Sunday, November 14, 2010

High Temperature Roasting

Roasting is a ridiculously easy cooking technique.  It takes little supervision or fuss.  That makes it perfect at this busy time of year.  And you can cook several items at once. A roasted entrée with sides of roasted vegetables is a great combination.  You can even finish the meal with roasted fruit served with ice cream and a drizzle of chocolate or caramel sauce.

Fruit roasts at a lower temperature than other dinner elements so I roast the fruit first.  I use chef Jeremy Tower’s method (of Alice Waters’ circle).  He roasts halved pears and apples rubbed with a tiny pinch of salt on beds of sugar (about 1/8 inch deep) on a parchment-lined, rimmed cookie sheet.  It takes about an hour at 350˚F.  Fruit is done when it is easily pierced with a sharp knife and the sugar is caramelized.  Slip a spatula under the fruit and set it on a large dish to cool.  Serve sliced fruit for dessert or breakfast with yogurt and granola.  You can even put sliced roasted fruit in a salad with some dried cranberries and blue cheese.  Roasted fruit keeps for several days refrigerated.  It is a good "make ahead" item or a great way to have your oven do double duty when something else is in the oven at 350˚F. 

To roast vegetables, crank the stove to 425˚F and chop up a medley of vegetables into bite-sized pieces.  Good combinations are peeled winter squash, potatoes, beets and carrots with a stingy amount of olive oil, salt and pepper plus some sprigs of thyme or rosemary.  Or try chopped cauliflower, celery, broccoli, mushrooms and zucchini dressed with olive oil, crushed garlic clove and low-sodium soy sauce.  Place the vegetables on a foil lined metal roasting pan or glass baking dish.  If you’d like the vegetables to steam first, cover with foil for the first 20 minutes then remove the top foil, stir the vegetables and roast for another 20-30 minutes until they are tender and lightly browned. Brussels sprouts rank as our favorite when roasted.  Steam halved sprouts with a bit of water until tender then toss drained sprouts with olive oil, salt and pepper and place on a roasting pan.  Roast for about 15 minutes at 425˚F, turning occasionally.  Don’t discard the little leaves that will inevitably fall off during steaming.  These roast up into little crispy chips that act as an instant garnish to the finished dish.

What to roast alongside your vegetable medleys?  Thick fillets of fish like sea bass, haddock, tuna or salmon would be nice with soy sauce-infused roast vegetables.  Add the fish during the last 10-15 minutes of roasting.  Fish only needs minimal prep.  I like a touch of olive oil or butter with good squeeze of lemon.  On white fish, chopped tomato (fresh or sun-dried in oil or reconstituted in warm water) and chopped parsley are good flavor builders.  For the meatier fish, tuna and salmon, a light glaze of low-sodium soy sauce or miso is terrific.  No need to turn fish over during roasting. It is ready when the meat flakes. 

Small or individual cuts of meat like a hot roasting oven. Try pork tenderloin marinated in slurry of a tablespoon of mustard, 1-2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce and 1/2 cup water (pat dry before roasting). Pork tenderloin takes 18-22 minutes at 425˚F.  Test with a meat thermometer for an internal temperature of 160˚F.  Thick cuts of steak can be roasted too.  Sear both sides of seasoned steaks in a skillet with a little oil until nicely browned and then place the (oven-proof) skillet in the oven to finish.  Rare (135-140˚F) takes just 8-10 minutes more for a one and half inch thick steak.  Medium about (150˚F) 12 minutes and well-done (160-165˚F) is ready in 15 minutes.  Remember to let the meat rest before cutting and serving.  Whole chickens need to roast at lower temperatures but chicken parts can stand a higher heat in a roasting pan with a light coat of oil and a little water or broth.  Plan on 20-30 minutes for breasts and small thighs/leg quarters.  They are ready when the internal temperature reaches 165-170˚F.  Your oven may run hot so start checking at 20 minutes using a meat thermometer.  If the outside is browning too fast, cover loosely with foil. Boneless, skinless breasts and thighs need only 15-20 minutes and may require a covering of loose foil cover to retain moisture. 

Roasting is a pure foods method that allows food to taste like itself.  Use a light touch with seasonings to keep the main ingredient’s flavor forward.  And if you oven has room, save yourself some time (and lower your energy bills) by cooking a double batch of vegetables or meat.  Use the vegetables in soup or mixed with grains the next day.  Slice the extra meat for sandwiches and skip the cold cuts for a few days.