Monday, November 24, 2008

Chef Jeff's Tips for a Perfect Roast

By: Jeff Bacon CEC CCA CDM AAC Executive Chef – Triad Community Kitchen

During the seasons of Thanksgiving and Christmas many old memories are revived and new ones made based upon the smells and flavors of family recipes and dishes. The smell of baked bread and apple pie bring back euphoric recall of Grandma’s kitchen. Some of the recipes I have developed myself as a chef over the years and then tried out on friends and family have also formed cherished memories. Many of these cherished dishes are from the bakery and pantry. Indeed if I had to pick an area of expertise for either of my grandmothers or my mother it would be in the area of sweets, salads and side dishes. The center piece of any holiday meal should be the protein right? A golden roasted work of art, succulent in its caramelization and juices. How many true master pieces have we really experienced over the years if we stop to think about it? Aren’t most of our memories of the Thanksgiving turkey those of longing anticipation as we relish the roasting aromas of browning poultry, only at long last to be disappointed by dry meat that crumbles as it is sliced? The pork roast that, while tasty, lacks that certain something that would make it worthy of being the star of the meal? I have assembled some basic techniques that will make a huge difference in the star quality of your holiday protein. These are not at all complex, just good solid science and classical methodology that may just allow you to cook some roasts worthy of cherished memory status.

Don’t over cook! This is the number one mistake, especially with poultry. We are so concerned with food safety (as well we should be) that we ere on the side of incineration. Perfect poultry should be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees. Never use the pop up thermometers that come in supermarket turkeys. They are normally set to “pop” at 175-180 which is a good 10-15 degree to the “bad” side of perfection. Remember that large roasts will “carry over” cook once removed from the oven and the internal temperature will continue to rise. A 20 pound turkey will continue to cook another 10 degrees once removed from the oven so I usually pull it at around 155 leaving the thermometer in while it rests (removing it while the roast is piping hot just creates a hole for juices to squirt out of). Pork roasts are done at 145 degrees. Beef roasts are medium rare at 132-135 and medium at 140. These temperatures are for naturally tender cuts that are roasted to temp. For pot roasts and such where a fork tender product is the goal, cook temperatures will be higher.

Purchase a good meat thermometer. You can get a professional bimetallic stemmed pocket thermometer for $5 - $10 at Sam’s or Target. I have included a link of where to find several online . Remember to get one that reads from 0 -220 degrees Fahrenheit.

Rest first. All roasts must rest 15-30 minutes before carving. A 20 pound turkey should rest at least 45 minutes. Try covering with foil as they rest to retain moisture and heat. I know you’ve waited all day and you’re hungry so start early enough to allow for this step! Carving meat while piping hot allows all of the natural juices to run out onto the carving board instead of staying in the meat. This simple rule makes a huge difference.

Keep the door closed. For a crisp crusty exterior and a moist interior it is important to keep the heat in the oven, thus a closed door. Constant fiddling, basting and checking will adversely affect the final product. Basting in fact, while promotinga flavorful crust, does nothing for the moistness of the final product. More will be gained for the exterior by leaving the door closed, so basting is a no win proposition. An additional tool that is helpful for this and will also help with keeping proper internal cook temperatures is a remote probe oven thermometer. You will insert the thermometer probe into your roast at the beginning of the cooking process and it connects to the actual thermometer via a remote cable. This allows you to constantly monitor the internal temperature of your roast without ever opening the door. Many of these are available for between $15 and $40, like the Taylor remote thermometer

Trying any or all of these techniques should make a noticeable difference in your roasts. The principles of utilizing proper internal cooking temperatures, resting, and leaving the door closed are universal and work with any type of roast. Brining is a no go for beef and lamb, however brining is an excellent technique for any poultry type, pork, veal and many types of game work well too. I have included a couple of brine recipes below as well as a step by step recipe to brining then roasting.

Basic Brine for Poultry, Game or Pork
(Will accommodate up to a 12 pound roast for larger size roasts modify to 1 ½ gallon or 2 gallon)

1 gallon cold water
1 cup salt
½ cup sugar

Herb Infused Brine
(Will accommodate up to a 12 pound roast for larger size roasts modify to 1 ½ gallon or 2 gallon)

1 gallon cold water
3 Tablespoons each fresh Sage ,Thyme, Marjoram, Oregano
1 cup salt
½ cup sugar
Place herbs in hot skillet or frying pan and toast until aromatic before adding to brine

Step by Step Brine and Roast Recipe

Choose desired brine and mix according to recipe in a container large enough to hold brine and roast without overflowing. Submerge thawed roast completely in brine.

(A stock pot will work for the smaller batches and will usually fit on the bottom shelf of your fridge. For larger roasts and turkeys requiring a 2 gallon or larger brine, a clean five gallon bucket is usually required. This may present a problem fitting in most home refrigerators. A solution is to situate the bucket in a large cooler surrounded by ice and water then place brine and roast in bucket. You must carefully monitor the water temperature of the brine during this process making sure that it stays at 40 degrees or colder to ensure food safety You may need to add extra ice through the process to maintain temp)

After 12-24 hours remove roast from brine and drain well. You may wish to blot exterior dry and rub with a light coating of oil to promote browning. Season as desired but utilize salt very lightly.

Roast in hot oven. Start cooking at 450 degrees for the first 20 minutes then reduce heat to 325 for the remainder of cook time. Roast until desired internal temperature is achieved. Do not open oven excessively during roasting. Allow roast to rest for 20-30 minutes depending upon size.

Additional notes for brining. If stuffing a bird or pork roast, do not use salt or salted bouillon or broth in the stuffing recipe. The salt from the brined bird will infuse into the stuffing. Actually the stuffing will draw some of the salt from the roast reducing its effectiveness. For best results you may wish to prepare stuffing in a separate pan. If using the pan drippings for gravy you will want to use low or no sodium broth to extend the drippings. If using water do not add additional salt.

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