Spit-roasting was one of the earliest
cooking methods. This technique involves placing the food on a rod that is
turned either manually or with a motor. The radiant heat, given off by a
fire or gas jets, cooks the item in much the same manner as grilling or
boiling. Constant turning assures that the food cooks evenly and develops
a good crust on all sides. The tradition of serving roasted and grilled
foods on toasted bread began when pieces of bread were placed below the
cooking food to trap escaping juices. In contemporary kitchens, drip pans
are placed under the spit.
Roasting, as it is most commonly practiced
today, however, is more similar to baking than it is to the original form
of roasting. Roasted foods are cooked through contact with dry, heated air
held in a closed environment - an oven. As the outer layers become heated,
the food's natural juices turn to steam and penetrate the food more
deeply. The rendered juices, or pan-drippings, are the foundation for
sauces prepared while the roast rests.
The flavor and aroma of a roasted food
should contribute to an overall sensation of fullness, richness and depth.
This is due in part to the nature of the food and in part to the browning
process. They should normally have a rich color, ranging from delicate
gold colors to the nearly black color of a perfectly roasted rib or beef.
The proper development of color has a direct bearing on the flavor. Items
that are too pale lack not only eye appeal but also the depth of flavor
associated with properly roasted foods.
Baking is the term associated with most
portion-size foods that are cooked according to the techniques outlined
here, including pork chops, potatoes and squash. Still, this is not an
ironclad rule. Garlic is roasted, hams are baked, and potatoes cooked in
their skins are baked while those peeled and added to the roast's
drippings or coated with oil are "oven-roasted".
Smoke-roasting is an adaptation of roasting
that allows foods to take on a rich, smoky flavor. The food cooks in a
smoke bath, in a tightly closed roasting pan or smoking setup. This can be
done over an open flame or in the oven. Unlike smoked foods made in
traditional charcuterie operations, the food does not have to be brined
and cured before smoking. There are limitations and drawbacks, of course.
Smoke-roasting does not preserve foods. As food left too long in the smoke
bath can develop an acrid, unappetizing aroma and taste.