VOLUME 23 ... THE FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLES OF ROASTING

 

One would assume that of the twenty-two previous newsletters that we have issued over the last three years, one of them would explain the fundamentals of the most important cooking technique for meat - roasting.  Well, everyone knows what happens when you ass-u-me.  To say this newsletter is long overdue is an understatement.  For this article, we chained together our Head Butcher and our Head Chef, each a mastermind in their own right, for a period of time that seemed like an eternity.  Below is the brilliant result - a lot of detail without giving any detail at all.

 

After reading the newsletter and becoming familiar with the fundamentals, don't forget to print out The Ultimate Roasting Chart and place it on your cookbook shelf, or print The Ultimate Roasting Chart - Fridge Magnet Edition, to stick on your fridge next to our Wine Pairing Chart.  

 

* NECESSARY DISCLAIMER: An astute reader will quickly realize that the internal temperatures for cooking meat that are listed in this newsletter differ, often by 20 degrees or more, from temperatures listed in almost all published cookbooks, listed by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), and listed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).  The temperatures we suggest are merely our opinion derived from having cooked thousands of roasts ultimately learning how to achieve succulent, and in our opinion, safe results.  However, in no way do we pretend to know more than the experts at the CFIA or USDA and we encourage everyone to experiment with overcooking, uhh, cooking roasts to the internal temperatures listed by the above mentioned knowledgeable government organizations.   

 

 

THE FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLES OF ROASTING

by Jonathan Abrahams, Executive Chef

There are three fundamentals to roasting:

  • Searing;

  • Cooking; &

  • Resting

Once these fundamental principals are learned, you will be able to conquer any challenge a roast may present. From large bone-in joints, to small, tender, cuts for two, these principals will take you on a journey of culinary self discovery. What seemed impossible to attain, becomes almost second nature. To help on your journey here’s a hint; fundamentals one and three, in theory, never change. Only step two will vary and with a little planning and a strong vision, roasting is easily mastered. Please consider the three fundamental principals as general rules which will serve you well. The happenings of your kitchen are like much of what you do in life. So find comfort in knowing that there are exceptions to every rule.

SEARING

Why sear? Do we sear at the beginning or the end of the process? These are the most common questions posed to me on a daily basis. Searing was once widely thought of as the way to keep moisture from escaping during the cooking process. This has been proven false. Read the experiments conducted by Herve This on moisture loss during cooking and it becomes clear that regardless of searing, moisture loss is inevitable and is directly linked to the temperature and time a roast spends in the oven. So, why sear? Because it tastes good. When we sear we are browning the outside of the meat at a high temperature, causing a change in natural sugars through a process referred to as The Maillard Reaction. Why we find this browning to be so agreeable to our palates is still up for debate. Many scientists believe it is a part of our genetic history passed on to us by our ancient ancestors who discovered it was easier to digest cooked, rather than raw meats. Suffice to say, searing is a matter of flavour and not one of moisture.

Usually, when we sear, our meat is cold from the fridge and will therefore lose less moisture than a roast at room temperature. There are some exceptions to this rule. For example the roast duck recipe that follows suggests the searing to be done at the end. This is due to the very slow roasting process, the thick layer of fat that is in between the skin and meat of the duck and the varied ratios of crispy to juicy that people prefer. Whether we are searing on the stove top in a cast iron pan before roasting, or starting in a very hot oven before reducing our heat and continuing to cook, our end goal should be the same: to add that sublime flavour that we all love.

COOKING

I wish there was a set of definitive rules to guide you through this leg of the roasting journey. It would make my job a lot easier. I’m often asked, “How long should I cook this three pound roast for?” In order to answer this question, I must first bombard the customer with a few questions of my own. Is it beef, pork or lamb? What cut of meat is it? Boneless or bone in? Gas or electric? Conventional or convection? Most importantly, how do you like your meat prepared, rare or medium?

After these questions are answered, I can usually come pretty close when giving a cooking time on a roast. This comes from many years of experience and experimentation. I will always suggest having a probe thermometer on hand as an invaluable tool. The best part about having a thermometer is that you will always need it.  As you become more skilled, it will still be an invaluable tool.

Sometimes you can skip the cooking process altogether and go straight from searing to resting. This is where knowledge of different cuts comes into play. A three pound tenderloin roast, in my opinion, is best served rare. Searing in the oven on a very high heat for half an hour and then letting it rest for twenty minutes is usually sufficient for such a thin, tender, lean roast. Whereas a three pound inside round roast, which has a considerably larger girth than the above mentioned tenderloin, would require about 45 minutes cooking time at 325 F after searing on the stove top. The same rest time would follow.

