Since it’s just after Christmas, I thought I’d kick off this blog with a typical holiday meal – the roast. Once upon a time, roasts used to be a common Sunday meal, but now most of us don’t even know how to cook them. That’s too bad, because if there’s any one good way to cook a lot of meat at once, this is it. Roasts were common fare when someone was home all day to cook them, not because they are hard, but because they are easy! Not much could be simpler – bring the meat home, put it in a pot, cook it for a few hours, let it rest for a while, and voila – enough meat for the whole family for several days. And if there’s just one of you (like me), enough meat to put in the freezer and save for days when I don’t feel like cooking.
So I’m here to encourage you to give it a try. All you need is an oven, a large pyrex or aluminum pan (NOT non-stick), some string, a meat thermometer, and a large carving knife and fork. Your roast may be beef, pork, veal, or lamb, but the basics are the same. Go to the store and buy a roast that is already deboned and tied with string. These days sometimes the ties have plastic in them and have to be removed, so that’s why you have the string. If it was frozen, make sure it is thawed out all the way through, and let the roast come to room temperature before starting. Spray the pan with cooking oil or rub with butter. Place your roast in the pan fattiest side up, and cut or untie the strings and lay them out to the side without removing them. If you’re using your own string, cut some lengths that will easily fit around the roast and tie on top, then slide them under the roast at various places along its length and lay the ends out to the sides.
Now you can decide if you want to stuff the roast or not. Many roasts are already precut into two halves for stuffing. However, you can do it without any stuffing simply by seasoning the outside. Seasoning can be as simple as salt and pepper, or you can use any spices you particularly like. I love a nice thick crust of Dijon mustard mixed with rosemary and crushed garlic myself. For a pork roast, try something non-traditional like apple cider and garlic, or an Asian sauce like plum sauce or hoisin sauce brushed onto the roast before cooking. Lamb roasts may benefit from an aromatic middle eastern spice mix, like garam masala or ras el hanout. I’ve even had one that mixed Dijon, cranberry sauce, and tarragon that was very good! However, as long as there’s some fat on the meat, there’s no need to get fancy if you don’t want to. If the meat is very lean, you may want to brush some olive oil and sea salt on it occasionally while it cooks to keep the top moist. Another way to keep the top from drying out and add flavor is to drape bacon slices over the top.
If you want to go further, stuffing a roast can be fun. Take the top half off, mix or cook up your stuffing, layer it on the bottom half, then replace the top half and tie with string. This holds the roast together while it’s cooking. Stuffing should be something relatively low-carb, but there won’t be that much of it compared to the meat (true for the seasoning as well) so you can use some things you might not normally use, like apples, pears, or prunes. Other good stuffing materials are onions, garlic, and wild mushrooms. Cook these up in a pan with some spices of your choice ahead of time, until just barely tender, then layer it on. You can also stuff a pork roast with spinach, cheese, or prosciutto and lamb might be good with pine nuts and goat cheese – the possibilities are endless.
Roasts generally take a couple of hours at least, depending on how large they are. Normally, you cook at a fairly low temperature like 325 for a long time, to get the most tender meat. How long you cook it depends on the type of meat, the size of the roast, and how done you want it to be. Roasting times for most meats can be found here. However, keep in mind that you should begin checking a roast about an hour before its designated cooking time, and keep an eye on it thereafter. The best indication of when a roast is done is when the internal temperature in the thickest part of the meat is what you want, using a meat thermometer. Also, keep in mind that it will keep cooking for a little while after you take it out of the oven – so you don’t want to overcook it. When the roast is done, take it out of the pan and place it on a cutting board. Let the roast rest there at room temperature for 20-30 minutes before cutting. This lets the juices blend with the meat and makes the roast juicier and less messy when you carve it.
To add to the value of doing it this way, you can also roast vegetables at the same time. If you want to do this, leave lots of room around the edges of the roast in the pan for veggies. Start the roast cooking, and then cut the veggies into large chunks, 1 inch or so. Normally people roast a lot of veggies we really can’t eat, such as potatoes, yams, carrots, parsnips, etc. These are all root vegetables with too many carbs for this diet. However, there are many other veggies you can throw in there that roast well, such as onions, garlic, shallots, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, leeks, asparagus, peppers, eggplant, and summer squash (especially the miniature ones). Veggies for roasting should be mixed together, then lightly coated with olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. The meat and veggies will flavor each other, which is nice.
Keep in mind that some of these vegetables are more dense than others and will take longer to cook, like the Brussels sprouts, shallots, and cauliflower. Those may take as much as an hour, and should be put in the pan in the last hour of roasting. The others may need only half an hour of roasting before they are done. You’re going to be checking the roast frequently toward the end anyway, so it’s not too much trouble to throw them in. Don’t worry if the roast is done at a different time – you can always take the veggies out first, or leave them in to cook a little longer while the roast rests. People often increase the cooking temperature in the last half hour, to make sure the veggies get done, for example, to 375.
And that’s all there is to it! Once you’ve done it a couple of times and see just how easy this is, you’ll wonder why you ever cooked meat in small, individual portions. Our grandmothers knew what they were doing :)