Building a better roast

Melissa d'Arabian
Associated Press

In the world of beef roasts, marbling is king. The internal automatic basting power of tiny fat pockets melting into the meat is amazing.

So what are the options for roasting healthier, leaner cuts of meat? There’s the pork tenderloin, which is the leanest choice. But it is so mild in flavor that it sometimes doesn’t quite scratch the roast beefy itch. There’s beef tenderloin, which also is super lean and a mighty tasty roast. But I can only imagine a world where I could justify spending over $100 on my family’s dinner on a regular basis.

So for our usual Sunday supper, I turn to the top round or bottom round roasts, which are inexpensive and lean. But they do require a little extra care in order to compete with the flavor and texture of fattier cuts closer to the center of the cow.

After years of practice, I have a few tips:

■If you can dry age the roast for a couple of days in the refrigerator, the taste will be intensified and mimic higher quality cuts. Just pat the meat dry, sprinkle on some seasoning salt (or salt and pepper) and let it sit, uncovered, in the refrigerator.

■Let the roast sit at room temperature for an hour before cooking.

■Use a three-phase cooking method. First, brown the roast on all sides in a large Dutch oven to create a tasty crust. Second, slow-roast at a low temp (250 degrees) until the internal temperature is about 10 degrees below your final liking (120 degrees for a final temp of 130 degrees, about medium-rare). Remove the roast, and raise the oven temperature to 475 degrees and finish the roast with a blast of heat for 10 minutes.

■Tent the roast and let it rest for 10 to 20 minutes before slicing thinly. Pour a little juice over those slices and you are in (thrifty, healthy) beefy nirvana.

Fortifying lamb roast

Another way to serve a big hearty roast is to get away from beef and opt for the lamb

I love lamb in all its guises: lamb chops, lamb stew, rack of lamb, ground lamb, souvlaki … You name it, I dig it. But my favorite is a big old leg of lamb, seasoned and roasted, with each succulent slice landing on the plate like a steak unto itself.

At the supermarket, you have a choice. Leg of lamb is available on the bone or off the bone and butterflied (in which form it’s scored to an even thickness). Buying it on the bone has two advantages. The first has to do with taste; the meat next to the bone is sure to be moist. The second has to do with presentation; serving leg of lamb on the bone is an act of drama. (I imagine a medieval feast with everyone sitting around the leg of lamb.)

Only eight ingredients are needed for Slow-Roasted Leg of Lamb.

But carving a leg of lamb on the bone can be a challenge. If you start instead with a boneless roast and tie it into a roll before roasting, carving is a snap. Another advantage of working with the boneless guys is that you can season the inside as well as the outside. The secret agent — surprise, surprise — is salt. When you rub the cut side of a butterflied roast a few hours ahead of time with an herb mixture containing salt, the meat deeply absorbs flavor from the herbs and garlic.

Another way to ensure that your leg of lamb turns out tasty and juicy is to slow-roast it. The lower temperature — 275 F as opposed to 350 F or higher — ensures that the lamb will be cooked to the same degree of doneness from edge to edge. If you bake it at a higher temperature, the outer edge of the roast becomes more well done than the inside; each slice will feature just a bull’s eye of medium-rare (my favorite) meat.

Happily, if you do indeed slow-roast your leg of lamb, the outside edge will become just brown enough, saving you the extra step of having to sear the meat on top of the stove or under the broiler.

But letting the roast rest, preferably for 30 minutes, is key. The resting time allows the juices to redistribute. If you carved the meat right away, the juices would all stream out willy-nilly, leaving the leg woefully dry. While the lamb rests, some juices will seep out onto the platter. You’ll want to collect those and pour some of this liquid gold over each portion when you serve it.

Food Network star Melissa d’Arabian is the author of the cookbook, “Supermarket Healthy.” Associated Press writer Sara Moulton contributed.

Lean Roast Beef with Marsala Gravy

2 1/2- to 3-pound top or bottom round beef roast

2 teaspoons garlic powder

2 teaspoons seasoning salt (such as Lawry’s Seasoned Salt)

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1/2 cup beef stock, divided

1/2 cup dry Marsala wine, divided

1 teaspoon cornstarch

Use paper towels to pat the roast dry. In a small bowl, mix the garlic powder, seasoning salt and pepper, then rub the mixture all over the roast. Let sit at room temperature for 1 hour.

Heat oven to 250 degrees.

Heat a heavy-bottomed skillet or Dutch oven over medium-high. Rub the oil over the roast, then set into the pan and sear on all sides until a crust is formed, about 15 minutes total. Transfer the roast to a rack fitted in a roasting pan.

