This was the best pot roast I've ever had. How did it come to be?
We have a neighbor with a small quince tree, and a couple of days ago he gave Monique a small bucketful of little hard golden fruits that looked a bit like unripe apples. And so, since all I knew about quinces was that they were a handy crossword puzzle word if you need a six-letter fruit beginning with a "Q", I launched myself into the world of the quince.
My first surprise as I researched the quince came when I discovered that they need to be cooked quite a while before they're edible, but that once cooked they take on a tart and fruity flavor, a bit like an extreme apple. Even more surprising, they eventually turn in color from golden yellow to pink or even ruby red.
The alchemy of the quince is interesting. Raw quinces are very heavy in tannins, which makes them so astringent as to be inedible. When cooked over time the tannins break down, which removes the bitter taste and releases a deep, complex fruit flavor. The end products of the tannin breakdown contain anthocyanins, the pigments that give plants their red color. And thus a bitter golden quince becomes a ruby red treasure. In addition to tannins, quinces are very heavy in pectin, which is what makes them a favorite as the base for an assortment of jams, jellies, sauces, and fruit pastes.
Quinces originated in Southwest Asia near the Caucuses, and Turkey remains the world's largest quince producer. They were more popular than apples in much of the ancient world, and because of their golden color may be the fruit actually referred to where the name of the fruit has been translated as "apple" or "golden apple." (For example, the mythological tale when Paris chooses Aphrodite for the prize of a golden apple, thus kicking off the Trojan War.) Quinces were popular with the Romans and the Franks, and so became widespread across Europe, especially Southern Europe.
Alas for the quince, it's fallen out of favor in modern times, undoubtedly because it doesn't fit an immediate-gratification world.
So, when it was time to decide what to do with our bucketful of quinces, I reckoned, "How better to give a few old-fashioned quinces a good thorough cooking than to pop them into a good ol' pot roast?"
Here's the recipe we put together. You could probably add a few quinces (or even a single quince) to any pot roast recipe you like -- just be sure to add them early enough in the process to give them a couple of hours to cook and mellow.
1 large pot roast (We used an English-cut chuck roast.)
4-6 quinces (We may have used 7 ... they were small. Really you could get a nice flavor out of just a couple of quinces, though.)
3 pounds baby red potatoes
1 pound carrots
1 large red onion (A pound of baby onions might do nicely here ... or perhaps a leek or two.)
3 stalks celery
1/2 red bell pepper and 1/2 green bell pepper (You could use one bell pepper of either color, but I thought the color mix would look pretty.)
1) Brown the pot roast in some olive oil.
2) Peel and core the quinces, cut into quarters. (A sharp paring knife is good for this, but be careful, they're hard and tricky.)
3) Once the roast is browned on each side, add the quince quarters, cover with water, and simmer for an hour-and-a-half or two.
4) Peel and cut the carrots, onion, celery, and bell pepper into chunks. (Do the same with potatoes if they're large.)
5) About 45 minutes or so before you're ready to eat, add the veggies.
6) Add a bit more water if you need it to cover the veggies. Keep your pot simmering.
7) When the potatoes and carrots are tender to the fork, you're ready to eat.
8) Use a slotted spoon to pull out the veggies and the roast.
9) The juices are delicious. Ladle them into a gravy boat and pour some over your potatoes, meat, and veggies on the plate.
Enjoy! As I said at the top, this was the single most delicious pot roast we've ever made. The quinces mostly fell apart after all that simmering, and they never really turned red, but their flavor spread through everything.
It was quince-a-licious!
*True culinary confessions time: after I added the veggies we headed out for a quick pontoon cruise on this lovely October afternoon. I didn't want the veggies to boil over while we were away, so I turned it down very low ... a bit too low as it turned out, and so our veggies really got about an hour on very low heat and then another 30 or 40 minutes at a decent simmer after we got home and discovered that the potatoes were still rock hard. It was almost a bit more like crock-potting by the time it was done. Come to think of it, a crock pot might be a very good way to go with a quince, since it would give you a nice, long cooking time.