Crusted roasts are one my favorite things to serve when I’m entertaining at home. They’re ideal because they’re always impressive—the crunchy coating gives every bite an extra burst of flavor—yet they really don’t ask all that much of the cook. Once you’ve patted on the crust (for tips on this, see below) and put the roast into the oven, it’s pretty much hands-off from there. You’re free to work on the rest of your menu or to kick up your heels and relax with an apéritif. The way I see it, why serve the same old roast when a crusted roast is just as easy and that much tastier?
The version I turn to most often is the classic breadcrumb, garlic, and herb crust. I use it on the sirloin roast, but this versatile crust isn’t just for beef; it works equally well with lamb, pork, or veal.
I also enjoy coming up with crusts that are matched to the cut of meat I’m using. For example, the rack of veal gets a crust of breadcrumbs, capers, onions, tarragon, Parmesan, and lemon—a riff on the flavors of the classic Italian dish veal piccata. And for the rack of pork at right, I created a different kind of crust. It’s a flavorful paste of dried cranberries, walnuts, port, balsamic vinegar, and spices. Its color is dark, but the flavor is big and bright.
With crusted roasts, you don’t really get the flavorful drippings you need for quick pan sauces—the bits of crust that fall into the roasting pan tend to burn. But you won’t miss them once you’ve tasted the simple sauce recipes I’ve provided. A bite of crusted roast is a beautiful thing, and it’s even more so when you dip it into a tasty little sauce.
Tips for a successful crust
First sear, then crust. Searing the roast before you apply the crust creates flavorful browning on the surface of the meat.
Coat the meat with something sticky. A crust needs something to stick to: mustard, yogurt, mayonnaise, and roasted garlic purée all make great “glues.” Or the crust itself can be a sticky paste, such as the cranberry-walnut crust.
Not too thick, not too thin. Apply the crust about 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick, patting it on lightly with a little extra pressure as needed.
Just the top and sides. You don’t need to apply crust to the bottom of the roast, only the top and sides.
Don't be crust-fallen. No matter how careful you are, it’s inevitable that some of the crust will fall off when you carve the roast. This goes with the territory, so don’t sweat it. Just make sure everyone gets some of the crust on the plate with their portion of meat and everyone will be happy.
Buying your roast
Buying beef can be tricky because one cut of beef can go by several different names. Depending on which butcher you go to or where you live, a boneless strip loin roast could be called a top loin roast, or a boneless shell roast, a whole strip, or a whole New York strip. And a boneless top sirloin roast might also be called a top sirloin butt or a rump roast.
If you decide to buy a boneless top sirloin roast, make sure the butcher has removed the cap so that the roast is a better shape for carving. (You’ll probably be charged for the cap and trimmings, though, so take them home and use them for stew meat.)
A rack of veal can be a specialorder cut, so talk to your butcher up to a week in advance to be sure it’s available. Ask the butcher to remove the chine bone, which is the backbone, from the rack so that you can cut between the ribs when you carve the cooked rack. Also tell the butcher you want the rack completely trimmed but not frenched (which involves stripping away all the fat, meat, and connective tissue from the tips of the rib bones). Veal weights can range widely; ask for a smaller rack if possible.