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Spicy fresh pork on the Easter menu

Roast pork, with its crunchy spiced skin and pink interior, is an alternative to ham.
Roast pork, with its crunchy spiced skin and pink interior, is an alternative to ham.(Dina Rudick/Globe Staff)

Roasting big pieces of meat can be an intimidating prospect even for seasoned cooks. It's not a quick method where, if something goes wrong, you can start again or fix it fast and save the day. Roasting takes time and planning and if you overcook it, well, overcooked is what's for dinner.

Coming together around the table with the family at Easter is traditionally highlighted by a roast as the centerpiece of the meal. Instead of a glazed ham this year, try a beautiful roasted fresh rack of pork, with its crunchy spiced skin and lovely pink interior.

I once was the banquet chef in a large Los Angeles hotel in charge of doing parties for many hundreds of guests at a time. We had huge rotating ovens that could cook up to 50 big roasts at once. These parties demanded military precision. One night I was cooking for 800 foreign businessmen. When I thought the meat was ready, I took the internal temperature of a few of the roasts and determined them to be a perfect medium rare. But when I went to slice the meat, it was bloody raw! It turns out my thermometer was off by 25 degrees. Yikes! To avert disaster, we hustled to recook the beef while the party goers had to wait 30 minutes for their main course. We plied them with alcohol to smooth things over, so they were plastered by the time the meat arrived. Worst of all, the executive chef was called in on his night off to "speak" to me. (A kind way to phrase it.) Not a good night in my budding career.

For this roast, which should weigh about 4½ to 5½ pounds, ask the butcher to remove the chine bone and leave all the rest of the fat on it. I like to marinate big hunks of meat to inject it with layers of flavors. You can start a day or two in advance, if you like, or season it the same day as you plan to cook. Either method works, but the longer the meat marinates, the more intense the results.

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Be bold with spices and other flavors. I like to blend the familiar aromatics of coriander seed, fennel seed, allspice, cloves, ginger, mustard, and pepper used so often in pickling vegetables. Then I add some acidic orange rind and juice to the mix, along with brown sugar. You might think this marinade would be too assertive, but it won't be. The result is robust but not crazy.

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Cook pork very slowly. In fact, it's a good rule of thumb to slow cook whatever the beast involved. Slow roasting allows the oven to cook the meat evenly from the outer crust to the center. The juices stay in the meat and won't bleed into the pan. And I know you've heard this before, but let it rest. I get impatient too, but resist the urge to cut into a roast the second it comes out of the oven. Place the pan on the stove, tent the meat with foil, and let it rest for at least 20 minutes. This allows the juices to settle back into the meat and ensures tenderness. Are you afraid that the meat will cool off while it rests? Don't worry. The internal temperature of the meat continues to rise for a few minutes after it comes out of the oven and then settles back down to the temperature it was when it was first taken out. You'll be surprised at how warm it stays.

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Pop quiz: What's the first rule of roasting? Use a meat thermometer, and make sure to calibrate it first to the correct temperature (to test it, soak in ice water, which should bring the temp to 32 degrees). It takes the guesswork out of roasting.

And beautiful pink meat, served on time, is far better than getting berated in front of your fellow cooks by an angry chef.


Gordon Hamersley and his wife, Fiona, ran Hamersley's Bistro in the South End for 27 years, until they closed it last fall. His column runs biweekly. Gordon Hamersley can be reached at cookingwithgordonhamersley@gmail.com.