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How-To

Roasts to Boast About

For a special holiday dinner, learn how to stuff, cook, and sauce an impressive pork or beef roast

Fine Cooking Issue 89
Photos: Scott Phillips
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The holidays present a wonderful excuse to show off in the kitchen. So at this time of year—for at least one night—why not pull out all the stops and make something really fancy: a stuffed crown roast of pork or a stuffed beef tenderloin, served with an elegant sauce. Though these roasts are sophisticated in both flavor and appearance, you don’t have to sacrifice your whole evening for the sake of a fabulous presentation. A few make-ahead strategies ensure that you can both impress your guests and enjoy the party.

A stuffed beef tenderloin comes together more easily than you’d think. I make a rich, earthy mushroom filling ahead of time and freeze it in a log shape. Then when I butterfly the tenderloin, all I have to do is lay the log down the center of the roast, fold the roast back up and tie it neatly. (For step-by-step how-tos, check out our video on butterflying and stuffing the tenderloin.) You can do this a day ahead. Cooking is simple, too. Instead of searing the meat on the stovetop, which is cumbersome, I oven-sear it by starting the roasting at a high temperature.

Buying a beef tenderloin

Beef tenderloin is a widely available cut of meat. Try to get a center-cut piece (often referred to as a Châteaubriand) because it’s evenly thick from end to end, which makes for easy stuffing and even cooking. However, a 4-pound center-cut piece comes from a very large tenderloin, which can be hard to find. If you have this problem, then it’s fine to use the butt end (the fatter end) of the tenderloin. Just note that there’s another piece of meat attached to the side of the butt end, so when you’re butterflying the meat, cut through this extra piece first and then into the longer tenderloin piece (see photo at right). Make sure to tell your butcher that you don’t need your roast tied, and ask him to remove the “chain”—a slender, fatty piece of meat that runs along the entire side of the tenderloin. A good butcher should sell you a solid, nicely trimmed piece of meat without any gouges or slashes; the tenderloin is a pricey cut, so don’t settle for a piece that’s not in good condition.

A crown roast of pork is a real showstopper, yet it’s even easier to stuff than a beef tenderloin. Since you buy the roast already tied (see “Buying a crown roast of pork” below), all you have to do is treat the center of the roast like a bowl and fill it up. As with the beef, I start the pork in a very hot oven to brown it, but I wait to stuff it until partway through roasting. This helps the pork cook more evenly. And the stuffing for the pork—which has a delicious all-American flavor profile of bacon, apples, and cider—can be mostly made ahead, too.

Buying a crown roast of pork

Butchers can cut a crown roast of pork in more than one way, so I found it helpful to have photos of what I did (and didn’t) want my roast to look like. 

Do: Ask the butcher to remove the chine bone (part of the backbone) in order to bend the roast into the “crown” but not to cut into the meat of the roast. A roast trimmed like this will stay juicy and look pretty, too, which is important because a crown roast is all about dramatic presentation. (The timing for the recipe here is based on a roast trimmed this way.) Also, instead of weight, some butchers want to know the number of ribs you’d like. I call for about 16 ribs, which makes for a nice crown.
Don’t: Buy a roast with the chine bone still attached. The chine, which runs perpendicular to the ribs, makes carving the roast difficult, so if the chine is left on, butchers usually cut through it between each rib to facilitate carving. The problem is that these cuts often continue too far into the meat, partially dividing each chop (see bottom photo) and making the roast more likely to dry out because more surface area of the meat is exposed.

A robust sauce is the finishing touch. In a restaurant, a rich meat stock, which takes many hours to make, is the backbone of a good sauce. To give my sauces intense flavor in less time, I punch them up with bold ingredients like port, porcini, bourbon, and cider and simmer to concentrate their flavors. If you like, make your sauce ahead, so all it will need is reheating and a few final touches.

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