It's not every day that home cooks get to break out a 5- or 10-pound piece of meat that's fit for a crowd.
Unlike Thanksgiving, home cooks have more creative freedom when it comes to Christmas dinner and other holiday feasts. Many families bake turkeys at Christmas, too, but it's also a time to try other centerpiece-worthy meats, such as prime rib, beef tenderloin, a crown roast of pork or leg of lamb. Thanks to sous vide technology, it's easier than ever to cook a large cut of meat to your preferred doneness with more exactness than if you're relying only on a thermometer and a hot oven. The good news is that even if you don't have a sous vide set-up, you can still cook a roast the old-fashioned way with excellent results.
Bryan Butler, the owner of Salt & Time butchery and the winner of the Beef Loving Texans’ Best Butcher in Texas contest, says that you need two things for a great roast: Kosher salt and a thermometer.
No matter which kind of meat you're cooking, make sure you let the salt sit on the outside of the meat for at least 20 minutes before adding any other rub or seasoning, he says. He likes to use kosher salt on the outside and then rinse the salt off before patting the meat dry and then applying another rub or seasoning. The salt helps the roast retain juices, but it also brings out the flavors from the seasoning, which can fall flat without the appropriate amount of salt.
If you don't want to use a seasoning mixture or a rub, many roasts have enough fat marbled within the meat to season the whole cut, but you'll still need salt to bring out that flavor.
Another key tip: Roasting meat for a certain period of time based on the size alone isn't the most accurate way to determine when it's done. A thermometer can tell you exactly when the inside is rare or inching toward medium. Cutting into a big piece of meat to find out that it's not cooked enough or is overcooked will deflate any cook's confidence, Butler says.
Here are a few other tidbits to improve your holiday roast next week, no matter what you're cooking:
• A wireless thermometer will allow you to keep tabs on the temperature inside the meat without opening the oven, which can cause an oven to lose its heat and create an uneven cooking environment. You can buy thermometers now that are connected to your phone so you can check the status of your main dish while you're away from the kitchen.
• Roasting racks aren't as common in kitchens as they used to be, but it's worthwhile to pick one up if you're roasting an expensive cut of meat or prepare these kinds of centerpieces frequently. The wire rack elevates the meat off the bottom of the pan by 2 or 3 inches, which allows heat to circulate all around whatever you're roasting and the drippings to fall to the pan below. Roasting a nice cut of meat directly in a roasting pan is OK, but it will simmer in its juices and won't cook as evenly or have an even crust around the outside.
• If you can, splurge on the prime grade of meat, which has more marbling and better flavor than the choice cut. Select grade meat won't have nearly as much fat or flavor.
• For a bone-in prime rib, make sure to request the “easy carve prep” from the butcher, Bryan says. That is where the bones are removed and tied back into place with butcher twine, making them easy to remove when cooked. You'll need about one bone for every two adults, he says. The meat is already so flavorful, he recommends using only cracked black pepper and kosher salt.
• Many cooks have been trained to sear the outside of a large piece of meat in a hot pan or under a broiler before roasting, but some cooks, including "The Food Lab" author J. Kenji López-Alt, prefer the reverse-sear method, where you cook the meat at a lower temperature — his prime rib recipe calls for cooking it at 150 degrees for more than five hours — and then searing the outside of the meat in a 500 degree oven before serving.
• For cuts that don't have much fat on them or those cuts that have a lot of connective tissue, you'll want to cook low and slow in an oven around 325 or 350 degrees. You can use an aluminum foil cover to capture the steam and let the meat cook in its own juices.
• For higher-end cuts or those with good fat marbling, you can roast them at 425 degrees, but keep an eye on that internal temperature. The ideal internal temperature ranges from about 130 degrees for medium beef and lamb to 145 degrees for pork. You'll want to cook poultry to 165 degrees. Keep in mind that the temperature will continue to rise a few degrees after you take it out of the oven.
