Would you like to learn a cooking technique that is easy and elegant at the same time? Roasting is like that. You can make a spectacular company meal or a hearty family dinner using this simple technique and you don't have to go to culinary school to learn how.
When you roast something, you are cooking it with dry heat, and the heat surrounds the food. Roasting is different from steaming or braising because you don’t want to add moisture to the food. For instance, a pot roast is actually a braised dish, because you add moisture and cover it to moisten and tenderize the food. Roast beef, on the other hand, is cooked without adding moisture.
In roasting, the food is cooked from the outside in, and the heat surrounds the food. Originally, roasting meant putting a chunk of meat on a spit and setting it over an open fire, and turning it frequently so that the fire seared and cooked the entire cut of meat. Now, most of us do our roasting in a conventional or convection oven.
Roasting is a good cooking method for large, tender cuts of beef, pork or lamb. It’s also a great way to cook poultry and fish. You can roast vegetables, too, especially if you roast them alongside the meat. The best vegetables for roasting are starchy root vegetables. You can roast firm fruits, like apples, pears and tomatoes, too.
Sometimes, especially with fruits, people call it baking instead of roasting. There really is no difference in method of cooking between baking and roasting. (At least not when you are using an oven. I have a hard time imagining roasting a cake on a spit over an open fire…) The different terms relate mostly to what you are cooking, not how.
First of all, you need an oven and you need to be able to regulate the oven’s temperature. That sounds pretty standard, but not all ovens deliver heat accurately. You should check your oven to make sure you are cooking at the right temperature.
You need a roasting pan. The roasting pan should be shallow—1 ½-2 inches deep—and plenty large enough for your food. The best roasting pans have heavy, flat bottoms so that you can put them on a burner to deglaze the drippings after you take the roast out.
You may want to use a roasting rack inside the pan to hold the meat up out of the drippings.
You need a meat thermometer. Most cookbooks contain some kind of chart telling you how long to roast things. You have to find a different chart for each kind of meat, calculate how big the cut of meat is, and the chart tells you how long to roast it and at what temperature.
This is an inaccurate—and potentially dangerous—way to determine how long to roast something. Use a meat thermometer. That way you will know that the meat is done through to the center and that it is safe to eat.
Lightly coat the meat or whatever you are roasting with oil, salt and pepper or other seasonings, and place it in a roasting pan. Insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the meat. You can use a rack to keep the meat up out of the drippings if you want to, but don’t cover it. Place the pan in the center of the oven so that it gets heat evenly all around it.
There are four different schools of thought about what temperature to roast foods at: low heat, high heat and two combinations.
Low heat: Cook at 200 degrees F. You are less likely to overcook the food on low heat, but it takes longer to cook, and it does not develop a nice crust on the outside. Roasting on low heat gives results similar to braising or steaming the food.
High heat: Cook at 500 degrees F. On high heat, there is danger of overcooking the food. Roasted foods continue to cook after you remove them from the oven, and if you cook it too long, it will be dry. With high heat, however, the meat does develop a crust.
Low, then high: Start at 200 degrees. When the food is almost done, remove it and turn the heat up to 500 degrees. Put the food back in the oven and let it finish cooking. This gives you a nice crust, and a moist roast.
High, then low: Start at 500 degrees and cook until a crust forms, then turn the heat down to 200 degrees and finish cooking it. This, too, produces a nice crust and a moist product.
After you remove the food from the oven, let it sit for a few minutes to finish cooking and to absorb and redistribute the juices. Remove the meat and/or vegetables from the pan, and use the drippings to make a pan sauce to go with them, and you’ve got a wonderful meal for family or company. Hopefully, you made enough for leftovers, too.
Roasting is a simple way to prepare meat and vegetables. If you use a meat thermometer, it’s nearly impossible not to turn out a perfect dinner. (If you do overcook it a little, just serve it with that pan sauce over it, and nobody will ever know.) Try it sometime soon; you’ll be impressed with what a good cook you are!
About the Author:
The Reluctant Gourmet, created a web site back in 1997 as a hobby to assist other novice cooks who may find the art of cooking a little daunting. As an ex-Wall Street broker and Stay-at-Home Dad, I try to explore cooking from a different perspective. Visit http://www.reluctantgourmet.com/ for more tips, techniques and recipes.