Roasting is most likely the oldest method of cooking meats, first begun over an open fire, using indirect dry heat. Roasting and baking are the same technique, roasting is the term usually applied in cooking meats, baking for pastries and breads. But there are some exceptions: we roast lamb, but we bake ham; we roast peppers but bake potatoes. And whether you are roasting meats or fruits or vegetables, the rules are the same.
In roasting, heat seals and sears the outer layers of the meat so the juices are concentrated inside. Browning on the outer surface happens at when it reaches 285°F. As the temperature rises, the outer layer begins to shrink. Inside, collagen melts and fat breaks down, making the meat both juicy and tender.
The basic rules for roasting apply to all three methods of roasting (see below). The rules are:
- Bring refrigerated food (i.e., meat) to room temperature before cooking (don’t allow the meat to stand longer than one hour, however, to prevent bacterial contamination of the outer surface). Bringing the meat to room temperature is principally a precautionary measure against having the meat’s outside over cook and dry out before the inside is properly warmed and cooked. And since a room-temperature meat cooks more quickly than its colder counterpart, you save energy.
- Meats should be sealed with fat or oil to keep from drying out, and to aid in the browning process. Do not brush with anything except melted fat /butter/oil. Basting with other liquids produces steam and delays browning and concentration of juices. Cooking the meat fat side up will help to naturally baste the meat during roasting.
- Do not salt before browning, unless you want to draw out the juices into the roasting pan. You may salt AFTER browning begins, see right.
- Do not pepper before roasting at high heat, to prevent scorching of the pepper, resulting in a bitter flavor. Pepper may be added about 5 minutes before removing the roast from the oven.
- Start the roasting process in a thoroughly preheated oven, to help ensure that the juices are sealed in.
- Roast meat on an elevated rack, not flush with the bottom of the pan. You want the heat and air to circulate beneath the roast; you do not want the bottom of the meat to panfry and overcook. (If you don’t have a roasting rack, use several canning jar rings.)
- Do not cover, to prevent steaming of the meat.
- Let the roast stand at room temperature at least 15 minutes before carving. The juices in the roasted meat are more concentrated in the center, cooler portion. Resting allows the juices to disperse more evenly throughout the meat; juices remain inside the meat instead of running out on to the carving board when the roast is cut. Keep the meat warm during this resting period by tenting it loosely with foil. Carving a roast too soon can undo your efforts to create a succulent cut of meat. The resting of the meat will firm it up, also making it easier to carve. * (See carry-over cooking below)
The roasting process can be accomplished in many different ways; the important thing to keep in mind is your goal: the internal temperature at which you want to end. There are basically three temperature zones to which most proteins are cooked to achieve desired doneness.
There are three basic roasting methods: one produces succulent meat, one produces good meat and gravy, and the third is a compromise of both results. Feel free to choose whichever one you prefer, depending upon the time you have to complete the process.
HIGH HEAT ROASTING: Preheat oven to 450°F. Place the prepared food in the preheated oven. Baste 2 to 3 times per hour. Meats cooked this way shrink a fair amount, but the flavor is highly concentrated and the meat juicy. Few drippings are produced, so it is not suitable for making gravy. The finished meat will have an array of temperatures, allowing you to accommodate different doneness likenesses.
MEDIUM HEAT ROASTING: Preheat oven to 350°F. Place the prepared food in the preheated oven. Baste 2 to 3 times per hour. Roasting at medium temperatures allows for less shrinkage, but will not seal the meat as quickly, thus allowing some juices to escape, resulting in more pan juices, less juicy meat.
Because this method is a more gradual heating process, it is the most suitable for less tender cuts of meat, and for those need long, slow cooking, like pork, duck, goose or turkey.
CLASSIC ROASTING (also known as COMBINATION): Preheat oven to 450°F. Place the prepared food in the preheated oven and brown, about 15 minutes. Lower the heat to 350°F and continue roasting until done, basting 2 to 3 times per hour. The high heat in the beginning will brown and seal the roast quickly, sealing in the juices. The lower temperature at which the meat is finished allows the collagen and fat to melt and disperse throughout the roast more slowly, producing some drippings, suitable for making gravy, while still producing succulent meats. This method is a good choice for chicken and beef.
*Carry-over cooking: Keep in mind that after a roast has been taken from the oven, it continues to cook, sometimes up to half an hour. This is because two objects of unequal temperature will try to equalize their temperatures; thus, the hotter, outer portion of the roast is trying to warm the colder, inner portion, even out of the oven. When you check a roast’s temperature for doneness, allow for this residual heat, and count on the internal temperature increasing by 5°F to 10°F.
Roasting tips: Rare meat remains rich in vitamins. Well-done meat, although harder to chew, is easier to digest since the heat has destroyed all bacteria. However, large quantities of vitamins have been destroyed as well.
The tenderness of a roast depends on a number of variables: the animal’s feed and age, amount of marbling, the technique and skill of the cook. The longer roast cooks, the deeper the protein coagulation is and the chewier the meat becomes. In a well-done roast, most of the collagen has dripped into the pan, leaving the dry fibers remaining.
Bones conduct heat to the center of the meat, so the boned meats do not roast as quickly as bone-in meats. Bones also add a big flavor bonus to the meat. What you gain in carving convenience, you lose in flavor.
Deglazing: Dissolving pan juices with a liquid is called deglazing. Deglaze beef with stock, water or wine. Leave 1 to 2 tablespoons of fat for flavor. Deglaze veal, lamb, turkey and chicken with stock, water or wine, then defat. For pork, use water or white wine, defat as well. If using wine to deglaze, be sure to boil at least a few minutes to remove to “raw” alcohol taste.
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