I tend to do all my cooking of roasts at 325 F. I’ve found over the years that a little less heat and a little more time really makes for a juicier finished product. The reasoning is simple; cooking meat dries from the outside inward. As the heat increases in the centre of the roast, the collagen (fibrous tissue that sheathes muscle fiber cells) contracts and expels moisture towards the outer parts of the roast while locking in the moisture at the very core of the roast. If the dry air of the oven is excessively hot the moisture nearer the edges will evaporate too quickly and the roast becomes tough and dry. In the recipe for the pork shoulder I make an exception and cook at 350 F. This is due to the cut of meat being used. The pork shoulder has a sufficient amount of fat to withstand the higher temperature and ensure that the stuffing reaches a proper temperature without overcooking the meat. It is also because pigs do not have necks, but that is another issue.

The chart that follows is a simple guide. Think of it as another tool to aid you in your quest for perfection. The chart focuses only on the tasks you must consider with your oven. Understanding oven temperatures and internal temperatures will buffer your mistakes while you are learning. Searing in a pan will become second nature and the patience you need to rest your meat will only come with practice. The chart below will help you set your oven temperature and determine when to remove the roast from your oven.

RESTING

I cannot stress enough how important this stage of the process is. In fact I would say this is the most important part of the whole process. Most professional cooks practice this whenever they roast, even if they don’t know the reasons why. Whether it’s a little pork tenderloin or an entire hip of beef, resting is essential to the tenderness and juiciness of the finished product.

The reason is this: As described in the cooking section, the center of the roast has retained moisture due to the shrinking of the collagen. Based on experiments by Herve, we now know that the cooked centre loses more juice while resting than do the outer parts: the outer parts having been subjected to the dry oven air, have very little left to lose. The resting allows the meat to redistribute the juices from the centre outwards so that the drier outer parts regain their tenderness. It should also be considered that most roasts will lose at least a sixth of their weight in moisture during the roasting process. The longer a roast is cooked will also result in the collagen breaking down and more moisture to be lost.

No amount of resting can bring back moisture that’s already evaporated. This won’t trouble those who desire a well done roast. For those of us who believe there is nothing finer than a rare or medium-rare roast, this is something to pay close attention to. If you carve a roast 10 minutes after removing it from the oven, you will have a pool of moisture on your carving block. If you had waited an additional 10 minutes, all of that moisture would have remained in the meat.

Fundamental Principles of Roasting - Icon Fundamental Principles of Roasting - Fridge Magnet Edition - ICON


ROASTING FORTUNE'S WHEEL: SOME PERSPECTIVE ON COOKING

by Ryan Donovan, Head Butcher

 

My memory of learning to ride a bike is like most peoples: a long stretch of sidewalk, a possessed front tire that will not stay straight, a cold fear in my bones and my older brother pacing alongside for safety. But at the end of a long day and a big box of Band-Aids, I had tamed the wild beast and gained entry into the elitist fraternity known to me at the time: that of the select few boys on my street that could ride a bike. It was with those boys that I discovered other streets with their own boys, and sometimes girls, that also rode bikes. Many of us rode bicycles and it seemed to be a pedestrian skill. It is one of each person’s first cognizant memories. Sure, we can walk and talk by that time, but who remembers those moments. The first bike ride is a moment of individuation: it is a personal plateau on the mountainside of adulthood that, once reached, will forever be the new base camp.

Bicycle

Learning to roast is to an adult what learning to ride a bike is to a child. To learn properly you will have to endure physical pain and enlist the help of a mentor. It will require the right tools, most likely handmedowns. It will take at least a weekend of constant reapplication. When you begin, you will be afraid of getting hurt; deep burns from red hot cast iron pans, sizzling fat splashing onto your exposed skin. It will not work perfectly the first time and you will ask your mentor if you can forfeit. Indeed, the first time will go so poorly it will become a life memory. Progress in learning may seem unnoticeable until that final attempt when your roast finally works out perfectly. And like riding a bike, no one will need to tell you that it is working. You will know right away. You will know while it is happening. Your whole being will beam with a pride that is entirely new. From this point forward, you will be part of an important group of people that relish their mealtimes, challenge their dinner guests, pare down their arsenal of unnecessary culinary gadgetry regifted to them as stocking stuffers. Once you can roast, you will be able to slow roast, pan roast, oven roast, bake and barbecue with a previously unknown prowess. Like a child with a bike, your universe becomes larger.

