IN THE FALL, THE OVEN IS ALWAYS THERE
There’s something really, really nice about cranking the oven up when the temperatures start to dip into a fall disposition. And to my mind, there’s no better use of an oven in fall than roasting. I realize as I’m writing this that most of the country has been in fall for months and is now gearing up toward winter, but here in Austin we’re just now at a point when the nights are dipping into the low forties and roasting season is officially upon us.
For me the brilliance of roasting has always been it’s deceptive simplicity. Sure you can do it poorly, but with even a modest—and I mean modest—amount of effort and understanding you can end up with something really outstanding. Something browned, carmelized, crispy and at once succulent and yielding.
Roasting meat in the fall always reminds me of the opening passages of “In Another Country.” Those first few paragraphs bring to mind all of the best sensory pieces of autumn: the wild game waiting to be eaten, cold wind coming down from the mountains and not least, the warming qualities of a good roasted chestnut. Of course, it’s all set against the backdrop of maiming, world crippling war and disillusion with life in general, but that’s more of a story for a sauerkraut recipe.
When you’re roasting on a good cold night, the air outside is crisp. The air inside is warm and smelling of mirepoix, crackling beast and whatever herbs you’ve lavished on it, and all you want to do is stand in the kitchen and breath. It’s like a sweater that you can eat. And while outside, all with the world may not be right, at least you know that you have a good hour’s respite to enjoy yourself and eat something that will leave you feeling truly and completely whole.
I roasted a chicken the other night. A couple nights after that I roasted a nice piece of pork. With both I enjoyed an easy accompaniment of root veg and celery roasted in the same pan, basted and flavored in the fat of the beast cooking on top of it. Both were the best dinner I’ve had in weeks, especially after spending all too much time on the road, snarfing up restaurant meals and slowly getting fat in the malaise of hotel room light.
Each of these recipes took me about 30 minutes of active cook time. Each got a generous amount of love from a 400 degree oven while I played with my kid, chatted with my wife, enjoyed one of the many outstanding Christmas beers that are currently on the shelves, or even just sat there breathing through my mouth and sniffing the fall air while trying to recover from another long, hectic workday. The point is: it’s a great dinner for little money and even less effort. And one that, more importantly, tastes of the best parts of home. Which, especially lately, has been a good thing.
Roasted Meat and Root Veg
1 whole bird or pork, beef or venison roast
Celery, Onion, Carrots
Root veg like potatoes, parsnips or rutabaga
Lemon or red wine vinegar
Salt and Pepper
Oil, butter or rendered duck or bacon fat
Preheat your oven to 400.
Cut all your veg into roughly the same sized pieces. You can parboil your potatoes if you like, I find that it gives a lighter end product, but it’s optional.
If you’re roasting a whole chicken or bird, salt and pepper the entire thing, inside and out. Rub with fresh herbs like rosemary or thyme and a good bit of chopped garlic. Stuff the cavity with half a lemon, onion and a few sprigs of the herbs then truss it for even cooking. Toss a little olive oil or fat over it.
If you’re roasting a cut of meat, salt and pepper it, sear it thoroughly in heated oil or fat on all sides till it’s brown. Rub with fresh herbs and chopped garlic.
Toss your veg with salt and pepper, throw in some olive oil, or rendered fat from the browning of the meat– be sure to get everything coated. Add a few sprigs of your herbs and smashed garlic cloves. Put it all into a roasting pan big enough to handle it without overcrowding. Place your meat on top and roast for about 1-1 ½ hours or until your roast is at 140 or your chicken is just under 165. Remove your meat from the pan to rest for about 10 minutes, sprinkle the veg with vinegar or a little lemon juice and return to the oven for 5 more minutes. Carve and eat.
If you like you can make a pan sauce by deglazing with a little wine or beer and throwing in some shallots, herbs and butter.
CHARCUTEPALOOZA CHALLENGE #10: PIECE OF MASTERFUL CRAFT OR THE GREATEST PRACTICAL JOKE OF THE 16TH CENTURY INVOLVING A CHICKEN?