ROASTING. Roasting is a dry-heat method of cooking whereby meat or poultry is cooked on a spit over a fire or in a pan in an oven. Roasting began in prehistoric time when the first human stuck a piece of meat on a stick and held it over a fire. Spit-roasting fowl and game was common in ancient societies. In the Middle Ages, hunting was a prime occupation of the noble classes, and the game was usually roasted on a spit. Suckling pigs were also candidates for the spit. Beef, however, was not; it was considered "vulgar" because cattle did not have to be hunted. Not until the seventeenth century did roast beef became widely accepted in Europe.
Roasting, perhaps because it requires prodigious amounts of fuel and large pieces of meat, has always been considered the most prestigious form of cooking. The world's largest and oldest gastronomic society, the Confrérie de la Chaîne des Rôtisseurs (The Brotherhood of the Chain of the Roasters), was founded in Paris in 1248 by masters in the art of roasting geese (called "rotisseurs"). The object of the Guild was to perpetuate the standards of quality befitting the royal table under Louis IX, King of France. The king loved his roast for the same reason people still love roasted meat: roasting develops and improves the flavor, color, and aroma of food. Properly roasted meat is tender, delicious, appetizing, and easier to digest than meat cooked by other methods.
The roasting method is one of the simplest ways to cook fine cuts of prime beef, lamb, pork, and veal, but, as any culinary student can tell you, simplicity in the field of culinary arts can be tricky. In cooking, as in all of the arts, simplicity is the sign of perfection. Roasting is often the method of choice because it yields a tender pink interior and crisp browned exterior through prolonged oven cooking. Before beginning the oven-cooking phase of the roasting process, the meat must be trimmed, tied, seasoned, and, if possible, seared.
A roast begins as a piece of meat either on the bone or with the bone removed. A roast can range in size from a small pork loin, boned and rolled, that can feed four, to a beef round on the bone that can serve up to one hundred people. Such large, or primal, cuts are usually cooked by the roasting or rotisserie method. As a verb, "to roast" means to oven-cook food in an uncovered pan, over indirect heat. A "rotisserie," the noun, cooks food by slowly rotating it over direct heat.
A rotisserie contains a spit fitted with a pair of prongs that slides along its length. Food (usually meat) is impaled on the spit and the prongs are screwed tightly into place to hold the food securely. Roasting and rotisserie cooking produce the best results with reasonably tender pieces of meat or poultry. Tougher pieces of meat usually require moist cooking methods such as braising or pot-roasting. When time allows, less tender but larger,
|Roasting times and temperatures (temperature in degrees Fahrenheit)|
|Food||Oven temperature||Roasting time||Doneness and temperature|
|Whole tenderloin (4 lbs.)||400||35–45 minutes||Rare 120–130; medium rare 130–140|
|Top loin (4½ lbs.)||425 for 15 minutes, then 350||1¼ –1½ hrs.||Rare 120–130; medium rare 130–140|
|Prime Rib(5-rib, 12-lb. roast)||325||5-rib (11–13 lbs.): 2¼–2¾ hrs. 3-rib (7–8½ lbs.): 1½–1¾ hrs.||Rare, 120–130; medium rare 130–140|
|Leg of lamb (8 lbs.)||350||1hr.–1½ hrs.||Rare 120–130; medium rare 130; medium 140|
|Pork loin boneless (4 lbs.)||350||2¼–2½ hrs.||Cook to 160|
|Chicken (4–7 lbs.)||400||1 hr.–1¾ hrs.||Cook to 175 in thigh|
|Turkey (10–25 lbs.)||325||10–12 minutes per lb. unstuffed; 12–15 minutes per lb. stuffed||Cook to 175– 180 in thigh|
fatty meat joints can also be cooked rotisserie style to achieve the same results as tenderer cuts.
The standard temperature for cooking roasts is 350°F, but the ideal temperature (or set point) can vary plus or minus 50°F, depending on the cut. Technically, the lower the heat of the oven, the better the final roasted product will be. At a lower temperature, the meat takes longer to cook but produces more flavor, retains more moisture, and shrinks less. In the process, the crispy outer character associated with the classic roast is somewhat diminished. When roasting meat at a temperature below 200°F, most professionals rely on Altra-Sham® cooking technology, a method that combines a constant, precise low temperature with relatively high humidity. At these same low temperatures, other wood-fired heat source methods of roasting—barbecuing, pit-roasting, and smoking—also produce desirable results.
Barbecuing is a roasting method of cooking. Food is covered and slowly cooked in an open pit or on a spit, using hot coals or hardwood as a heat source. The food is basted, usually with a highly seasoned sauce (with a vinegar or sweet tomato base) to keep it moist. North Carolina and Kansas City are two of the most famous U.S. spots for barbecue.
