Giving small dinner parties during the holidays is a special way for me to connect with friends and family during a really busy season. So when I want something beautiful, delicious, and just a little bit fancy, I make a stuffed roast. It tastes great, it’s quick and easy to prepare in small or large quantities—and in my experience, it has always been a show-stopper at the table.
Stuffed roasts have a reputation for being difficult, but the loin cuts I’m using here make the preparation especially easy. There’s no butterflying, pounding, or rolling required; instead, just pipe or spoon the stuffing into a channel you cut right through the eye of the loin. The tenderness of the cut allows the roast to cook fairly quickly. And you can stuff these roasts hours in advance and stow them in the refrigerator, which is a huge help where party planning is concerned.
Boneless loin offers ease and a uniform shape
I like to use cuts from the loin for a couple of reasons. First, of course, is great flavor. Second is because the meat is more tender—this muscle runs along the backbone of the animal so it doesn’t get much of a workout. The tenderness of the cut lets the roast cook faster than a tougher muscle, such as a leg or shoulder cut, would. And the consistency of its shape and muscling gives the loin the versatility of being served as thick medallions or as thin slices.
For both the pork and veal roasts, look for what’s called “boneless loin” (also called the “top loin,” as opposed to the tenderloin, which is the smaller, more tender part that runs underneath); for the beef roast, ask for tenderloin or filet (beef tenderloin is wide enough to stuff). The loin muscle changes shape as it descends the spine, so if you’re ordering from the butcher, ask for a center section. That way, you’re sure to get even portions. You may have to order a boneless veal loin or a beef tenderloin a day or two ahead, but between the cooking ease it offers and the tender results you’ll get, it’s worth the extra planning.
I pick a main stuffing component to suit the meat and then go from there. With pork, apples come to mind right away; I like the way olives and feta offer briny contrast to tender beef filet; and veal pairs beautifully with mushrooms. Then I select a second component to complement the first: spicy chorizo with tart-sweet apples; sweet red peppers with salty feta and olives; and tender-sweet butternut squash with earthy wild mushrooms.
Make room for the stuffing
To fill the roast, simply cut an incision. To prepare the loin for stuffing, you’ll need a knife with a long, thin blade. Use unwaxed dental floss and a large needle to sew up the ends to make sure the stuffing doesn’t fall out during roasting (see below). I like to use a chain hitch to tie these, because it reminds me of the finger-knitting I did as a kid, but individual ties work fine, too.
Stuffed roasts can feed four or twenty-four; I’ve even made them for parties of 200. If you’re cooking for a crowd, buy a longer loin that’s the same diameter or cook several small ones, doubling or tripling the amount of stuffing. The more meat you have in the oven, the longer the cooking time, but with roasts, doneness depends much more on girth than weight. More on that in a second.
Test for doneness deep into the roast
There’s always a bit of suspense when it comes to testing a roast for doneness when you can’t see inside and the piece of meat is too big to just poke to test for rare or medium rare. But these small, evenly shaped muscles actually require very little guesswork.
With roasts, girth is as important as weight. A filet that’s smaller in diameter will cook more quickly than a thicker one, even if they weigh about the same. All the roasts in these recipes measure about 2-1/2 inches in diameter before stuffing. If you end up with a roast that’s a bit slimmer than that, just start testing for doneness a few minutes sooner than the recipe tells you to.
An instant-read thermometer is a must for doneness testing. If you don’t have one, invest in a thermometer that costs about $10, which will last longer than the less-expensive model. Position the thermometer as close to the stuffing as possible and insert it as far as you can, as in the photo at right. (You’ll notice a small dimple on an instant-read that’s about an inch from the point. That’s the part where the temperature actually registers). The USDA recommends cooking pork to 160°F, but I like the juicy effect I get from cooking it to just above 140°F. I don’t like to go above 145°F; higher than that and the pork will dry out. I like to pull the beef and veal roasts out at about 130°F for medium rare. Remember that the temperature of the roast will rise a few degrees as it rests.