Holdiay Food Guide

Holiday Meats 101

by Terese Allen, Food Editor

What's the most nerve-wracking part of the holidays? For many novice cooks, it's preparing the main-dish meat. Roast turkey, baked ham, and beef rib roast are centerpiece presentations that come with high expectations. But, happily, they truly aren't tricky to execute. Here's a primer to help you get these classics just right.

General tips | Roast Turkey | Baked Ham | Beef Rib Roast

General Tips

  • First, give up notions of elaborate flavorings, doohickey equipment, fancy garnishes and scary, high-heat roasting methods that require continuous attention. Give yourself permission to serve a simple, delicious dish, not a cutting-edge preparation.
  • Great cooking starts with great ingredients, so buy the best meat you can afford. Your entree will shine if you've chosen naturally raised turkey, ham that's free of chemicals and excess water, or a prime cut of grassfed beef.
  • Thaw your purchase slowly in the refrigerator--not at room temperature or under running water. Turkeys and large hams can take two to four days to thaw completely.
  • To help brown meat and cook it evenly, pat it dry with paper towels to remove excess surface moisture and bring it to room temperature just before the cooking begins.
  • Use a pan that's just big enough to hold the roast or bird--not too large and not too small.
  • Oven heat varies, as does the size and shapes of roasts, hams and turkeys, so to be sure your meat is cooked to the desired doneness, check its internal temperature by inserting an instant-read thermometer into the thickest part of the flesh. (An instant-read thermometer has a thin shaft that pierces meat without releasing flavorful juices and, as the name indicates, it gives an instant temperature reading no matter what's cooking. They're available at kitchen supply shops and many supermarkets.) Remember, too, that the meat will continue to cook after it comes out of the oven--remove it a few minutes before the desired temperature is reached.
  • For maximum juiciness and tenderness, let roasted meat or poultry rest out of the oven to allow its juices to settle back throughout the flesh before carving it. Carve against the grain of the meat, not with it.

Roast Turkey

Turkeys may be brined, barded or barbecued, stuffed or smoked, trussed or turned, but if this is your first time roasting one, skip the fancy footwork and go with the basics: Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Use paper towels to pat dry a fully defrosted, well-rinsed Organic Prairie Whole Young Turkey (12-18 pounds). Tie the leg ends together with kitchen string. Slather the turkey all over with melted Organic Valley European-Style Cultured Butter and season generously with salt and pepper. Place 2 onion halves and a few sprigs of fresh rosemary and sage inside the large cavity. Place the bird on a V-shaped or flat rack, legs up, inside a large, deep roasting pan.

Place the bird in the oven with the legs facing the back of the stove. Roast it 10-15 minutes per pound, drizzling it all over it every 30 minutes with additional melted butter or drippings from the bottom of the pan.

Meanwhile, to make broth for the gravy: Place the turkey neck in a saucepan with a peeled carrot, a halved onion (skin-on) and a parsley sprig; cover with water by one inch and simmer very slowly 2 hours.

The bird is done when an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh registers 160-165 degrees. Wearing oven mitts and using sturdy utensils, transfer the bird to a large platter or cutting board, cover it loosely with foil and let it rest at least 15 minutes, while you make the gravy.

For the gravy: Place the roasting pan over two burners set to medium. Strain the broth through a fine-mesh strainer into the pan (there should be about 3 cups total; if not, add canned chicken broth as needed). Bring to simmer, scraping up the flavorful bits from the bottom, and let it cook a few minutes, stirring often. To thicken the gravy: Combine 4 tablespoons flour and 6 tablespoons water in a jar; cover tightly and shake until smooth. Using a wire whisk, whisk half the flour mixture into the simmering liquid. Stir in any additional juices that have accumulated under the turkey. Whisk in additional flour mixture to thicken it as desired. Slowly simmer the gravy 10-15 minutes, stirring often. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Strain (or just pour) gravy into a serving bowl.

Carve the turkey and serve it with gravy. Makes enough for 8-12 guests, with leftovers.

Here's another great recipe: Brine Cured Roast Turkey with Maple Ginger Glaze.

Baked Ham

Heat oven to 325 degrees. Place an Organic Prairie Hardwood Smoked Ham in a roasting pan and bake until instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the meat registers 140 degrees. It will take 10-12 minutes per pound. That's it!

For a glazed ham, use the tip of a sharp knife to score the fatty surface of the ham in a diamond pattern; insert a whole clove into each diamond and brush the ham with pure maple syrup, cranberry preserves or orange marmalade. Then bake as directed above. The sweet glaze makes a pleasing complement to the salty ham. A 5-pound boneless ham will yield 10 or more servings, with leftovers.

Here's another recipe: try an exotic Spiced Ham.

Beef Rib Roast

Purchase a 3- to 4-rib beef roast--also called a standing rib roast--that has been trimmed of excess fat (but not all of it). It should weigh 5-8 pounds. Remove roast from the refrigerator 1-2 hours before cooking and pat it dry with paper towels. Place it, bone side down, in a large roasting pan.

Heat oven to 450 degrees. Generously season the roast all over with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Roast it 15 minutes then reduce oven heat to 275 degrees. Continue to cook the beef until an instant-read thermometer inserted into its thickest part registers the desired doneness: 120-125 degrees for rare, 125-130 for medium-rare, and 135-145 for medium. (It will take 15-20 minutes per pound.)

Transfer roast to a cutting board and cover it loosely with foil. While meat is resting, spoon off all but a few tablespoons of the fat from the pan. Place pan over medium flame, add a cup or two of beef broth or red wine, and bring to simmer. Scrape up the tasty bits from the bottom of the pan. Simmer until liquid is reduced by half. Add salt and pepper, if needed. Cut the entire flesh portion of the roast away from the bones in one piece then slice it vertically into 1/4- to 1/2-inch-thick slices. Serve each portion with a little sauce drizzled over it. Makes 8 or more servings.

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