I have been riding a bike since I was young, and still if I borrow a friends bike it feels wobbly for the first few seconds: as though the application is the same in principle but there is a small variance to be overcome with each subtle change. This is true of roasting as well. A pork loin roast is similar in application to a leg of lamb but both are different from a wild turkey or a duck. What is important about roasting is that you remember the basic principles and use your fundamental knowledge to understand what is new. Your roasting technique will demand adaptation. I almost died the first time I rode a bicycle with hand breaks. I understood how they worked, but when I was rolling into the intersection I panicked, flailing my legs in backwards rotation to no avail. Each time you reapply your knowledge base, through failure, your knowledge base assimilates new information and you become smarter about what you are doing. This is why cooking often is more fun than cooking rarely.

No matter how good you are; things will go wrong. I still overcook meat. I still carve my meat too early, mostly because I cannot wait to eat. I overcooked my holiday turkey by about an hour and a half. But in each instance I know what I did wrong, and moreover, I could sense something was amiss even while I was cooking. Even the best cyclist is prone to getting door-prized, especially in Toronto. In both cooking and cycling, circumstances may arise that are not within your control. But if you have mastered the skill set, you can understand the circumstances and mitigate the damage. Most importantly, no experience will be so horrific that you are not anxious to try again. The first occasion after a blunder or a spill is to be approached with chivalry and pride: it is an opportunity to reaffirm what you know and what you love. True cyclists relish their opportunities to ride around and the best cooks relish their opportunities to roast.

You will know you are roasting properly when for the first time you roast something new to you, using only your instincts to guide you, and it works out perfectly. This is like the first time you take your bike out on your own, without your brother, and go down neighbourhood roads that you have not gone down before and still make it home in one piece. Food, like your bike, should be used to explore. Be adventurous, be daring and visit new places. This may work out poorly for some time. But when you learn to make it home again, having done it all on your own, you will never get lost again.

I thought long and hard about how to lay out a basic set of roasting instructions. I read my favourite chefs and authors for guidance. They all say the same thing, except each is different enough to feel the privilege of being right. For the most part, they did not say anything I would not say here except to say that I would say less. Roasting, like riding a bike, is so simple it defies written explanation. Suffice to say: you should buy a cast iron pan and get to know your oven. Once you know how to do it, you can take the real test: give up some of your time to show someone else how to do it. That will put you and them in much better standing than any written set of instructions.

Brillat-Savarin once wrote that we can learn how to cook but we must be born knowing how to roast. I always liked this quote when I was young because it conferred upon me some sense of elitism: if I could roast I was special. Now I believe otherwise. Roasting is an application like many others: research, practice, deconstruct, and repeat. Roasting is a skill to be acquired through diligent reapplication. It requires a modicum of scientific understanding, a great respect for ones equipment and a dash of brazen attitude. These are all things that can be acquired. Brillat-Savarin also wrote that a meal that ends without cheese is like a beautiful woman with only one eye. He is an observant and cute writer and an important historian of food: but he is not a very encouraging teacher. We most certainly can learn how to roast. And once you learn, you never forget.


FOUR DIFFERENT ROASTS

by The Healthy Butcher

Beef Sirloin Tip Roast

Ingredients:
1 three lbs sirloin tip roast
bunch thyme
bunch rosemary
bunch parsley
bunch oregano
C canola oil

Method:
Preheat your oven to 325 degrees. Pick your herbs and chop them finely. In a mixing bowl, combine enough canola oil and herbs to make a paste. Generously season your roast with salt and pepper then coat the roast with the herb paste. On the stove top, heat a pan over medium heat.  Add a little oil and then sear the meat on all sides. This is an excellent and challenging exercise in searing - your goal is to achieve a golden crust, without burning the herbs.  Transfer the pan to the oven and cook for approximately 30 minutes. Remove the roast from the oven when the internal temperature reads 125 F. Allow to rest for 20 minutes.

Technically speaking, this is called a pan roast. The entire cooking process happens in one pan that starts on the stove top and finishes in the oven before resting on the counter. It is imperative to use a heavy bottom pan that does not have a plastic handle, which would melt in the heat of an oven. Having a cast iron pan is essential to pan roasting and one of the most important tools that you will ever buy for your kitchen.