• If you're looking for an economical cut, talk to your butcher about what you feel comfortable cooking and spending. A barrel roast, for instance, is a center cut of a bottom round roast that weighs between 5 and 7 pounds and costs less than prime rib, but will easily feed 15 to 20 people. Shank roast is another similar, economical cut.
• One trick Butler uses on cuts such as a barrel roast is one he learned from a friend in North Carolina that involves Duke's mayonnaise, a staple of so many Southern pantries. Before roasting, Bryan covers the meat with a light coating of mayo, which helps the roast hold moisture and creates a crust from the seasoning while in the oven.
• Some roasts, including a boneless leg of lamb and some pork roasts, cook best when wrapped in butcher's twine. Some cuts come wrapped in a twine netting, which you can leave on while you roast the meat, but make sure to remove any plastic from the outside.
All-Purpose Savory Seasoning
This is Bryan Butler's all-purpose rub for meats. He toasts the peppercorns and coriander seeds before grinding them to further bring out their flavor.
1 tablespoon black peppercorns, toasted and ground
1 1/2 tablespoons coriander seeds, toasted and ground
4 cloves of garlic, minced
Salt to taste
1 tablespoon dried onion
2 to 3 teaspoons each of your favorite fresh herbs, such as oregano, thyme, sage or rosemary
Mix the ingredients together in a small bowl and then rub on the chicken, beef, pork or lamb.
— Bryan Butler, Salt & Time
Rosemary Leg of Lamb with Roasted Root Vegetables
Leg of lamb is a classic family dinner dish. Using sous vide to cook it ensures that it never gets dried out and is perfectly cooked, through and through. Adding some rosemary in the sous vide pouch infuses the meat with the aroma and flavor of rosemary without overpowering it. I usually cook my leg of lamb until just heated through, but the tenderness of leg of lamb can vary considerably, and it can be cooked up to 24 hours if you want to tenderize it more. If you don't have a sous vide set-up, you can sear or broil this leg of lamb to brown the outside and then roast it at 325 degrees for about 20 minutes per pound, but remember to use that thermometer to determine doneness.
— Jason Logsdon
For the lamb:
1 to 2 pounds leg of lamb
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
2 fresh rosemary sprigs
For the roasted vegetables:
6 large carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 pound fingerling potatoes, coarsely chopped
1 sweet onion, diced
2 parsnips, peeled and diced
1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary leaves
6 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
To cook the lamb, heat a water bath to 130 degrees. Lightly salt and pepper the lamb, then sprinkle with the garlic powder.
Place the leg of lamb in a sous vide bag, position the rosemary sprigs on top, then seal. Place the bag in the water bath and cook for 2 to 4 hours, until heated through, or up to 24 hours until tenderized.
For the Roasted Vegetables: Heat an oven to 400 degrees. Toss all the ingredients together with olive oil, then salt and pepper them. Place on a rimmed baking sheet, then cook, stirring once or twice, about 30 to 60 minutes, or until tender.
To Assemble: Take the sous vide bag out of the water bath and remove the cooked leg of lamb. Dry it off thoroughly, using paper towels or a clean dish cloth. Lightly salt the lamb, then quickly sear it for 1 to 2 minutes per side, just until browned. Remove from the heat. Cut the lamb into serving portions. Place the roasted root vegetables on a plate and top with a portion of lamb. Zest the orange on top, then serve. Serves 4.
— From "The Instant Pot Ultimate Sous Vide Cookbook: 100 No-Pressure Recipes for Perfect Meals Every Time" by Jason Logsdon (Sterling Epicure, $22.95)
Baked Virginia Ham
Choose the best quality ham you can find, and either buy a “spiral-cut” ham or have the butcher slice and retie a whole smoked ham. If you're not a huge mustard fan, you'll want to cut back on the quantity in this recipe, but if you love the taste of honey mustard ham, you'll love this glaze from Ina Garten.
— Addie Broyles
1 (14- to 16-pound) fully cooked, spiral-cut smoked ham
6 garlic cloves
8 1/2 ounces mango chutney
1/2 cup Dijon mustard
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
Zest of 1 orange
1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the ham in a heavy roasting pan.
