[The Art & Science/of the Meal}
Roasting is one of the oldest, most common methods of cooking that people have been using since, well, the time of the Flintstones. It is a primitive style, first tried by our cave-dwelling ancestors shortly after the discovery of fire.
Roasting is a dry-heat method usually done in a closed oven, but it can also be done over an open flame, known as spit or rotisserie roasting. Some of you may do this on your barbecue or campfire. Once roasting was established as a popular cooking method, it led to many health benefits, as cooked meat was safer and much easier to eat and digest. It also helped forge the way to the domestication of animals and dining, as people became more civilized.
Hands up everyone who has had roast beef, roast chicken, or roast pork? Keep your hands up if you’ve had a roast so dried out and overdone that eating it was like a serious gym workout? Yeah, we’ve all had those before.
Time, temperature, and checking for doneness.
The important thing about roasting is the temperature. Roasting is done at temperatures higher than 350ºF. It works by allowing hot air to circulate around the food, cooking it evenly from all sides. The goal is to retain as much moisture as possible, while enhancing texture and colour. Unfortunately overcooking can occur easily, so it’s important to check doneness frequently.
When meats or vegetables are roasted, they undergo a few chemical changes that make them more desirable to eat. Carbohydrates and proteins in the food begin to de-nature and caramelize when exposed to high heat, producing browning. This is called the Maillard reaction, named after the French chemist Louis-Camille Maillard who first described it. As a result of these chemical changes, the smell and taste of what has been cooked is instantly recognizable as having been roasted.
Although not technically roasting, food placed in an oven at a low temperature (generally under 300ºF) is called slow roasting. Slow roasting results in less moisture loss and increased tenderness. What differentiates it from braising is the the lack of a liquid or sauce.
Unless very much overdone, roasted meats retain lots of their nutritional value. On the other hand, roasting fruits and vegetables, as opposed to say, steaming them, robs them of more nutrients because vitamins deteriorate with prolonged cooking. (But really, who doesn’t love roasted potatoes?) As very little fat is added in roasting, the end-product tends to be lower in fat than other preparations. This lack of fat can also make food dry out faster, so beware.
So remember, the keys to successful roasting are: time, temperature, and checking for doneness. When you are finished cooking meats, make sure you let the meat “rest” for at least 10 to 15 minutes before slicing and serving. This allows the juices released during cooking to be reabsorbed into the meat. Usually it’s just about long enough to enjoy a glass of wine.
Herb-Roasted Chicken with Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Green Salad
For the Dressing
1 cup sunflower oil
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1 clove of garlic, peeled
1/4 red onion, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon grainy mustard
Salt and pepper to taste
Place all ingredients in blender and blend on high speed until fully emulsified. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
For the Salad
1/2 bulb fennel, thinly sliced
2 apples, grated
1 package mixed greens
Toss all ingredients in mixing bowl and add dressing to taste.
For the Chicken and Sweet Potatoes
1 chicken (3 to 4lbs)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
2 tablespoons herbes de provence*
2 tablespoons sunflower oil
2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and diced to 1.5” pieces
2 tablespoons sunflower oil or more to taste
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 400ºF
Season chicken with salt, pepper and herbes de provence. Coat chicken in oil, then place on sheet tray with roasting rack.
Roast in oven for 20 minutes, then turn the oven down to 375ºF. and continue to cook chicken for 1 hr or until inner thigh meat registers 170ºF.
Once oven has been dropped toss the sweet potatoes with salt, pepper and oil. Roast at 375ºF until tender and browned (about 40-50 minutes).
Photo by Jeremy Fletcher.