.

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Tying the roast is not 100 percent necessary, but it'll help it keep its shape as it braises—remember, fall-apart tender is the goal here—making for prettier presentation at the end. The goal here is to sear the meat hard and fast so that you can minimize the amount of time it spends in the hot pan. Searing is great for developing nice browned flavors, but high heat can cause the meat to turn dry and tough, even after a slow cook in a moist environment.

To minimize this toughness, start by getting the meat as dry as possible. Patting it thoroughly with paper towels is great; letting it rest uncovered overnight on a rack in the fridge is even better. Use the heaviest pot you have—I use an enameled cast iron Dutch oven—and get it ripping, smoking hot before adding the meat.

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Deep, deep brown (but not black) is what you're going for here. Next up, we start building up the aromatic flavor base for the sauce.

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Beer and onions go hand in hand, so the onions are the main element here, but some finely diced carrots and celery add their sweetness and bitterness to the mix to balance things out and add some depth.

Also in the mix: anchovies. I add them to almost every meaty braise and stew I make for their savoriness-enhancing abilities. Anchovies are not only rich in glutamic acid—the compound responsible for triggering our sense of umami—but they're also packed with inosinic acid, another compound that boosts the effect of glutamates. You won't taste them in the final mix, but they're there, quietly doing their job like good little fishes.

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The aromatics get sautéed until softened and sweet, just until their raw edge disappears, but not until the onions are seriously browned—we don't want to overwhelm the sauce with caramelized onion flavor here. Some garlic, tomato paste, rosemary, and thyme also make it into the pot.

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The bison goes back in—note that the liquid only comes about half way up the meat, just enough to produce some steam to prevent the exterior from desiccating—it comes to a boil, and it goes into the oven.

With braised meats, the lower and slower you go, the more tender and juicy it will end up. Note that this is not the same thing as saying that the longer you cook it, the better it will be. Just like a roast, a braise can overcook, causing the meat to dry out and toughen unnecessarily. As soon as the tough connective tissue inside has broken down to the point where you can pierce it with a knife with little resistance, you're done.

In a 275°F oven, this takes about 4 hours with the lid kept slightly ajar (keeping the lid off will actually suppress the temperature of the liquid, as it allows for evaporative cooling).

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When it's done, you'll find that the roast is so tender that it'll be nearly impossible to remove it from the pot without having it fall apart under its own weight. If you don't mind from a presentation standpoint, then you can serve your pot roast on the same day you cook it. But if you value appearances—and want to get the flavor advantages of an overnight rest in the fridge to let flavors marry—then you'll want to let the roast cool in the pot in its own liquid, and refrigerate it at least overnight and up to a few days before serving.

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Once chilled, it'll hold together well enough that you can slice it with a sharp carving knife. Meanwhile, you can reduce all of the gelatin-rich cooking liquid in the Dutch oven to use as a sauce.

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I like to reheat the sliced meat directly in the sauce so that it gets one final chance to absorb some more flavor.

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With lean bison meat, you won't get that fatty, unctuous quality that you get with beef, but instead you'll be rewarded with deeper flavor, and plenty of moist, tender meat that will fall apart at the touch of a fork.

About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.

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