Friday, September 7, 2012

Back to Basics, Part 2: Roasting

Today we will talk about another easy and versatile method known as roasting.

 The roasting method is another dry heat method of cooking, usually done in the oven, which means that you use very little added liquid or fat.  The beautiful reaction to indirect heat in a closed environment like the oven is that the food’s natural juices turn to steam inside the item and penetrate the food more deeply.  What’s happening on the outside is called the “Maillard Reaction” and, simply stated, is the breakdown of protein and carbohydrates on the surface of the meat which results in a delicious golden brown crust, adding not only flavor but a beautiful appearance and aroma to your dish.  This method is still relatively quick, so you still want to choose naturally tender items but, unlike sautéing, you can use larger cuts that will provide multiple portions.  Examples of great foods to roast are beef or pork tenderloins or whole chickens or turkeys.  (We’ll save your less tender cuts of meat like rumps or short ribs for the “low and slow” method of braising, which is similar to roasting but uses much more liquid.  More on that in future columns!) 

Another benefit of roasting is that, similar to sautéing, you can make a delicious, flavorful sauce from the pan drippings from your food.  All you need for your sauce is the pan drippings as a base, aromatics (“mirepoix” is commonly used…this is the classical French combination of 2 parts onion, one part celery and one part carrot), some kind of acidic deglazing liquid (such as wine, water or stock), a little bit of flour for thickening, and seasonings.
Here’s the basic roast procedure:

1.       Prepare your food by seasoning with salt and pepper and anything else you like such as fresh or dried herbs, spices, garlic, etc.  When using anything other than salt and pepper it helps to use a little bit of olive oil as well. 

Alaina's Turkey from last Thanksgiving!
2.      Preheat your oven.  Many cooks like to start their oven high (like around 425°F/218°C) to help create a beautiful crust on their food, then drop the temperature down (to around 325°F/162°C) to finish cooking the inside nice and slowly. 

3.      Place your food in a shallow roasting pan on some sort of rack.  You want to make sure there is airflow underneath the food.  If you don’t have a metal rack, you can use bones or chicken wings to elevate the food.

4.      Roast your food uncovered until the desired internal temperature is achieved.  Add mirepoix (French combination of onion/celery/garlic) to your pan half-way through cooking time to allow it to absorb some juices but not be overcooked.

5.      Remove your food from the cooking pan and set aside to rest for at least 15 minutes..  Deglaze your pan (which means loosen the flavorful browned bits, called “fond”) using your acidic liquid.  Allow this liquid to reduce through simmering (on the stovetop if possible, but in the oven works too) until your sauce is “napé”, which means it coats the back of a spoon.

6.      If you would like your sauce to be thicker, sprinkle a little flour in the pan or add a previously prepared roux.  Add more liquid (like stock) and whisk to dissolve the flour.  Allow this liquid to come to a simmer and cook it, uncovered and stirring occasionally, until the sauce reaches your desired thickness and there is no flour taste remaining.  This may take as long as twenty minutes.

7.      Skim off any fat from your sauce and strain if desired to remove mirepoix.  Brighten your sauce with a little lemon juice and toss in some fresh herbs to serve. 


·         To avoid steaming the exterior of your food (and create a yummy crust), you must use a shallow pan.

·         Allow your food to season for a while before cooking; an hour minimum if possible.  The larger your piece of meat, the longer you want to let it season. 

·         Don’t burn your fond!  If you notice that, during the roasting process, your pan juices or mirepoix are burning, be sure to stir them so your sauce later will not be bitter.
·        You must allow your food to rest at least 15 minutes before carving as this allows the juices in the food to redistribute through the meat, as opposed to running all over your cutting board, resulting in a dry, tough main course!
Internal Temperature for Roasted Items
Chicken: 165°F/74°C (in the thigh)                         Don’t forget! Your food will have a chance to        
Pork: 145°F/62°C                                                     “carryover” after it comes out of the oven,
Beef: anywhere between                                           which means it will continue to cook.
         130°F/54°C for medium-rare and                    Pulling it out 3-5° before the listed
   150°F/65°C for well-done                                        temperatures is advised!