A Mind-Boggling Chart for Finding Your Ideal Holiday Roast
No matter what sort of holiday traditions you observe, serving a delicious roast is one of the most gracious and practical ways to treat your guests. A good roast is also a smart way to serve a crowd—big or small—and, if you plan accordingly, leftovers can work into your lunches, suppers, and snacks for days to follow.
The only question is which roast is right for you and your occasion. To help you decide, we've put together a (not so) little chart. We've even included some of our favorite side dish ideas to get you thinking.
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To best results, stick with a modest sized bird (16 pounds max), take the time to brine and bake the stuffing outside of the bird. If you’re serving more than 14 guests (and your heart’s set on turkey), consider roasting 2 birds or add an extra turkey breast for additional white meat. For bonus points, make a turkey broth and use it as for the gravy.
A plump turkey breast is an ideal solution when you want the flavors of a classic holiday dinner for a smaller group. It’s also a great choice if you know it’s a “white meat only” crowd, and there’s the added benefit that it’s a cinch to carve. To amp up the flavor and insure a moist, tender roast, try dry-brining and slow roasting, as with this Slow-Roasted Herbed Turkey Breast.
Unlike most poultry, the rich, all-dark meat of goose tastes best when roasted until well-done, and an aromatic stuffing goes a long way to perfuming the meat—and your kitchen. Most recipes suggest a two-step cooking process (such as this steam-roasting method) to help render the abundant fat under the skin. Bonus: a tub of creamy goose fat for roasting potatoes, or sautéing greens and other vegetables all winter long.
Sometimes the simplest dishes are the best, especially when it’s a succulent little roast chicken with crispy golden skin and lip-smackingly good pan drippings. Start by choosing the best bird you can—that means one from a trusted source that weighs in the 3 1/2 to 4 pound range—and take time to dry-brine 8 to 48 hours ahead. This will go a long way to guaranteeing a tender, juicy bird.
Master this magnificent Italian roast by rolling a piece of fresh pork belly around a boneless pork loin and seasoning the whole thing with a fragrant mix of rosemary, thyme, fennel, and other seasonings. Finding the right cuts and assembling them takes a little effort, but it’s all done ahead of time and it’s worth every bit of trouble for the show-stopping potential.
Center Cut Bone-in Pork Rib Roast
This is the pork equivalent of a standing rib roast—and it’s every bit as worthy of a special occasion. Roasting on the bone keeps the meat juicier and more flavorful, and it makes for a more dramatic presentation. When you shop for a pork rib roast, figure 1 rib per person, although you’re sure to have some leftovers, and be sure to check that the butcher has either removed or scored the chine bone, so that you’ll be able to effortlessly carve it into individual chops.
Crown Roast of Pork
This spectacular roast is meant for a party. If you are into D.I.Y. butchery, you can make your own buy tying one or two pork rib roasts into a ring shape, but the easier approach is to find a butcher who can assemble the roast for you, just be sure to plan ahead. When ordering, specify the exact number of ribs that you want—figuring 1 1/2 per person, to insure plenty of leftovers.
Stuffed Pork Loin
With a little basic knife work and a flavorful stuffing, you can transform a center-cut pork loin into an impressive party roast. Good stuffing choices include sausage or other cured pork to enrich the roast; just be sure to pre-cook any raw sausage. Pork loves fruit, too, so consider incorporating chunks of dried or fresh fruit as well.
Slow-Roasted Pork Shoulder
Ideal for a casual dinner party, an open house, or a houseful of weekend guests. By dry-rubbing a pork shoulder in advance and then roasting it slowly, the meat turns out fall-apart tender and succulent. You can carve to serve, or shred the roast and douse it with your favorite barbeque sauce for a sort of faux pork barbecue.
Hams are meant for holiday entertaining—flexible, forgiving, and crowd-pleasing. Vary the size according to your crowd, and leftovers are never a problem as they can be worked into sandwiches, omelets, and soup. The type of ham is up to you, but most any ham benefits from being heated through and brushed with a favorite glaze.
Prime Rib (Standing Rib Roast)
Referred to as prime rib or standing rib roast, this may well be the most handsome and indulgent roast of all. Any real beef lover knows that the rib provides the best combination of well-marbled tenderness and real beef flavor. For ease of carving, many butchers do you the favor of cutting the rib eye off the rib bones and then reassembling the roast.
The little black dress of roasts—sophisticated and timeless. Carving is easier than slicing bread, and the meat is so tender that you don’t even need steak knives. Served warm, tenderloin makes an elegant plated dinner, but it’s also delicious sliced and served cold on a buffet, with the added benefit that you can make it ahead.
Chateaubriand refers to the center and most sumptuous part of a beef tenderloin, making it ideal for a fancy little dinner party. Keep the rest of the menu simple and classic, so as not to take away the focus from this lovely cut of beef. Uncork your best red wine and don’t forget the candles.
Rib Eye Roast
A boneless rib roast is the most direct and fuss-free means to a fancy roast beef dinner. The only essential piece of equipment is a reliable meat thermometer, to ensure interior remains pink and juicy. Carve slices thick or thin according to your style and the appetites of your guests.
As the name suggests, the tri tip is a triangular-shaped roast from the sirloin that provides a perfect balance between robust flavor and juicy tenderness—especially when roasted at high temperature until medium or medium-rare. The grain of a tri tip is a little coarser than rib and loin cuts, making it an ideal candidate for dry rubs and marinades.
Leg of Lamb
A whole, bone-in leg of lamb makes marvelous party fare. The meat is naturally tender, delicious, and a real treat. The size and shape of the roast means that you’ll get variations in doneness and texture. When planning your menu, bear in mind that lamb pairs especially well with the sunny flavors of the Mediterranean.
Boneless Rolled Leg of Lamb
Rolling a boneless leg of lamb around a colorful herb filling requires a bit of advance work, but it’s well worth it. For one thing, the herb flavors perfume the entire roast, and when it comes time to carve, all you do is snip the strings and slice into rosy slices.
Rack of Lamb
A rack of lamb is made up of 7 to 8 tender little chops, and, depending on your appetites, can be easily carved into two to three servings. If it’s a bigger gathering, simply roast two racks side-by-side. A great way to cook them is to first sear, then coat with a flavorful crust before roasting. Happily, you can sear and coat before your guests come and then roast just before serving.
Whole Roast Fish
From rainbow trout to striped bass, roasting a whole fish is unexpected, appreciated, and a delightfully carefree way to entertain. You can roast just about any whole fish, but most home ovens won’t fit anything much bigger than 6 or 7 pounds. The simplest approach is to set the fish on a baking sheet, season inside and out, fill the cavity with lemons slices and fresh herbs, drizzle with oil or melted butter, and let the oven do the rest.
When you’re looking to really put on the Ritz, few things top the delicate flavor and elegance of a veal roast. For ease of cooking—and carving—shop for veal top round, sometimes called a noix (or nut). This plump little roast is one solid muscle that fits neatly in a large skillet—instead of a roasting pan—making it convenient to first sear and baste with butter before roasting in a moderate oven.
Whole Roasted Cauliflower
What do you do when you want that “ta-da!” moment of serving a big roast but you know there are vegetarians or even vegans at the table? The answer comes in the shape of a whole head of cauliflower that you roast up until browned and crispy on the outside and tender and moist inside. Go ahead and pull out your carving set, and ceremoniously slice the “roast” into thick wedges table-side.
Molly Stevens is a food writer and cookbook author. Her books include All About Roasting and All About Braising.
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Written by: molly_stevens
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