Stracotto, The Italian Pot Roast That's Perfectly 'Overcooked'

There is something wonderfully humorous about the translation of stracotto. In Italian, it means "overcooked." But, as anyone who has ever enjoyed a plate of stracotto will know, it is far from overcooked — at least in the traditional sense. This particular pot roast is known for being mind-meltingly tender, juicy, and bursting with flavor.

Like many amazing meals, the origins of stracotto are hotly debated. Several Italian cities take credit for its invention, but it most likely came from the central region of Emilia-Romagna. And just as different areas in the United States have their own take on pot roast, Italians have their own minor, regional twists on stracotto. However, the main construction of the dish remains the same: It's a beautiful cut of beef braised in red wine, tomatoes, aromatics, and stock for a really, really long time.

Now, if you're someone who loves pot roasts but is looking for something a little different from what you grew up with, stracotto is going to be perfect for you. The flavors imparted by the vegetables, herbs, warm spices, meat, and wine blend together to make for one succulent meal that is more than worth the hours of waiting.

Assembling the ingredients

Picking the right cut of meat is essential to a successful stracotto. You want something that is going to maintain its structure after hours of cooking, but also be wonderfully juicy and tender. This is where inexpensive cuts like a thick flank steak and other beef shoulder cuts come in handy. These cuts excel when braised for long hours. The cooking liquid works to break down the connective tissue and fats in the meat, allowing for the tender end product, while also bringing additional flavor. Boneless short ribs, brisket, and rump also work well.

A classic soffritto, which is the wonderful trifecta of carrot, onion, and celery, serves as the foundation of the stracotto. Different from a mirepoix in that the vegetables are minced instead of chopped, the soffritto provides that base of flavor everything else is built on. The addition of some warmer spices, like cinnamon and clove, help amplify both the beef and sauce. 

As for the sauce, the exact amounts are up for interpretation, but stracotto sauce needs to be some combination of red wine, tomatoes, and beef stock. Some recipes omit stock in favor of more wine, but you can play with the amount based on your own tastes. This will be the liquid your beef braises in for several hours, and will it deepen in flavor the longer it's cooked. 

How to make stracotto

You can either bake stracotto in the oven or simmer it on the stove for several hours. Regardless of which method you choose, a good quality, oven-proof pot like a Dutch oven, is going to be the best option. Start by seasoning your beef with salt and then searing it in the pot over high heat. Searing will give the beef a great color, while also leaving behind some browned bits in the pan that you will cook the soffrito in. Remove the meat after it's browned on all sides. 

Add the soffrto to the pot, reduce the heat to medium, and cook the vegetables until they are soft and tender. Next, deglaze the pot with some red wine before adding some tomato sauce. Return the meat to the pan, and cover with beef stock. This would be the time to add any extra aromatics, like cinnamon, clove, or bay leaf, before settling down for the long cook. Cover the pot and bake the stracotto in a 350-degree Fahrenheit oven for three hours, or leave it on low on the stovetop for five to six hours. With stracotto, the longer it cooks the better, hence its humorous name.

The finished stracotto should be beautifully moist and falling apart, with an absolutely succulent sauce that you can serve over pasta, rice, or roasted potatoes. It's a comforting meal that really brings out the best of every ingredient that goes into it.