About Roasting


In the oldest and strictest sense, to cook on a spit in front of a fire in the open air. Now, most of us roast in the oven, but we try to get as close to the effect of the open-air-spit-roasting as possible. The purpose of roasting is to create a golden brown crust on whatever it is we are roasting and at the same time, making sure the meat, fish or vegetables are properly cooked in the center. When roasting, no liquid such as stock, wine or water comes in contact with the food - only hot air or if the roast is being basted, hot fat. Roasting is both simple and complex. Simple because there's very little to do except slide the food into the oven. Complex because if the temperature isn't right, the food may never brown or cook properly.

Roasting is the best method for cooking relatively large (at least larger than a single serving) tender cuts of meat and young tender birds. Such tender and relatively lean cuts don't benefit from long, slow cooking in liquid (braising), which would cause them to dry out. Because lean and tender meats and poultry dry out if even slightly overcooked, judging doneness is an essential part of good roasting.

Some cooks roast on a roasting rack, but it is not recommended. With the roast suspended over the roasting pan, the juices drip down from the roast, hit the hot roasting pan and burn. Setting the roast over a layer of coarsely chopped bones (usually from the roast), meat trimmings (also from the roast) and aromatic vegetables (usually onions, carrots and a little celery) spread over the bottom of the roasting pan will keep the roast from sticking to the bottom of the pan and help distribute the heat evenly so the juices don't burn.

Guidelines for roasting -

  • Determine oven temperature - Because home ovens can be up to 100 degrees off, there's no point relying blindly on oven temperature until you learn how accurate your own oven is. The easiest way to approach roasting meats and poultry is to start at a fairly high temperature, so you're reasonably guaranteed that the roast will brown before it overcooks. If once it is browned, you will find that it's not cooked through, lower the oven temperature and keep roasting until done. Usually, the larger the roast, the lower the roasting temperature, because a larger roast takes a relatively long time to cook and will have plenty of time to brown. Small roast like rack of lamb, needs a high temperature (425oF). For a roast above 5 pounds, 400oF is a good temperature to start. A heavier roast, or a turkey, which may be in the oven for 3 or more hours, will have plenty of time to brown even at the relatively low temperature of 350oF. If the roast is approaching doneness but still hasn't browned properly, turn the oven temperature up to brown the meat quickly. If conversely, the meat is well browned but raw inside, turn the oven down to let the meat finish cooking without continuing to brown. For some very small roasts for instance, quail, squab, or Cornish hens, the oven may not be hot enough to brown the bird without overcooking it. Brown these small birds before roasting in a frying pan with a little oil.

  • Determining Doneness - The easiest and most reliable way of determining the doneness of a roast is to stick an instant read thermometer, or skewer into the center of the roast or between the breast and thigh of a bird. White-fleshed birds, such as chickens, turkeys and Cornish hens, should read 145oF in the coolest part, the area between the breast and the thigh right near the joint. Birds with red flesh, such as duck, should be cooked to about 125oF. The same methods work for pork and veal, which should always be cooked to 140oF. Red meat such as beef, lamb, venison and rabbit are roasted to taste, with rare meat registering about 120oF, medium-rare between 125oF to 130oF, medium between 130oF and 135oF, and medium-well between 135oF to 140oF. Remember that the internal temperature will rise even while the roast rests.

  • Resting - Roasted meats should not be served straight out of the oven, but should be allowed to rest in a warm place for 20 to 30 minutes, loosely covered with aluminum foil. The foil keeps the meat warm and loose wrapping ensures that the outside of the meat doesn't steam and lose its crispness. Resting allows the muscle (meat is muscle) to relax so the juices become redistributed in the meat and aren't squeezed out onto the platter during carving. Resting also allows the heat in the outer part of the roast to penetrate to the middle so the roast ends up more evenly cooked. The internal temperature of a roast increases by about 5 degrees during the resting. For this reason, a rare roast may be cooked to 120oF or even less because the temperature increases and the roast continues to cook as it sits.

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