Saturday, April 9, 2011

The perfect host cooks a roast

I strongly believe that when you invite people to your home for a meal, you really should choose a menu that allows you to be relaxed and be a present and attentive host to your guests. I always try, as much as possible, to cook and almost totally prepare the food well before the guests arrive.  That way I am actually able to enjoy their company and make it much more fun for them too. Your guests just won't feel comfortable if the host is running in and out of the kitchen, sweating and looking stressed. That is no fun for anyone!

 My tried and true dinner party standard, is a roast.  A good piece of meat, a couple of simple side dishes, and voila! A show stopping dinner that everyone loves.

Roasting can be as simple as putting the meat on a tray and putting in the oven until cooked. But it is also possible to make things a little more interesting than that too, by adding marinades, stuffings, crusts and condiments etc.

What I decide to add to the meat in terms of flavourings tends to be dictated by the cut that I'm dealing with. For instance if I am cooking a roasted eye fillet I will probably choose to cover it something highly flavoured like sauteed onions herbs and porcini mushrooms, then wrap it up in some prosciutto before cooking it. While there's no denying that the eye fillet is a tender cut, it's fat content is much lower than other parts of the beast. And fat equals flavour, so we sacrifice that flavour for a tender cut that might not be as tasty as some.  Many beef and steak aficionados will tell you that the rump is the tastiest portion,but I find it tends to me a little tough for my tastes. Personally, I can't go past the rib eye for both flavour and tenderness.

Firstly, it looks amazing. An absolute showpiece to carve at the table and impress everyone. Secondly, its tastes amazing and really doesn't need to be tricked up very much at all.

A few years ago I went to a cooking day at the farm of former TV host, Geoff Jansz. He demonstrated this slightly different technique for roasting that I have followed ever since and found it possesses the twin benefits of producing a perfect and tender result every time and allows me to have the roast totally finished before my dinner guests even ring the doorbell.

It's a big dilemma in the cooking world. 'To sear or not to sear'. Once upon a time, we were told to sear the meat to seal in the juices. This theory was scientifically disproved in a study by measuring the moisture content of cooked meat that had been both seared and not seared, with the seared meat turning out to be a little bit dryer than the unseared. The difference that searing actually made was improving the flavour by caramelising the surface making it generally more appetising.

By way of a compromise between these two ideas, I use is this technique:

Preheat the oven to a temperature of 200degrees c. Place the meat unseared, on a rack in a a roasting tray so that the meat does not touch the bottom of the tray. Put a couple of centimetres of water in the bottom of the tray, ensuring that the water is not touching the meat, and place in the oven.  Reduce oven temp to 140 degrees c after 15 minutes.

I cook the meat until the core temperature of the roast is about 60 degrees c which would be rare/medium rare. A meat thermometer is a very handy tool to have in your kitchen and only costs about $10 from a cookware shop. If you feel confident with determining the firmness of the meat by feeling it with your fingers then cook until rare. The time will obviously vary depending on the weight of your roast and the type of oven yo have, but I usually allow about 30 min per 500gm.  Give yourself plenty of time to get this done before the guests arrive and make sure you have at least an hour for the most important part of the preparation; Resting the roast.

I remove it from the oven and wrap the whole roast, baking dish and all, in a couple of layers of aluminium foil, totally sealed, and rest for at least an hour. Up to 2 hours is even better. Then, just before serving, I unwrap the roast, drizzle with olive oil and seasoning, and sear the outside on either my stove top grill plate, a BBQ, or even just a roasting pan on the stove top. The meat stays warm throughout the resting process because it is kept in the hot roasting tray and is insulated by the foil. The final searing gives the surface of the meat that delicious caramelisation that is so appetizing.

What was a rare roast beef is now a medium roast because during the resting time, the juices have been able to spread throughout the meat evenly. When you slice it you won't find that very red/pink spot in the centre of the meat, graduating to grey at the edge, but a beautiful pale evenly pink colour all the way through. It will also be as tender as can be, yet deliciously caramelised on the outside.

Rather than serving with the British tradition of gravy, I serve it will a salsa verde, made from any herbs I happen to have in my garden. This turns a traditional wintery roast into a sophisticated summery meal with fresh summery herbal hit. But with the autumnal evenings upon us I thought I'd try a twist on my twist (as it were) and take the elements that I love in a salsa verde, and combine them into a herb butter as the condiment to the roast, and make it more suitable to the season.

Salsa Verde Butter 

1 sprig fresh rosemary
3 sprigs fresh marjoram
3 stalks parsley
1 small gherkin finely chopped
6 capers, chopped
5 green peppercorns, ground.
2 finely chopped shallot onions
2 cloves finely chopped garlic
2-3 teaspoons french mustard
100 gm butter soft at room temperature

Saute the onion and garlic in a small amount of olive oil on a low heat for 10 minutes, and set aside to cool.

Very finely chop herbs and combine in bowl with soft butter, onions, garlic, gherkin, capers, pepper and mustard. Mix together well and place onto a large sheet of plastic wrap. Roll the plastic around the butter for form a cylinder. Tie a knot at both ends and place in the freezer until butter is hard.

Remove from freezer 20 minutes before serving.
When your roast is served onto the plate, slice the butter into discs and serve one disk on top of the hot slices of meat so that it begins to melt.

I think that roasting is one of the easiest ways to feed a large group with something great, but i have lots of friends who confess to never having roasted in their lives.  If you have never tried it before, give this technique a whirl. It could work equally well with any cut of beef or indeed lamb. 

What is your favorite way of feeding a large crew? What tricks or shortcuts do you employ to make the whole job easier for yourself? Will you be entertaining this Easter? What on your menu?

My dear blog will be a little quiet for the next couple of weeks because my family and I are off on a vacation to Vanuatu. Apparently the food at the resort we are going to is wonderful so if the Internet connection is reliable, I may be able to blog about what we are eating.....

Otherwise, Wishing a happy and safe Easter break to my family, friends and readers, and may the Easter Bunny bring you very high quality chocolate!

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1 comment:

  1. We cooked a huge rump of lamb some 5kg for a HUGE italian feast and used this "Anne" method as I call it and I promise you it works everytime.........I honestly felt roasting was not my thing but now I am proud to say I can cook a mean roast!!!!! Thank you Anne...xxxx as always my cooking expert!!!