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Experiment with roasting technique for a joint - results

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Not long ago I got inspired from reading Mrs Beeton's and other sources to try to approximate replicating the old (pre-electric-oven) method of roasting. Additional inspiration came from memories of lamb roasted on the beach at my father's birthday every year when I was a child - which meant I more or less know how the "classical" roasting method turns out.

It occurred to me, that one might be able to get a similar effect, by turning on the oven initially to a normal start-roast temperature, then when it was up to temp, switching over to the broiler and roasting the meat under it (at some distance, not directly up against the broiling element), with the oven door open. (Yes, in terms of energy usage this is the opposite of environmental friendliness but every once in a while, maybe it can be tolerated)

I got a spectacularly excellent-looking rib-eye from a butcher in London and it occurred to me this would be a perfect opportunity to try the approach.

Of course you can't have roast beef without Yorkshire pudding, so that was going to be part of the adventure as well - not least how it would come out with such a bizarre modification of technique (almost all Yorkshire recipes insist on leaving the oven door shut - for good reason!)

So I configured the oven to start at 230 °C, with the main rack where the meat was going to be on about halfway in the middle. I positioned a rack immediately below for the Yorkshire.

Much of the rise for Yorkshire pudding comes from the initial few minutes in the oven, so after thinking I decided to put that in first, about 5 minutes before the joint went in, with a closed oven door. As usual I heated the tins 'till smoking. Personally, I like the older-style large yorkshire pudding on a pie plate, rather than the more modern presentation in individual puddings, so I had one large pie plate and another large tin on the bottom rack.

5 minutes later I bunged in the roast, switched the oven to broiler, and opened the door. Some calculations suggested 30 minutes ought to be the right time for a truly rare roast. Not surprisingly during this part of the process the Yorkshires made little upward progress, although they didn't look badly affected. They'd already risen a fair amount by the time the meat went in. Smoke was much less of a problem than I was expecting; certainly much less than, e.g. what you'll get doing a good steak in a cast-iron pan. You may need to pull out the fire alarm but you won't be driven out of the house.

Once the appointed time was over, I took the joint out to sit while I made the gravy. However I left the Yorkshires in and turned back to oven mode with the door shut and the convection element on again to 230°C. The puddings were obviously not at any immediate risk of either burning or drying so I felt safe with this approach.

Entirely as I was expecting, there wasn't much to make gravy with - a few drops at the bottom of the pan. That's likely to happen anyway to some degree with a very rare roast, and the greater drying intrinsic in an open oven door with a broiler on exacerbates the tendency. However, I was able to make the most of what was there with some good oxtail stock and got about a half-pint for a ~1 kilo roast.

Gravy made and roast thus rested, I took the Yorkshires out and served things quickly. So how did it all turn out?

The technique certainly duplicates the experience of open-fire roasting on the outside. The broiler encourages a much fiercer Maillard reaction than the convection element. No steamed meat or grey outside here - it was a very enticing dark-brown with oodles of flavour and a genuine crust to it. Also the differential between exterior crusting and interior doneness level is much more marked; I got a much rarer interior than would have been possible using the more usual approach. It will be said, though, that while the result on the outside is clearly superior, there wasn't really any noticeable difference in flavour to the rest of the meat. On the other hand, neither did it do something strange to it, it was just a good ordinary roast joint in that regard. The loser really was the gravy, which didn't develop the same level of flavour you'd get from modern roasting in a closed oven. On balance I'd say the overall improvement is marginal - not really worth the additional power spent.

However the Yorkshires were another story. You'd be expecting disaster, perhaps, but the truth was a revelation. This was decisively the best Yorkshire pudding I'd ever made. It had a cracking crisp outside shell and a custardy, soft middle that just soaked up gravy like nothing else, with no dreaded dryness or rubberiness. And the rise, in spite of the odd methodology, was perfect; these must be a reference standard for how Yorkshires should be done.

However as cold leftovers both the beef and the Yorkshire are decisively better than what you'd get from typical closed-door roasting; paradoxically in spite of the open door you get less drying after everything has sat in the 'fridge overnight. And the improved outer crust on the meat does wonders for its flavour the next day. As an additional benefit the meat also is more tolerant of being reheated; you don't pass instantly to dry grey overcooked leather; it's actually possible to reheat it successfully.

My feeling is that this would be a suitable technique for thin, festive joints like fillet, where you don't expect to get too much gravy out of the pan anyway, and achieving maximum flavour development really matters. It also was successful with the rib-eye, even if, as mentioned, no more successful than what you'd get for a conventional technique. However if the objective is cold roast beef for sandwiches, there really is no compare; the method is much better. Clearly also this method is going to be suitable for many lamb joints. Pork could be more problematic, in terms of ensuring it was properly cooked all the way through. You'd need to make sure it kept turning. But the crackling will be out of this world.

Overall, then, worth the experiment, if not necessarily justifying routine use. You might want to try it, if you can afford the power budget, and see what you think.

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