When meat is cooked slowly in a large hole in the ground, it is pit-roasted (more precisely, "pit-braised"). A hardwood fire is built in a pit and the wood is allowed to burn until the pit is partly filled with burning coals. The coals are then completely sealed with gravel and sand. Sometimes the meat is wrapped in fresh leaves, especially whole carcasses like pig, lamb, and goat. The wrapped meat is placed on the sand and then completely covered with earth, which holds in the heat and steam. Cooking times can vary from five to ten hours, depending on the size and thickness of the meat and how fast the coals are burning.
Smoke-roasting, also called hot smoke-roasting, is generally considered a restaurant application. Specialized ovens that apply constant heat and variable smoke intensity from a built-in smoker compartment are used to produce hot-smoked food. This application of heat and wood smoke are ideal for roasting meat, poultry, and fish because the food cooks at a low temperature under static conditions and there are no drying drafts of air moving through the smoker. The result is a tender, moist roast with consistent smoke flavor.
Once the internal temperature for a roast has been determined, the cook prepares the roast itself. The typical procedure for the roasting method is to place the prepared meat (trimmed, seasoned, and seared) into the oven in a roasting pan on a roasting rack. A roasting rack is required for a successful roast because it holds the roast above the pan in which it is roasting. This prevents the meat from cooking in its drippings and allows adequate air circulation for even cooking and browning.
Meat is roasted until a meat thermometer (inserted in the roast) indicates that its ideal internal temperature has been reached. The ideal temperature depends on the type of animal, the type of roast (bone-in or tied), and the cut of meat. There are many ways to tie a roast using either hand-trussing or butcher-wrapping. Roasts are tied for two reasons: to keep the roast in an aesthetically pleasing round shape or to hold stuffing inside of it. After the meat has rested, usually about fifteen minutes, the string can be removed from the exterior of the roast.
During the process of cooking, as meat achieves its ideal internal temperature, many chemical changes occur that affect its appearance, taste, and texture, including shrinkage, browning, and flavor development. The first effect of roasting is that muscle proteins shrink and moisture is lost. As meat is heated, the muscle proteins coagulate and shrink, squeezing out water. The longer meat is cooked, the more water is forced out. This is why "dry" and "overcooked" have become synonymous. The loss of juices through drip, evaporation, and cooking time, along with the intramuscular fat or marbling content, determine the meat's juiciness, amount of shrinkage, and, thus, the final cooked weight or portion yield. An accurate internal meat thermometer is an essential piece of equipment for roasting because overcooking produces meat with so little remaining moisture that it is dry and tough.
Heat also affects the internal pigmentation of meat and changes its color. In beef, for example, the red color of uncooked beef changes to light pink, then to brownish-gray as the internal temperature increases from 125°F to 165°F. During long, slow cooking, most connective tissue softens, and collagen (fibrous protein) gelatinizes. Heat also causes fat to melt, and slightly browning fat develops flavor.
It is a myth that searing meat seals in the juices during roasting. Searing or browning the outer, lean surface of meat, usually at a fairly high temperature, does develop flavor and color as a result of Maillard reactions. It is an important step in several dry-cooking methods, including roasting, in order to produce a tasty outcome. When roasting meat, sear it to a good brown color to improve appearance and flavor, remembering that overcooked lean meat will be dry, and therefore not as good to eat as properly cooked lean meat, which is succulent and juicy. Two solutions are available to the cook. One is to bard meat with fat (cover it with strips of fat, usually pork fatback), an outdated practice but one still taught in cooking schools, or to add a fat cap or caul fat wrapping to lean meat. The rule of thumb is to use caul fat on fowl and bard lean roasts before roasting.
See also Barbecue ; Broasting ; Broiling ; Cattle ; Cooking ; Frying ; Game ; Goat ; Grilling ; Mammals ; Meat ; Meat, Smoked ; Pig ; Preparation of Food ; Sauces .
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Lee, Frank A. Basic Food Chemistry. 2d ed. Westport, Conn.: AVI, 1983.
McGee, Harold. On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1997.
Meiselman, Herbert L., ed. Dimensions of the Meal: The Science, Culture, Business, and Art of Eating. Gaithersburg, Md.: Aspen, 2000.
Montanari, Massimo. "Peasants, Warriors, Priests: Images of Society and Styles of Diet." In Food: A Culinary History from Antiquity to the Present, edited by Jean-Louis Flandrin and Massimo Montanari, pp. 178–185. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999.
Paston-Williams, Sara. The Art of Dining: A History of Cooking and Eating. London: National Trust, 1993.
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Villas, James. American Taste: A Celebration of Gastronomy Coast-to-Coast. New York: Lyons and Burford, 1996.
