Cook that prime cut of meat to perfection with these holiday dinner tips

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Nothing says “celebration” like a ridiculously expensive piece of meat.

Well, that’s not really true, but this is the time of year for splurging — in dollars and eating — and few things are as impressive an anchor to a festive meal than an extravagant cut of meat.

But those purchases can be expensive, especially now that many consumers are trying to eat more responsibly by buying meat that is grass-fed, pasture-raised and ethically handled.

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According to a recent Canadian report on increasing food prices, meat prices are projected to rise the most in 2020, between four and six per cent. And Simon Somogyi, co-author of the report and project lead for the University of Guelph, says that estimate “might be a little conservative.”

Needless to say, once you get cooking meat in the kitchen, you won’t want to mess up the meal. Here are some tips from the experts.

The cooking method

For expensive, large cuts of meat, roasting is usually the answer. The dry heat method caramelizes the exterior and allows for even cooking throughout.

“We use classic roasting techniques, i.e. no sous vide or other New Age methods,” says Michael Lomonaco, who knows his way around pricey cuts of meat as chef and partner of Porter House Bar and Grill in New York.

Don’t complicate things during the holidays, he adds; he opts for a timeless prime rib.

Fat is your friend when it comes to fancy cuts of meat. That’s why Antimo DiMeo, executive chef of Bardea Food and Drink in Wilmington, Del., also likes prime rib for the holidays.

“It provides a lot of great fat marbling that responds well to slow roasting,” he says.

Lomonaco suggests placing the roast fat side up so the fat bastes the meat as it cooks. Pick a cut with a generous amount of fat, and ask your butcher to help you pick the choicest one.

Don’t forget to bring the meat to room temperature prior to cooking it. That way, the outside won’t cook too quickly while the inside is still losing its chill.

Cooking temperature

Some people sear the meat first, some cook it slow and steady, some switch from high to low heat during roasting. Find a recipe from a reliable source and follow it precisely. And make sure the oven is fully preheated before you put the meat in.

First, use a meat thermometer. It’s really the only way to make sure you’re removing your meat from the oven at exactly the right moment. Insert the internal thermometer into the meat’s thickest point, making sure it’s not touching any bone.

There are a variety of internal thermometers available, from ones you can check remotely to instant-read versions.

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Second, allow for carryover cooking. Almost all foods continue to cook after they have been removed from direct heat, and the internal temperature will continue to rise.

If you want your roast, whether beef or lamb, to be rare or medium rare, which would be an internal temperature of 125 to 130 F, then take it out of the oven when the internal temperature reaches 120 F. This is also true for other cuts such as steaks and racks of lamb.

Lomonaco likes to roast his prime rib at 350 F. DiMeo sears his first in a very hot (500 F) oven to give it a nicely browned crust, and then lowers the heat to 350 F and cooks it low and slow for two to three hours (depending on size), basting often to keep it moist and tender.

Both chefs pull the meat from the oven when its internal temperature reaches 120 F.

Let the meat rest before cutting

There are two reasons to let the meat sit after cooking. First, for carryover cooking. Second, because the fibres of the protein change while the meat is cooking and need to relax post-cooking in order to reabsorb the juices.

If you’ve ever cut open a leg of lamb or a steak to see perfectly rosy meat and lovely juices, only to have the meat turn tough and greyer a bit later, that’s because you cut into it too early. The juices ran out of the meat onto the cutting board. So be patient.

For a prime rib, for example, Lomonaco says it’s crucial to let it rest for 30 minutes before carving. Smaller cuts of meat don’t need to sit as long — maybe 10 minutes for a 1.5-inch-thick steak. Legs of lamb should also sit for 20 to 30 minutes.

So, while paying for the holiday table’s meat might make you gasp, you should breathe easily when serving it up, perfectly cooked, to admiring family and friends.

— With a file from Global News’ Hannah Jackson 

© 2019 The Canadian Press

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