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Low Slow is the Way to Go

What's the difference between roasting and baking? Many Aussies would tell you there's none at all. We call roasts 'baked dinners'. But for the purpose of this article we are going to separate the two.

Roasting is done in the presence of fat, baking is not. It's that simple. So, potatoes cooked in the oven using fat are 'roast' potatoes. Cooked dry in their skins they become baked potatoes.

This is a useful way to separate the two systems and one we'll stick to, if that's all right with you? :0) Roasting Despite plenty of evidence to the contrary, I still see recipes that insist you should cook meat at high temperature for the first twenty minutes or so - to 'seal' it - and then lower the level for the rest of the cooking time. This is the traditional way. Fortunately for my guests, like the great Galloping Gourmet Graham Kerr, I'm not a traditionalist. Let's put this myth to bed once and for all. Cooking meat at high temperature, whether in the oven, on the barbecue or in a pan does not seal it! It burns it.

That's why it goes brown. And it introduces extra flavor, because the outside of the meat generally has a covering of fat. Fat is what gives meat it's unique flavor. Adding this crust to the outside of the meat will also slow down the cooking of the rest of the joint, and help to keep it rare.

Think. Do you really want to do this with chicken, for example? No of course not. Chicken in particular needs to be thoroughly cooked and high temperature roasting will not help that process. Basting, on the other hand, will. Basting is simply taking the juices from the bottom of the pan and pouring them back over the cooking meat from time to time. By doing this, and cooking at the right temperature, you will produce far more succulent results.

Browning will still take place, but gently, as part of a process. Using a roasting tin It's not a good idea to cook meat inside a roasting tin. A much better way is to place the joint directly on the rungs of the oven with the roasting tin underneath it. In this way, you can pack vegetables in the roasting tin and they will cook nicely in the juices from the meat.

If you don't like that idea, because it means you have to clean the rungs after use, put the meat on top of a rack in or on the roasting tin instead. You don't need to buy a special tin for this, simply use a cake rack or something similar. I have even used two or three kebab skewers and rested the joint on those. However the advantage of cooking directly on the rungs is that the air circulates freely round the joint, ensuring even cooking, and you can remove the roasting tin to make your gravy while leaving the meat where it is. Of course, if you do that, you will want to put some kind of drip tray under the joint, but any ovenproof dish will do for that.

Temperatures and cooking times Using my method (actually it's Graham Kerr's method which I've adopted but what the heck) you don't need to learn a lot of complicated temperature/time formulas. Cook your red meat at 350F, 180c, gas mark 4. Cook poultry at 325F, 160c, gas mark 3. Calculate your cooking time as 30 minutes for every 500 grams of meat. This will produce thoroughly cooked poultry, beef that is well cooked on the outside and rare inside, pink lamb and pork (yes you can safely eat 'underdone' pork, providing the internal temperature reaches 160C for a period of at least 10 minutes!) If you want to change anything - alter your cooking times accordingly but beware. There is a very thin line between meat that is well done and boot leather.

If rare meat is more than you can handle, it's a much better idea to use my cooking times but then turn the oven off and leave the meat in it for a further 30 minutes or so. Which brings me to one more point; it's very important to let the meat stand for at least 20 minutes before carving. Why? Because when you heat protein (which is what meat is) it shrinks and toughens. Allowing it to relax and cool a little restores some of its elasticity. Just keep it in a warm place with a sheet of cooking foil over the top while you prepare the greens and gravy. Exceptions What would rules be without them? The example I am going to use is typical of high temperature Mediterranean cookery and it works equally well in the oven or on the barbecue.

"Butterfly of lamb" is simply a leg of lamb from which the bone has been removed. You can either do this yourself (it's not as difficult as it may seem) or get your butcher to do it for you. The first thing to do is to lay the meat skin side down on a flat surface and open it out. Sprinkle the meat fairly liberally with soy sauce and add some rosemary, thyme, crushed garlic, a bay leaf or two and some sliced onion.

Fold the meat over the herbs and place it upside down in a bowl. Upside down means skin side up, okay? Who cares! It really doesn't matter that much. Marinade the joint overnight in the refrigerator, having added half a cup each of soy sauce and red wine.

Oven cooking Preheat the oven to 230 C. This may seem like an incredibly high temperature but the outside of your meat is protected by two things - the liquid it has been marinated in and the fat on its surface, which you are going to sprinkle fairly liberally with salt. This is one occasion when you simply must cook your meat directly on the rungs of the oven, fat side up, and you will cook it at this temperature for about 20 minutes.

Then, you will be relieved to hear, you can reduce the temperature to a mere 200 C. This next bit is important, and you have to trust me. Roast your meat for exactly eight minutes per pound and no longer. Allow it to relax for around 15 minutes and then carve and serve. On the barbecue This is where I really test your nerve and the faith your guests may or may not have in you. The first thing to ensure is that your barbecue is ready and at full temperature.

Incidentally, I'm talking about a genuine charcoal barbecue, not the gas or electric variety which you can use in exactly the same way as the oven. Now place the meat fat side down directly over the heat. After a few seconds it will burst into flames and you will have a heart seizure. Go with the flow. This really is meant to happen. Resist all temptation to interfere.

Just let the flames die down and then turn the meat over and leave it to cook for a further 10 minutes. When you remove the meat from the barbecue it will look more like a piece of charcoal than the succulent, highly flavored lamb that it really is. In fact, it will look like a total disaster. Ignore the sympathetic murmurs from your guests. Carve into the lamb and listen to and enjoy their gasps of astonishment when they see the perfect meat inside the salty crust.

There is no more delicious way to serve lamb and you will have created an authentic Mediterranean flavor that is just perfect for those balmy summer nights. All it takes is nerve (and maybe a couple of beers or glasses of wine!). Add a really crisp, well-dressed salad and a mountain of frites to complete the feast. Waddya mean ya don't know what frites are? They're the real French fries/chips. They're what Ronald pretends to serve. They are so versatile just thinking about them brings tears to my eyes.

I buy mine from Birds Eye, but that's just a sentimental thing (my family once farmed peas). Any skinny chip that you deep fry from frozen will probably do the trick. You could also serve rice or fettucini or any other pasta of your choice. The main thing will be the meat - just don't expect to have any leftovers! Thermometers While most underdone meat, except poultry, is safe to eat, it's important not to be too cavalier about it, particularly if the joint has been boned. That's because bacteria that were not originally there may have been introduced into the meat on the tip of the butcher's knife.

Fortunately these will die at temperatures of around 160C, and the best way to ensure your meat reaches that for a prolonged period is by using a meat thermometer, especially one that can be left in place during cooking. A good thermometer will also allow you to accurately judge cooking times, because it will come equipped with a table which shows you how well the meat is done at any given temperature.

Michael Sheridan is an acknowledged authority and published writer on cooking matters. His website at http://www.thecoolcook.com contains a wealth of information, hints, tips and recipes for busy home cooks.

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