Return the pan to the heat and pour in 1/2 cup of water. Simmer, scraping the pan with a wooden spoon, just until the pan is deglazed and any bits on the bottom are loosened. Pour the liquid into the roasting pan. Add half of the beef stock and Marsala wine to the roasting pan. Set the roast in the oven and cook until it reaches 120 degrees to 125 degrees at the center, depending on desired finished temperature (which will be 10 degrees higher), about 1 1/2 hours.

Remove the pan from the oven and increase the heat to 475 degrees.

Once the temperature has been reached, place the roast back in the oven and cook until the top is nice and crusty, about 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven, transfer the roast to a carving board, cover it loosely with foil and let it rest while you make the gravy.

To make the gravy, place the roasting pan over medium heat on the stovetop. Add the remaining wine and stock, then whisk to release any stuck bits on the pan. In a small glass, mix the cornstarch with 1/4 cup of water, then add to the pan. Simmer, stirring constantly, until slightly thickened. Slice the roast and portion out with the gravy. Serves 6.

Per serving: 270 calories; 10 g fat (3 g saturated fat; 33 percent calories from fat); 3 g carbohydrates; 1 g sugar; 95mg cholesterol; 410 mg sodium; 35 g protein; 0 g fiber.

Slow-Roasted Herbed Leg of Lamb

1/4 cup minced garlic

3 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano (or 1 tablespoon dried)

3 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme (or 1 tablespoon dried)

2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary (or 2 teaspoons dried)

1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons kosher salt

2 teaspoons ground black pepper

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

6- to 7-pound butterflied boneless leg of lamb, with an 1/8-inch-thick fat layer left on the outside and trimmed of excess pockets of internal fat on the inside

In a small bowl combine all the ingredients except the lamb. Rub the herb mixture evenly on both sides of the lamb and let the lamb rest, at room temperature, for 2 hours.

Heat the oven to 275 degrees.

Place the lamb, fat side down, on a cutting board. Starting at the short end, roll up the lamb tightly and tie it crosswise with kitchen twine in 1 inch intervals. Tie a string around the roast lengthwise, weaving it into some of the crosswise strings as you go. Place the lamb on a rack set in a large roasting pan, fat side up.

Roast on the oven’s middle shelf until the lamb reaches 125 degrees at the center for medium-rare meat, about 2 hours to 2 hours 15 minutes.

Remove the roast from the oven, transfer it to a platter, and let it rest, loosely covered with foil, for 20 to 30 minutes before carving. To carve, remove all the string, and, using a large carving or chef’s knife, slice the meat crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Transfer the slices to serving plates and top each portion with some of the juices that accumulated on the plate while the roast was resting.

Per serving: 520 calories; 26 g fat (8 g saturated fat; 44 percent calories from fat); 2 g carbohydrates; 0 g sugar; 205 mg cholesterol; 1,460 mg sodium; 65 g protein; 0 g fiber.

Kosher and fleur de sel salts are used in Pork with Shallots.

Pork with Shallots and Herbes De Provence

From Elizabeth Karmel

6- to 8-pound pork roast, fat left on the top

Olive oil

Fleur de sel (or other large, flaked salt)

12 to 15 large shallots, peeled and halved lengthwise

1 tablespoon herbes de Provence

1 teaspoon kosher salt

Two 12-ounce bottles beer

Prepare a grill for medium-high heat, indirect cooking. For charcoal, this means banking the hot coals to one side of the grill and cooking on the other side. For gas, turn off one or more burners to create a cooler side, then cook on that side.

Use paper towels to pat dry the pork roast. Drizzle the roast with oil on all sides, then season with fleur de sel. Set aside.

In a large, oval Dutch oven, arrange the shallots in an even layer, cut sides down. Sprinkle the shallots with herbes de Provence and kosher salt. Drizzle all over with olive oil. Place the pork roast on top of the shallots, fat side up. The shallots will hold the pork off the bottom of the pot.

Pour 1 beer into the pot. You want about 1 1/2 to 2 inches of liquid on the bottom. Add more beer during cooking as needed to keep the dish moist. You never want the bottom of the dish to be dry.

Place the lid on the pot and set on the cooler side of the grill. Let cook for 1 hour. Remove the lid and cook for another 30 to 40 minutes. The fat cap will begin to brown and look crispy. Return the lid to the pot and cook for another 40 minutes, or until the pork reaches 135 F. The pork is done when the meat is completely white and the fat is golden brown.

Let the roast rest in the pan, covered, for 20 minutes. Transfer the roast to a cutting board. Skim the fat from the juices in the pan, then stir the shallots and pan juices together to make a sauce. Slice the roast and arrange on serving plates. Top with the sauce. Serves 12.

Per serving: 500 calories; 25 g fat (9 g saturated fat; 46 percent calories from fat); 7 g carbohydrates; 2 g sugar; 155 mg cholesterol; 460 mg sodium; 54 g protein; 1 g fiber.