How to Cook a Roast (trust me, it’s really easy)
It always leaves me feeling shocked and ever so slightly sad when an otherwise competent, relatively intelligent person reveals to me that they have never cooked a roast in their life. The sadness factor deepens if this person then reveals that the reason for not cooking roast is not vegetarianism, or that they have someone else to cook for them (I’m very jealous of those of you who have personal chefs, by the way), but rather because they just don’t know how.
Humanity has reached a sad, sad state when ordinary people simply don’t know how to cook a big chunk of delicious meat. So in the interest of preserving what vestiges of instinct and survival may remain within the species, here’s some very simple instructions that even the most average of people should be able to follow.
My roast of choice this time around was a pork roast — but these instructions are virtually identical for beef, venison, goat, human, or whatever other large chunk of meat you may have on hand. All that really changes is the spices, and I encourage you to go as wild as you like with those. Poultry and fish are separate issues, of course, but I will deal with those in future recipe posts. I promise, they’re really not difficult either.
The first challenge, of course, is to select your roast. Try to choose one with a good marbling of fat through the meat: more fat will provide more flavour. I like a boneless loin roast best, and that’s what I picked out this time. Consider, when purchasing, that you’ll get about 2 servings per pound of meat; I bought a 4lb roast because that means 2 servings tonight, and lots of leftovers for later. Leftover roast can be cooked up into all sorts of deliciousness: meat pies, soups or stews, curry, sandwiches, fried rice, and dozens of other things. But for now I will stick to the meal at hand.
Once you get your roast home, you may wish to brine or marinade it to tenderize and add flavour. I like to do this overnight, but even a few hours will give some benefit. A basic brine mix is as follows:
- 4 cups water
- 1/8 cup sea salt
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar or honey
To this you can add other flavours. In place of water you can substitute juice, beer or wine (I like to use 3 cups water to 1 cup wine or beer). Add herbs and spices, like bay leaves, garlic, chilis, rosemary, or whatever else your favourite might be.
In this case, I used 3 cups water, 1 cup white wine, 1/8 cup salt, 2tbsp brown sugar, two bay leaves, two garlic cloves, and a sprig of rosemary. I put it all into a large Ziplock freezer bag and left it in the fridge overnight.
The next big question is how long to cook your roast for. You want to get the internal temperature on a pork roast to be about 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Beef roasts can get away with being a little more rare — closer to 130 degrees — but with pork there’s the risk of trichinosis if you go much below 150 degrees. A good rule of thumb is 15-20 minutes per pound at 300 degrees Fahrenheit — at least for smaller roasts. When you start getting up into the 10lb range, you get to the point where you want to be cooking at lower heat in order to get it evenly cooked all the way through, and then the numbers go a bit wonky. When in doubt, ask Google: type in “how long to cook an Xlb pork roast” and I assure you, the answer will be there.
Calculate your time accordingly, so that you’ll know when to start cooking. Remember that you’ll want the roast to sit for about 10-15 minutes once it comes out of the oven, and remember to keep that in your calculations. So for my 4lb roast, I’ll want between 1 hour and 1 hour 20 minutes for cooking, plus another 10-15 for resting. So if I start the cooking an hour and a half before dinner time, I should be in good shape.
Now it’s time for another little trick: preheat the oven to 500 degrees, instead of the 300 you’ll want to be cooking at. Letting the oven get really hot, then turning it down as soon as you put the meat in, means that your meat will brown a bit on the outside when it first goes into the oven. This makes for lots of extra flavour. Alternatively, you can brown your roast in a large skillet for a couple of minutes per side — but I find that this just creates extra dishes to do later, and a large roast can be hard to fit into a pan, much less manipulate around once you’ve got it browning.
While the oven preheats, chop up a small cooking onion into quarters and throw this into your roasting pan. You can also add other vegetables such as carrots, parsnips and potatoes. For this roast I just used carrots, because I’m planning green beans and some fresh-baked whole wheat bread as side-dishes, but when I’m not feeling so ambitious I’ll just throw everything into the roasting pan together. The vegetables in the bottom of the pan will add some flavour to the roast, and they also serve as a trivet or rack, keeping the roast from touching the bottom of the pan (there are wire racks available for this purpose, but I find that they just get in the way).
Take your roast out of the brine and place it on top of your veggies. Now it’s time to add a spice rub: for this roast I used salt & pepper, garlic powder, an Italian spice blend (basil, sage, oregano, rosemary & parsley), and some fresh rosemary. Sprinkle it on liberally, and give it a pat with your hands to stick it in place.
Toss in a couple of bay leaves and garlic cloves, and about 1/2 cup of liquid (water, stock, beer, wine, juice, apple cider vinegar — whatever catches your fancy). I used white wine for this roast. Then just put the cover on your roasting pan (if your pan doesn’t have a cover, just use aluminum foil), and toss it in the oven.
Don’t forget to turn the heat down to 300 degrees as soon as you get the roast in there, or it will overcook on the outside without cooking well in the middle!
Now, wait. Go do something else for a while, and enjoy the delicious smells that will soon be filling your house.
When it gets close to the time when you expect your roast to be done, check it with a meat thermometer. Meat thermometers are really the only reliable way to know the doneness of a piece of meat, so if you don’t have one I really suggest you go out and get one. There are nice digital models available in lots of places for around $10-$15: they’re fast and accurate and VERY useful to have around. You’ll want the meat to be in the 150-155 degree range when you pull it out of the oven; it will continue to cook a little bit once you’ve taken it out (this is why it needs to sit for 10-15 minutes), and the internal temperature will rise another 5 or 10 degrees in that time.
Keep your roast covered while it is resting, and keep the vegetables in a place where they’ll stay warm (I usually just turn the oven off, open the door a crack, and put the bowl full of vegetables in there). There should be some drippings in the bottom of the pan, which you can use to make gravy while you’re waiting for the roast to settle up.
Once the roast has sat for a few minutes, it’s ready to be sliced and served. Use a large, sharp knife for the slicing, and a fork or set of tongs to hold the meat in place. And there you have it: a delicious roast!
And just like I promised you, it really wasn’t difficult at all.