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Pork Shoulder Roast

Ingredients
1 five lbs. boneless pork butt roast, butterflied
3 C cubed day old bread
1 apple, diced
carrot, diced
stalk celery, diced
1 small onion, diced
lbs bacon, cut into lardoons
C walnuts
bunch sage
C white wine
1 C chicken stock

Method:
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Toast your bread in the oven for 15 minutes until golden brown. On your stove top, render the bacon fat over a low heat. After a few minutes, add the carrots, celery and onions. Sautee the vegetables for 5 minutes, until they are tender enough that you would enjoy eating one. Add the apples, walnuts & sage and continue cooking for another 5 minutes. Add the white wine to the pan and cook until the liquid is reduced by half. Add the chicken stock and let the liquid warm through. Season the stuffing with salt and pepper until it tastes good to you. Transfer the mixture into a bowl and allow for it to cool.

Spread the butterflied pork shoulder out onto a sheet tray. Fill the roast with the cooled stuffing and close it back up with butchers twine. On a stove top, heat a heavy bottom pan to a medium high heat. Season the roast with salt and pepper. Add some oil to the hot pan and then sear the roast on all sides. Transfer the roast to a clean sheet pan or roasting tray and roast it in the oven for approximately 1 hour. Remove the roast from the oven once the internal temperature is 150 F. Allow the roast to rest for 20 minutes, during which time the internal temperature will rise to 155 F.

The best insurance policy you can have when you are learning to roast is knowing the internal temperature of what you are cooking and also what the desired temperature is for each thing you are roasting. Every recipe will tell you (or should tell you) the desired internal temperature for the moment you should be removing the meat from the oven.

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Roast Chicken

Ingredients:
1 four lbs. Chicken
C parsley, chopped
C basil, chopped
C tarragon, chopped
C chervil, chopped
1 Tsp. lemon zest
1 Tsp. garlic, minced

Method:
Preheat your oven to 450 F. Mix the herbs, lemon and garlic together in a bowl. Loosen the skin of the chicken from the flesh by slipping a finger underneath the skin. Start at the top of the breast and then the other. Then do the same thing from the bottom end of the breasts. Move to the thigh and repeat. Once you have loosened the skin all around the bird, travel around again, this time delicately sliding the herb mixture between the flesh and the skin.

Season the bird with salt and pepper. Place the chicken on a pan and slide it into the oven. Roast for approximately 20 minutes until colour begins to appear. Turn the temperature down to 350 F and finish roasting for another 25 to 30 minutes. Remove the chicken from the oven at an internal temperature of 160 F and allow the bird to rest for 20 minutes, at which time the internal temperature should be 165 F.

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Roast Duck

Slow roasting a duck makes for a crispy skin and meat that is moist and juicy. One reason home cooks may have abandoned roast duck is that they perceive a high degree of difficulty in getting it right. Granted, roasting duck requires a few more steps and more trips into the oven. But with roasting, the degree of difficulty will never increase because the basic principles still apply. Roasting duck requires more focus and attention on your part, but the results are outstanding.

Method:
Preheat oven to 250F, and place a rack in the centre of the oven. Remove the neck and giblets from the duck. Trim the duck with a sharp knife, cutting away the large deposits of excess fat and skin that hangs at both ends of the duck. Don’t discard the fat! The duck fat can and should be rendered and used to fry or roast vegetables. Rinse and pat dry.

Salt the cavity and the skin of the duck. Pierce the skin of the duck all over in 20 to 30 places with a sharp metal skewer (or if you must, a fork). Hold the skewer almost parallel to the duck while piercing it to avoid puncturing the duck meat. You only want to pierce the skin. Place the duck breast-side down on a rack in a roasting pan and place in oven. After 1 hour, prick the duck thoroughly on one side, turn it over, and prick thoroughly on the other side. Continue to roast with the newly turned side up. Repeat this process every hour.

After 4 hours of roasting, prick and turn once again. This time increase the oven temperature to 350F. Continue roasting, pricking and turning once for an additional 30 to 90 minutes. The amount of additional roasting time at 350F is up to you... Do you want a juicier finished product or a crispier finished product? If you roast the duck at 350F for 15 minutes on one side, prick and turn, then roast for 15 minutes on the other side, the duck will be very juicy and slightly crisp. If you roast the duck for 30 minutes on one side, prick and turn, and 30 minutes on the other side, the duck will be juicy and crisp. If you roast the duck for 45 minutes on one side, prick and turn, and 45 minutes on the other side, it will be pretty juicy and very crisp. The 30min/30min method is probably a great compromise. (Chef’s Secret: The duck is done when the drumsticks are soft when pressed.)

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