A PERFECTLY ROASTED PIECE OF MEAT TURNS ANY MEAL INTO AN OCCASION, WHETHER IT IS A HUGE CELEBRATION ROAST, A MEDIUM-SIZED FAMILY ONE, OR A TINY ROAST FOR TWO PEOPLE. UNDERSTANDING WHAT HAPPENS TO THE MEAT WHILE IT COOKS GIVES YOU GREATER CONTROL.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT CUT Roasts are good on or off the bone, although bone-in cuts look very impressive. When cooking roasts to well-done, bones lubricate the meat. In rare cuts, however, they are less important. Bone-in cuts (with the exception of loin cuts) contain several different muscles, some of which cook at different times and whose grain lies in different directions. This can make carving more awkward. The best roasting cuts come from the middle part of an animal (ribs, saddle, and loin), or the hind leg, although tender lamb and veal shoulders make excellent, more informal roasts. Tougher cuts can be slowroasted successfully. If the meat is marbled with fat, it will stay succulent from rare to well done; very lean meat, such as most game, is not successful roasted to well-done. Very small cuts (less than 2in/5cm thick) are more like a thick steak
OVEN ROASTING: THE THREE STAGES 1 Brown the meat. This is what makes roasted meat taste so good. Extra small roasts and birds will not be roasted for long enough to brown the outside so should be browned all over in a frying pan ﬁrst (see p27) and then only given 5–10 minutes in the hot oven. For larger cuts, start them off for 20–30 minutes in a hot oven at 425°F (220°C) for convection ovens and 450°F (230°C) for standard ovens. Very large roasts, such as turkey and goose, will need 45–50 minutes to brown and may need to be turned around in the oven midway. 2 Partly cook it. The oven is then turned down to 350°F (180°C) to nearly (but not quite) cook the meat. This is where a meat thermometer is invaluable because the number of variables (temperature of the meat when it started, its thickness and fat cover, oven variations, and degree of doneness required) make it impossible to give exact timings. The meat must come out of the oven when it is 5–8°F (3–5°C) below the desired ﬁnished temperature to avoid it overcooking. For dark game meats, taking the meat out 16°F (10°C) below is even better. 3 Rest the meat. This crucial stage completes the cooking and makes the meat more tender. It also distributes the juices evenly because the heat continues toward the center of the meat while the less-cooked juices in the center are drawn back to the edge. This is the secret to perfectly roasted meat. All you need to do is keep the meat warm—it must not be cooked any more. The ideal temperature is 175°F (80°C). A plate-warming drawer is perfect, otherwise put the roast over a stove or a warm radiator. Cover it with foil and a thick cloth to keep in the heat. Make sure the roast does not get cold. The meat thermometer should show the temperature rising until the meat is cooked to your liking.
PERFECTLY COOKED This roast has been rested, so the juices in the meat are evenly distributed, making it moist all the way to the edge.
SPIT ROASTING This is how all meat used to be roasted and gives arguably the best results of all. Browning, cooking, and resting is combined in one process. The meat is slowly turned in front of a hot ﬁre, held in a cage, or on a metal skewer. Spit roasts work best when the meat has a good covering of fat, so lean meat should be barded (see p232). A drip tray catches the fat and juices. Some ovens have electric spits—use a meat thermometer to check how it cooks.
LOW TEMPERATURE “ROASTING” This slow method cuts out the second stage of roasting. Meat is cooked rare but there is no danger of overcooking if a meal is delayed slightly. Brown the roast all over, in a pan or a hot oven. Open the oven door afterward and fan out the intense heat. Then cook it very slowly at a temperature of 175–200ºF (80–100ºC) for several hours. A thin cut—less than 2in (5cm) thick—will cook in about an hour. Large roasts take 2–3 hours or more; use a meat thermometer to show how it is cooking. This method is not suitable for domestic poultry.
SOUS VIDE AND STEAM “ROASTING” Meat is sealed into a vacuum pack (sous vide) that is immersed in a bath of water kept at a tightly controlled temperature. The process is slow but utterly reliable, although not everyone likes such uniformity of cooking. Steam cooking is similar but the meat cooks in moist steam rather than a water bath. The meat is quickly browned before serving to improve ﬂavor and appearance.
PIT COOKING This is popular in the Paciﬁc Rim, especially New Zealand. A ﬁre is lit in a sizeable pit containing large stones. The meat and other food is prepared beforehand and packed into a metal basket. This is placed onto the hot stones and immediately covered in wet matting or leaves to produce steam. It is then covered with earth and left to cook for about three hours using the heat stored in the pit