Preserved Home: Show you’re a seasoned roaster

Laura Woolfrey-Macklem

2013_COLUMN_WOOLFREYI’m a gadget girl for sure. I have a deli slicer, a yogurt maker, two dehydrators, a meat grinder, food processor and even a kitchen torch. Oh, and a pasta roller, fitted with a ravioli attachment. The list could go on.

However, the one thing I would never buy is a kitchen rotisserie. You can make slow roasted meat that’s so good, it’s possible you’ve never tasted anything like it before. It’s inexpensive, easy, and you will feel guilty for accepting accolades for your cooking skills when you serve this to company. Because, well, it takes no skill.

A common problem with traditionally oven roasted meat is, any real flavor from the rub is pretty much limited to the skin and very top layer. Slice the meat, and it may taste good, but there is no richness from the seasoning. All that pulverizing garlic with your microplane (yes, another kitchen tool), squeezing lemons, toasting spices and the furious chopping of herbs is only to be enjoyed by the lucky ones getting served first. With slow-roasted meat, flavor is not just skin deep – it has down-to-the-bone flavor.

One key to deep flavor throughout your roast is seasoning your meat the night before roasting. If I’m roasting chicken, I also stuff the cavity with onion, garlic, lemon and herbs. (It is not safe to fill a slow-roasted chicken with a side dish, such as stuffing.)

Not being Alton Brown and all, I cannot explain how the flavor permeates the entire roast, but it just does. Every bite is full of flavor, soft, and sweet.

I have used the slow-roasted method with chicken and pork. When I make chicken, I always make two in the same pan. I vacuum seal the second one and freeze. When I’m ready to use the second chicken, I simply put the entire vacuum sealed chicken in a pot of boiling water and reheat. Amazingly, it tastes like it was just made. I wouldn’t recommend this method with the pork, however.

To cook the meat, I use a roasting pan fitted with a rack and cook the dish uncovered – this is called dry roasting. Without a rack, the air will not circulate around the entire roast, and will result in a mushy, instead of crisp, bottom.

And certainly don’t cover the meat, because this will prevent the most amazing result in your pork – it’s called the Maillard reaction. In plain terms, the outside of the pork gets so crispy, yet juicy, and richly flavored, I can’t promise you there won’t be fights at the dinner table on “who gets the outside.”

This deep brown, intensely flavored crust is the result of the sugar and amino acids reacting together. I’ve read the Maillard reaction happens at a higher temperature, but one taste of this pork, and you will see achieving this type of crust is entirely possible at a lower temperature. With the chicken, you get a nice, crisp crust which often balloons up from bubbling juices underneath the skin.

In choosing a rub for your meat, a dry rub is a must. Those dry, pungent spices permeate the meat much better than a wet rub. And with the pork, your rub will give flavorful canvas for the mahogany, sweet-and-crunchy crust, resulting from low and slow roasting. You can make your own rub using spices on hand or purchase a rub. If you decide to use aromatics such as fennel in your rub, try toasting them first.

My favorite thing about this method of cooking is not only the impressive flavor and texture, but the ease and expense. This technique calls for pork butt, which can sometimes be $1 a pound, and chicken roasters for 69 to 89 cents a pound. All you do is clean the roast, and rub the seasoning all over. Cover, and place in the refrigerator overnight. In the morning, pull the roast out and let it sit out for about 30 minutes to get the chill off.

For chicken, roast at 250 for about six hours, and for the pork, roast at 275 for about eight hours. Roast the pork fat side up (do not cut the fat layer off), and to test for doneness, stick your fork in the middle. The meat should easily pull away. After a few hours, I start basting from time to time.

This is an ideal offering for company because there is no last-minute rush perfecting the main dish. If you are concerned about the roast hogging your only oven, consider using your toaster oven to cook side dishes, or use an electric roasting oven.

I like to make this slow-roasted meat during the week on a busy day. It makes my family feel special to have something so company-worthy on an average night. I get comments like, “Mommy is the best cook ever,” and, “Honey, you have outdone yourself.” Don’t tell them it took you very little effort or skill – just sit back and feel like a rock star. You will certainly be eating like one.

Laura Woolfrey-Macklem is a former North County resident who produces the Preserved Home blog. Visit www.preservedhome.com. Send questions and comments to [email protected].