How to Roast
Roast beef, pork, and poultry are among the most satisfying and impressive dishes the home cook can create, especially for family meals and festive occasions. Roasting is most successful when used with foods with some moisture or fat content. Drier cuts should have some fat added to keep them moist in cooking.
Essential to the appeal of roasting is the fact that it produces a tasty, crunchy crust on the surface of the food. Commonly known as browning, this phenomenon is known to food science as the Maillard reaction, after Louis Camille Maillard, the French chemist who first described the process in 1912. In a Maillard reaction, the heat of cooking causes protein components and natural sugars in the food to break down, combine in complex ways, and produce a brown pigment (technically called "melanoidin"), and the result is a crust that usually tastes rather sweet. The process can be magnified by the cook with the addition of more sugar, such as the glucose in corn syrup, or protein, such as butter.
Meat that is to be roasted should be allowed to sit at room temperature for an hour or two, depending on the size of the roast, in order to let the interior lose its refrigerator chill. (This step is not as important with poultry because the center of a chicken or turkey is hollow, whereas a meat roast is solid.) Allowing a meat roast to sit out for a time should not present a food safety hazard unless the kitchen is very warm; for added safety, the cook might sear the meat to kill any surface bacteria.
There are several ways the cook can be sure to produce a delicious, juicy roast. The roasting pan should not be covered. A covered pan traps the moisture escaping from the meat and surrounds the meat with steam, producing a mushy rather than crisp exterior and a flabby taste. In order to avoid losing the natural juices of the meat, the meat should not be pierced with a fork nor should it be salted before or during cooking. The one exception to the rule against piercing the meat is that a meat thermometer can be used to check for doneness. (See accompanying table for recommended temperatures.) Insert the thermometer before the roast goes into the oven and leave it in during cooking. Measure the temperature in the center of the roast, not touching bone (since bone conducts heat better than muscle and will give a higher reading). Be sure to remove the roast when it reaches a point ten to fifteen degrees below the target temperature since the temperature will continue to rise after the roast is removed from the oven. Allow the roast to "rest" for fifteen to twenty-five minutes (depending on size) after removing it from the oven because heat causes the proteins of the meat to coagulate and give up their juice; if the meat is carved as soon as it is out of the oven, the juice will rush out, leaving much of the meat rather dry. If the roast is allowed to rest, the meat relaxes and much of the moisture is reabsorbed, allowing for juicy sliced meat.
Meat classified as "Prime" by the U.S. Department of Agriculture has more flecks of fat in the muscle than the next-best grade, "Choice." Even leaner and tougher is "Select." Prime meat is hard to find in most supermarkets since it is more expensive and generally sold to the restaurant trade. Choice cuts will roast well, but Select cuts should be cooked with a moist-heat method.
Many different foods are suitable for roasting. Meat made from the rib, short loin, and sirloin cuts make the best beef roasts since they are the tenderest parts of the animal and do well in the dry heat of the oven. Beef cuts ideal for roasting include the tenderloin, standing rib, rolled (boneless) rib, rib-eye, strip loin, sirloin, beef round, and eye of round. Cuts that are both tender and relatively small, such as the tenderloin or rib-eye, can be cooked at high temperatures (400°F) to achieve a well-browned exterior and juicy, tender interior. Larger cuts, such as "prime rib" (standing rib roast) need a lower temperature (250°F to 350°F) to prevent the exterior from overcooking before the interior reaches the desired state of doneness.
Various cuts from pork loin are suitable for roasting, including the tenderloin, top loin roast, crown roast, and rib roast. The whole ham or portion (shank or butt) is a classic roasted dish.
Leg of lamb is considered by some connoisseurs to be the most magnificent cut of meat available for roasting. It can be roasted on the bone; if the leg is deboned, it can be rolled for roasting.
Whole chickens and turkeys are easily roasted, the only challenge being to keep the white meat of a large bird moist until the dark meat, which cooks more slowly, is done. Poultry parts, such as legs or breasts, that are cooked in the oven are said to be "baked," while the whole bird is "roasted." Duck and goose can also be roasted, although the fat content, especially with goose, is considerably higher than that of chicken or turkey and the cook will likely find a large amount of grease in the pan.
In the vegetable world, the most commonly roasted items are the potato and sweet potato. In a reversal of the terminology used for poultry, a whole potato is said to be "baked" while potatoes cut up and put in a dish are said to be "roasted."
Richard L. Lobb
roast·ing / ˈrōsting/ • adj. (of a container) used for roasting food: a roasting pan. ∎ (of a foodstuff) particularly suitable for roasting: a roasting chicken. ∎ (of food) undergoing roasting: the aroma of a roasting pig. ∎ inf. very hot and dry: a roasting day in Miami.• n. the action of cooking something in an oven or over an open fire. ∎ [in sing.] inf. a severe criticism or reprimand: I was in for a roasting at the next meeting.