Youve decked the table with china and linens and your grandmothers monogrammed silver.
The only thing missing? A gigantic, glistening roast, the ultimate expression of holiday luxury.
Youre serving something that people normally cant afford, says James Peterson, cooking instructor and author most recently of Meat: A Kitchen Education (Ten Speed, 2010). Its a splurge.
But roasts whether a standing prime rib, a rack of lamb or a saddle of veal can be as intimidating as they are dramatic. Peterson offers a few techniques to help you conquer the beast:
Make friends with fat
People have the common misconception that cooking something with liquid keeps it moist, Peterson says. What keeps meat moist is fat.
With beef, look for marbling, fine veins of fat running through the meat. Select lamb that is evenly covered in bright white fat, and pork thats not too lean.
Figure on 6 to 8 ounces of roast per person if the meat is boneless, double that if it has bones.
Toss out the roasting rack
If you rack your roast, all the precious juices will burn when they hit the pan. Instead, choose a pan just large enough for the meat, line it with trimmings and place the roast on top.
If you dont have enough meat to cover the surface, the juices are going to burn, Peterson says. And that smoke permeates the roast.
Run hot and cold
Turn your oven as high as it will go and cook the meat until it browns, about 30 minutes. The high temperature kills all the microorganisms and gives a nice brown crust, Peterson says.
Then turn the oven to roughly 325 F to cook it slowly, letting the heat penetrate to the center.
Let it be
Meat contracts when exposed to heat, so letting it rest before serving is essential to preserving juiciness. If its contracted, and you cut it, the juices will just squirt out of it, Peterson says.
As the meat relaxes, the juices will return to the muscle.
The internal temperature of the meat will also rise about 5 degrees, ensuring your meat is perfectly cooked and thoroughly hot.
Meat should rest anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes, depending on the size of the roast.
Baste not, want not
Basting lets heat out of the oven. It also keeps the meat from browning and turns the dish into a braise, not a roast. Just dont do it.
Just say jus
Jus, the concentrated meat juices, intensify the experience of your expensive cut. To achieve perfection, remove the finished roast from the pan, then boil the trimmings until the pan is nearly dry.
Pour off the fat, then deglaze the pan with ½ cup of water or stock. Do this two or three times to concentrate the flavor, Peterson says, and resist the urge to add more liquid.
You only need a couple tablespoons a serving, Peterson says. You want it really concentrated.