3-day pot roast … surviving Utah

One

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, “one” is the 35th most common word in the English language. But in certain parts of the country – parts of the West and South – it is occasionally used as a foreshortened version of the phrase “one or the other,” and at such times almost always ends a sentence. It came out of Woodrow Call’s mouth when talking to Gus McCrea in Lonesome Dove (“We can cross the river up by that sand bar, or lower down by the rocks, one.”), and because I heard it several times from native Georgians when we lived there I adopted it for my rural Georgian teen hero, Woody, in CALLING OUT YOUR NAME.

As soon as I pulled the Buick into the bay and hopped out of the car he stopped fiddling with the voltmeter under some car’s hood, came over to me and proceeded to gush his distress about Tick, hoping the Lord would see to it either to admit him into heaven or find him alive somewhere, one.

It sure saves time. So you can keep reading here, or just skip to the recipe below, one.

Surviving Utah

When we lived in northern New Mexico, we traveled to southeastern Utah several times just to see what the fuss was all about. This is a pretty good schlep, an overnighter, so we went prepared – with extra clothes, a cooler, a food box, and money. We drove a down-at-the-heels 1980s Subaru wagon that we bought for $15, but it claimed to have 4-wheel drive should we need it. We shouldn’t need it, because it was a dry summer and we weren’t expecting any muddy wheeling.

Somehow we ended up in an area quite a few miles west of the town of Blanding, where we planned to stay the night, and saw road sign indicating “Old Mormon Trail,” with another sign: “Caution: Primitive Road.” On the map it was more a dotted line than anything else, and about 50 miles from Blanding, but it looked like a fun drive, and so we set off. This is exactly where “local knowledge” would have come in handy – someone who could tell us:

Yeah, it starts off pretty good but it can get a bit hair-raising when you climb up to the pass, where you get great views but you might feel your car’s a little too low-slung to navigate the rocks at the top or the shelf ledges going down as you descend into dirt and fine adobe dust where you need to get up a good head of speed to slalom through it and eventually find firmer ground so you don’t pitch yourselves off into a ravine.

Hey, no problem! But there was no man or woman we could find to forewarn us, so we just started driving and chewing our nails. I’ll get us up to “the pass” at the summit of the mountains, where the road ceased to be. “There’s no road here,” I noted. “There has to be,” my wife said. “It’s a dotted line.” I added, “No cairns, no markers.” The view east was stunning, but first we had to navigate over rocks and ledges. We got to one place where we needed to stop and move rocks in order to continue and actually create ramps of stone over the ledges. Even so, the Sube bottomed out and we heard the clanking of the oil pan shield parting company with the car.

Note that we had no cell phone at the time. Not till 2001. If we’d been stranded up there, it would have been a long wait, because no one ever takes that “road.”

In time, we crept downward in first gear and, Voila!, something mimicking a road reappeared. In time, we entered the long stretch of adobe dust, as fine as King Arthur’s Unbleached Flour, and we roared through it, swiveling and slaloming ever downward, nicely avoiding precipices.

After some four hours and 50 miles on this “road,”, we hit pavement and signs for Blanding, the largest town in southeastern Utah with some 3000 souls.

Blanding – what’s in a name?

Wikipedia tells me the town was named in 1914, in a contest, after the maiden name of the wife of a wealthy easterner, Thomas Bicknell, who offered a prize of 500 books for the town’s first library. Okay fine, but let’s cut to the chase.

One motel (where we stayed), one restaurant that was open, and nobody around. Not much to explore – back then c. 1999 – and so we prepared for a fine average supper at the restaurant. I think I quipped, “Okay, we’re in Blanding, but our mission tonight is not to feel bland.” The problem? Blanding is a dry town. Lots of places in Utah are dry, but one might expect a town of this “size” to bend the rules a bit. No such luck. Dryyyy.

When my wife and I are on roadies, we’re accompanied by what we call our “Happy Crate.” It’s a milk crate that carries our plug-in percolator coffee pot, a jar of coffee, a jar of raw sugar, spoons, mugs, a bottle of gin, tonic, a bottle of wine, corkscrew, plastic cups and the like. All strictly for emergencies – like now, the dire emergency of spending the night in Blanding.

As the car’s preeminent mixologist, I found a quart sized spring water bottle, empty, and began filling it, every so carefully, with the proper proportions of gin and tonic. And, so equipped, we entered the restaurant and found a table as far as possible from the overhead police-interrogation lights blazing from the ceiling. The waiter, a clean-cut young fellow, was happy we were there since absolutely no one else was. I produced our “water bottle,” asked if he minded we drank our own special water, and could we please have two glasses with ice and a slice of lime? Sure! No problem!

Food came (I forget what it was), we toasted, sipped, drank, ate, sipped, imbibed, ate a bit more, drank and then started to break into hysterics recalling our adventure atop the pass on the Old Mormon Trail, earning some serious “side-eye” from the waiter who eventually started to smile, either at us or with us. We left later when our “water bottle” was empty, discovering a warm spot of love for Blanding in our hearts that would have been far less forthcoming without our Happy Crate.

We’ve been to southeast Utah a number of times, and I’d happily go back. No one goes there, really, and that’s part of the idea. They all head for Bryce or Glen Canyon, or Moab, or other places people have actually heard of. It’s their choice.

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Now, food. This is a goodie.

Three-day pot roast?! Why three days?!

No, not to cook it, to marinate it. I’m calling this a Midwest recipe, since it comes from my father-in-law in Indiana, where I had the best beef brisket I’ve ever tasted at a church event. I’m not much for their traditional Jell-o and marshmallow salads, but they do know their way around a beef cow.

(my photo)

This is a well-marbled chuck roast, drenched in about a pint of red wine, Worcestershire sauce, chopped carrots, onions, celery and garlic. Actually, it’s been doing this in a gallon-sized ziploc bag in the fridge for three full days, but came out to sit in a casserole just to be photographed.

Here’s what to do to enjoy an incredibly tender, eat-with-a-spoon pot roast dinner:

  • Find a nicely marbled, slightly fatty roast cut, like chuck. Avoid top and bottom round roasts (too lean and tough),
  • Marinate in red wine, Worcestershire, carrots, celery, onion, and garlic in a ziploc bag for three days. You can add other sauces, herbs, rubs, and spices as you wish.
  • On cooking day, remove the roast, pat it dry, and discard the marinade and veggies. Get it up to room temp before cooking – about 2-3 hours.
  • Put the roast in a casserole with a little water, pepper, your favorite seasonings, some crushed garlic. Cook at 275 for four hours. In the last hour and a half, throw in chopped potatoes, chopped carrots, chopped onion, and some diced tomatoes if you like.☞ For a little extra mellowness, sprinkle in a few ounces of white wine (surprise!) toward the end.

Dole out veggies on plates, then add slices of the roast. Super comfort food, warming and tender.

El Rosto Perfecto!

Update: after exactly 4 hours the roast was just beginning to “fall apart” – I cranked the oven up to 300 for another 10 minutes, and that was it. Perfect! And the veggies were nicely cooked but not mooshy. I thought it was the best and tenderest pot roast I’d ever tasted.

There it is, for now.

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My books are here. Good stuff!

Ned White

About Ned White

Ned White is a writer, novelist, crossword puzzle constructor, humorist, traveler through 49 states, and at times a danger in the kitchen. He lives with his wife in South Thomaston.