Mince the garlic in a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Add the chutney, mustard, brown sugar, orange zest and orange juice and process until smooth. Pour the glaze over the ham and bake for 1 hour, until the ham is fully heated and the glaze is well browned. Serve hot or at room temperature. Serves 35 for dinner or 50 for cocktails.
— Adapted from an Ina Garten recipe in "Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol: A Book-to-Table Classic" (Puffin Plated, $25)
Peppercorn-Crusted Roast Beef
When it comes to holiday beef roasts, chuck isn’t really known for being the go-to for medium-rare resplendence (we’re looking at you, prime rib). But that’s a real shame since chuck is among the most flavorful cuts of beef available — and the cheapest per pound, to boot. This cut has plenty of fat and connective tissue, making it tough and chewy when it’s cooked to medium-rare in a conventional oven. With most traditional methods of cooking, you have two options: low and slow until it’s tender, or braised and broken down. Neither method gives you pink, tender, juicy meat. But with sous vide we can have it all: A fork-tender, juicy, medium-rare chuck roast. Circulating the roast at a low temperature for 24 hours allows enough time to break down intramuscular collagen, tenderizing the meat while preserving a rosy, medium-rare interior from edge to edge. We were inspired by the folks at ChefSteps to pair this roast with a generous herb crust, making it easily customizable and ready to pair with all sorts of sauces. And best of all, it won’t break the bank over the holidays. We prefer a combination of all three different peppercorns here, but you can use a single type, and we like to serve it with a yogurt-herb sauce. You could also substitute 1/2 cup za’atar for peppercorns.
— America's Test Kitchen
1 (5 pound) boneless beef chuck-eye roast, pulled into 2 pieces at natural seam and trimmed of large pieces of fat
Kosher salt and pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 egg white
1/4 cup coarsely ground black, green and pink peppercorns
2 tablespoons flake sea salt
Sprinkle beef with 4 teaspoons kosher salt. Arrange pieces side by side along natural seam, and then tie together at 1 inch intervals to create 1 evenly shaped roast. Transfer roast to large plate and refrigerate, uncovered, at least 24 hours or up to 96 hours.
Using sous vide circulator, heat water to 133 degrees in 12 quart container.
Heat oil in 12 inch skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking. Brown roast on all sides, 6 to 8 minutes. Season roast with pepper and place into 2 gallon zip-lock freezer bag. Seal bag, pressing out as much air as possible. Gently lower bag into prepared water bath until roast is fully submerged, and then clip top corner of bag to side of water bath container, allowing remaining air bubbles to rise to top of bag. Reopen 1 corner of zipper, release remaining air bubbles, and reseal bag. Cover and cook for at least 18 hours or up to 24 hours.
Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 475 degrees. Set wire rack in aluminum foil–lined rimmed baking sheet and spray with vegetable spray. Transfer roast to prepared rack and let rest for 10 to 15 minutes. Pat roast dry with paper towels.
Whisk egg white in bowl until frothy, about 30 seconds. Combine peppercorns and flake sea salt in shallow dish. Brush roast on all sides with egg white, then coat with peppercorn mixture, pressing to adhere. Return roast to prepared rack and roast until surface is evenly browned and fragrant, 15 to 20 minutes, rotating sheet halfway through roasting. Transfer roast to carving board and slice into 1/2 inch-thick slices and serve. Serves 10 to 12.
— From "Sous Vide for Everybody: The Easy, Foolproof Cooking Technique That's Sweeping the World" (America's Test Kitchen, $26.99)
2 cups plain whole-milk yogurt
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
1/4 cup minced fresh chives
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest plus 1/4 cup (60 grams) juice
2 garlic cloves, minced
Salt and pepper
Whisk all ingredients together in bowl and season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to allow flavors to meld. (Sauce can be refrigerated for up to 4 days.)
— From "Sous Vide for Everybody: The Easy, Foolproof Cooking Technique That's Sweeping the World" (America's Test Kitchen, $26.99)