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Herb-roasted rack of lamb with new potatoes. (Credit: John Ross)
Herb-roasted rack of lamb with new potatoes. (Credit: John Ross)

Some like the sirloin, but I think the
porterhouse is best,
’Tis juicier and tenderer and meatier
than the rest;
Put on this roast a dash of salt, and
then the water pour
Into the sizzling dripping pan a cupful,
and no more;
The oven being hot, the roast will cook
in half an hour;
Then to the juices in the pan you add
a little flour,
And so you get a gravy that is called
the cap sheaf
Of that glorious “summum bonum,”
rare roast beef.

Excerpt from “Rare Roast Beef” by Eugene Field (1850-1895) 

The poet is either not a very knowledgeable cook or the 19th century was a time when cuts of meat were handled differently than today.

Sirloin and porterhouse are very tender cuts that should be cooked by broiling or grilling, not braising with liquid. In food science class you learn that there are two methods of cookery: dry heat and moist heat.

Dry heat is reserved for tender muscles from the less active part of the animal, like the loin or rib. These cuts are naturally tender so they are cooked to rare or medium rare to make them most palatable.

Moist heat, such as braising, simmering and steaming, is reserved for less tender cuts that have lots of connective tissue that needs to be softened by moisture. These cuts come from the muscles of locomotion that get lots of activity. They are also the cuts with the most flavor. But cooking temperature also plays an important role. Long, slow cooking at low temperature can produce a very tasty and tender roast when starting with a less tender (and less expensive) cut of meat.

Roast No. 1: 

Herb-Roasted Rack of Lamb
with New Potatoes and
Wild Mushroom Ragout 

Price: lamb, $45; potatoes, $3; mushrooms/wine/shallots, $15. Yield: 4 portions. Preparation time: 2 hours.

Purchase 1 American rack of lamb with 8 rib bones and weighing about 2 pounds fully trimmed. Score the fat with a sharp knife to make crosshatch marks. Remove the little knuckles between the bones to make for easy carving and place the roast on a foil-lined sheet pan.

Prepare an herb rub by placing a whole head of unpeeled garlic in a small casserole with 3 sprigs of thyme, 2 sprigs of rosemary and 4 sage leaves. Pour 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil over the herbs, cover with foil and roast in a 350-degree oven for 40 minutes.

Meanwhile, trim the stems off 1 package of shiitake mushrooms, 1 package of oyster mushrooms and 1 package of cremini mushrooms. Slice all the mushrooms and combine them in a bowl.

Melt 3 tablespoons butter in a large sauté pan and add 1/2 cup chopped shallots. When they soften, add the mushrooms and cook, uncovered, at medium heat until the mushrooms begin to brown and the moisture evaporates. Add 1 cup merlot and increase the heat to a boil. When the wine is reduced by half, stir in 2 tablespoons cold butter and remove from the heat.

When the garlic/herb mixture cools slightly, squeeze the garlic from the head and mash it with a fork in a small bowl. Stir in 2 tablespoons chopped parsley, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, 1/2 teaspoon ground pepper and 2 tablespoons of the flavored oil. Spread this herb rub on the rack of lamb and preheat an oven to 425 degrees.

Rinse 12 small, unpeeled new potatoes and make slits along the length of each, cutting almost through the potato. Brush the potatoes liberally with the flavored oil, sprinkle 1 teaspoon of kosher salt on them and place them on the sheet pan with the lamb.

Roast until the internal temperature of the lamb reaches 120 degrees, about 40 minutes. Let the lamb rest for 15 minutes before carving.

Serve with the mushroom ragout, the potatoes and a green vegetable. Garnish with a sprig of rosemary.

Roast No. 2:

Slow-Roasted Pork Shoulder with Boston Baked Beans
and Chunky Applesauce

Price: pork, $4.50; beans, $3; apples, $3. Yield: 4 portions. Preparation time: 9 hours plus soaking overnight.

Purchase a bone-in fresh pork shoulder. It will weigh from 3 to 5 pounds. Mince 3 cloves of garlic and combine them with 1 teaspoon dried oregano, 1 teaspoon dried sage, 1 teaspoon kosher salt and 1/2 teaspoon ground pepper.

Cut a pocket in the pork by separating the rind from the fat cover, but do not remove the rind. Place the herb mixture under the rind as far as possible and put the roast in the refrigerator.

Rinse and soak 1 pound of navy beans overnight.

The next day, remove the pork from the refrigerator and drain the beans. Place the pork in a small roasting pan and put the beans in a casserole with a tight-fitting lid.

Add to the beans 8 ounces of sliced salt pork, 1/4 cup molasses, 1/4 cup maple syrup and 3 cups water. Season with 1 tablespoon kosher salt, 1 teaspoon ground pepper and 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves.

Place the pork in a 425-degree oven for 30 minutes, then turn the heat down to 225 degrees and place the beans in the oven with the pork. Roast for 8 hours.

While the pork and beans are cooking, peel and core 4 large apples (Mutsu, Ida Red, Macintosh) and cut them into 1/2-inch chunks. Place the apples in a saucepan along with 1/4 cup brown sugar, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg and the zest and juice of 1 lemon. Cook, uncovered, on medium heat until soft, about 30 minutes. Mash the apples with a potato masher and refrigerate.

Remove the pork and beans from the oven and cut the rind off the pork along with any excess fat cover. Cut the meat away from the bone and slice it into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Check the beans for seasoning and serve with the pork and the applesauce.

Note: Both of these meals were delicious even though they were at opposite ends of the economic and time scales. The lamb meal cost over $65 and the pork meal about $12. The lamb dinner took less than 2 hours while the pork meal took 2 days.

Normally, when cooking pork shoulder (or pork butts) we add liquid and cover when cooking. This makes the meat literally fall apart, which is good for pulled pork recipes. Roasting it uncovered for a long time at low heat, without liquid added, creates a tender roast that holds together very well. In my opinion it was more delicious than a center cut pork loin.

John Ross