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Dont Burn It Roast It

Despite plenty of evidence to the contrary, I still see recipes that insist you should cook meat at high temperature for the first twenty minutes or so to seal it and then lower the level for the rest of the cooking time. This has become the fashionable way and I'm not sure why. Maybe it has something to do with a lack of time in an age when both partners tend to work for a living.

What I am certain about is that this is not the best way to treat a prime roast. Nor does it 'seal' it. Let's put this myth to bed once and for all. Cooking meat at high temperature, whether in the oven, on the barbecue or in a pan does not seal it! It burns it.

That's why it goes brown. And it introduces extra flavor, because the outside of the meat generally has a covering of fat. Fat is what gives meat it's unique flavor. However adding this crust to the outside of the meat will also speed up the cooking of the rest of the joint, and reduce the amount that remains rare.

It will not produce the even finish you see in hotel and restaurant carveries. To achieve that you need slow, low temperature cooking plus regular basting. Basting is simply taking the juices from the bottom of the pan and pouring them back over the cooking meat from time to time. By doing this, and cooking at the right temperature, you will produce far more succulent results. Browning will still take place, but gently, as part of a process.

Let's look at the basic method. Using a roasting tin It's not a good idea to cook meat inside a roasting tin. A much better way is to place the joint directly on the rungs of the oven with the roasting tin underneath it. In this way, you can pack vegetables in the roasting tin and they will cook nicely in the juices from the meat. If you don't like that idea, because it means you have to clean the rungs after use, put the meat on top of a rack in or on the roasting tin instead.

You don't need to buy a special tin for this, simply use a cake rack or something similar. I have even used two or three kebab skewers and rested the joint on those. However the advantage of cooking directly on the rungs is that the air circulates freely round the joint, ensuring even cooking, and you can remove the roasting tin to make your gravy while leaving the meat where it is. Of course, if you do that, you will want to put some kind of drip tray under the joint, but any ovenproof dish will do for that.

Temperatures and cooking times Using my method (actually it's Graham Kerr's method which I've adopted but what the heck) you don't need to learn a lot of complicated temperature/time formulas. Cook your red meat at 350F, 180c, gas mark 4. Cook poultry at 325F, 160c, gas mark 3. Calculate your cooking time as 30 minutes for every 500 grams (roughly 1lb) of meat.

This will produce thoroughly cooked poultry, beef that is well cooked on the outside and rare inside, pink lamb and pork (yes you can safely eat 'underdone' pork providing the internal temperature reaches 145F. The danger bug is trichinae, which dies at temperatures great than 135F). Remember to add an extra 30 minutes if you are using stuffing.

If you want to change anything - alter your cooking times accordingly but beware. There is a very thin line between meat that is well done and boot leather. If rare meat is more than you can handle, it's a much better idea to use my cooking times but then turn the oven off and leave the meat in it for a further 30 minutes or so. Which brings me to one more point; it's very important to let the meat stand for at least 20 minutes before carving. Why? Because when you heat protein (which is what meat is) it shrinks and toughens. Allowing it to relax and cool a little restores some of its elasticity.

However it will continue to cook for a while after leaving the oven and the internal temperature will increase by as much as a further 10 degrees. Which is why you need a good 20 minutes resting time. Just keep it in a warm place with a sheet of cooking foil over the top while you prepare the greens and gravy.

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Michael Sheridan was formerly head chef of the Pierre Victoire restaurant in London's West End, specializing in French cuisine. An Australian, he is a published author on cooking matters and runs a free membership club and cooking course for busy home cooks at http://thecoolcook.com



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