Vermont cooking teacher Molly Stevens was in Ohio recently to teach classes at the Western Reserve School of Cooking in Hudson and The Cucina at Gervasi Vineyards in Canton.
Stevens is classically trained and has directed programs and taught at the French Culinary Institute, New England Culinary Institute and L’Ecole de Cuisine La Varenne in Burgundy, France and Venice, Italy.
She is a contributing editor to Fine Cooking magazine and is author of numerous books including All About Braising and her newest, All About Roasting, both of which have won James Beard Awards for best single-subject cookbooks.
Stevens taught both braising and roasting while she was in town — two basic cooking techniques that cover a wealth of food preparation.
With Thanksgiving next week, Stevens took a few minutes to talk about cooking large cuts of meat for holiday gatherings.
Q.: Does it seem to you that meat, particularly red meat, is back in a big way?
A.: Yes, yes, it does feel like meat has definitely come back. The studies show it, consumption is up. But as much as those techniques are meant for meat, they also can be used as much for vegetables as well.
Q.: Thanksgiving is coming, and a lot of folks will be roasting a turkey. What’s the secret to a turkey that is tender and juicy, but still golden brown on the outside? Or is that only possible in Photoshopped pictures?
A.: There are a couple of things. First, buy a good turkey, one that is not filled with sodium solution to keep them juicy.
Second, buy a turkey that is not too big. Buy 16 to 18 pounds at the most. I love a 14-pound turkey. But 24-, 28-pound turkeys are really difficult to cook well. There’s so much breast meat, it’s almost impossible to get it fully cooked without drying it out. What we do is buy two smaller turkeys.
The third thing is to salt your turkey a day or two ahead. That goes a long way in terms of maintaining its juiciness and giving it a crisp skin. And it’s a lot easier than brining.
Q.: Doesn’t salt draw the moisture out of things?
A.: Salt on the top of the skin. The salt will permeate the skin. You can use other spices, I love to use paprika too or straight up salt and pepper. It does draw the moisture out for the first hour or so, then the surface gets a salty puddle on it and then the meat actually starts to pull that moisture back in. With a little bit of sodium in the all of the meat, it holds on to its juices more. [Stevens cautioned not to salt a turkey that already has been treated with sodium solution.] … Mostly, we’re talking about a fresh turkey.
Q.: And if we have a frozen turkey of the grocery store variety?
A.: What you can do if you grab one of those is leave it uncovered for a day in the fridge. It will get a more evenly brown or crisp skin if you let it dry out in the refrigerator.
Q.: What about other cuts of meat? Beef tenderloin is actually now one of the most popular cuts of meat for Christmas, even edging out ham and turkey. What’s the best way to prepare a tenderloin?
A.: What I like to do is to sear it on top of the stove to brown the outside, then turn heat down and roast at a lower temperature, 300 degrees, for more even cooking. Then it won’t sail right past perfect doneness and ruin a beautiful piece of meat.
Q.: What should we all be roasting that we aren’t?
A.: Well, vegetables for sure. You can pretty much roast any vegetable. Seafood is really nice roasted, from whole trout to scallops. It’s less messy and more hands off. Anything that you grill is easily transferred to roasting. I love roasted sausages in the wintertime when you don’t feel like dragging out the grill. I roast hamburgers. I like them better than grilled and you don’t get all the spatter that you do making them in a skillet on top of the stove. I roast hamburgers at 475 degrees.
Q.: Any advice for getting through all of the holiday cooking?
A.: The biggest thing that I think about for the holidays is just relax. It’s just a turkey, it will be good because you made it and you’ve got people around it. It doesn’t have to be perfect. And if you are buying a frozen one, by all means, buy it ahead of time so you have time to thaw it.
And one more very important holiday roasting tip: No matter what you’re roasting, be sure to let it rest when it comes out of the oven before you carve. This will ensure juicier results, whether meat or poultry. Rest for anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes depending on the size of the roast, longer for bigger roasts.