THE ROAST OF MODERNIST CUISINE

By Jonathan Farrell posted 22 days ago

  


ABOUT JONATHAN FARRELL

Currently the senior sous chef at Bastible in Dublin., Jonathan has spent over ten years working as a chef in a wide range of roles; from large hotels to making cakes in his Mum's café, to catering for exclusive groups in ski chalets and Scottish hunting lodges.

After a spell of backpacking in 2016, Jonathan re-entered the kitchen when he took a job in a small seaside hotel in Sweden. This lead to stints in some of the best one and two star kitchens in Copenhagen and the UK. Working with such great chefs as Jonathan Tam at Relæ, Matt Orlando, Tommy Banks and Simon Rogan.

Jonathan believes in making delicious, sustainable and unpretentious food in a positive and supportive work environment.

 

THE ROAST OF MODERNIST CUISINE

‘You can’t bate a good roast.’ A Sunday evening sentiment expressed in our household by each family member, at intervals that increase with the frequency that wine glasses are refilled. Yet nostalgia sometimes hides the flashbacks of dry, overcooked joints of meat. If you were lucky, maybe with an area of pink in the centre about the diameter of a 10p coin. Of course this wasn’t helped by cookbooks requiring you to perform NASA-level calculations factoring in weight, time, temperature, wind direction and the median trend in local voter turnout, all in the hopes of achieving a family-pleasing centrepiece. This usually led to an anxiety-inducing examination that resulted in a knife being plunged in to examine the level of ‘cooked to jaysas’ that lay within. So in this post I share my method for achieving the most elusive of Sunday staples, perfectly cooked meat.

This recipe works well with any typical ‘roasting’ cut, i.e. any cut that doesn't require extended braising or boiling. For example, beef striploin, or rib roast, lamb leg and even pork loin and chicken (but do cook to a suitable final temperature) Heat your oven to anywhere from 70 - 100℃ . Season your meat well and sear all over in a hot pan. Insert an oven-friendly probe into the centre and place in the oven until the desired temperature is reached. That's it. Resting time is minimal with no need to cover with tinfoil like it just completed a marathon.

While it would be simple enough just to leave it at that, I feel it's worth taking a moment to look at how the simple act of cooking protein has changed in recent decades. As it wasn’t long ago that waterbaths were used solely by hospitals for sterilising and vacuum sealing didn’t have much applications outside commercial packaging. Now immersion circulators cost less than a hundred quid instead of the thousands they were fifteen years ago.

It was around that time that the likes of Heston and the Adria brothers at El Bulli were changing the entire perception of fine dining. It was dubbed Molecular Gastronomy, the term being coined in the late 80’s by the physicist Nicholas Kurti and his colleague Hervé This. Of course, with its popularity there were innumerable imitators; gelling mango juice in pub kitchens or frothing up tasteless lecithin-laced sauces in run-down hotels. I know, I was there.

But while the food that resulted from their work may have snowballed in gimmickry, the approach was simply to understand what happens when we cook. As Kurti himself said, ‘I think it is a sad reflection on our civilization that while we can and do measure the temperature in the atmosphere of Venus, we do not know what goes on inside our soufflés’. And it was chefs such as Heston that began to remove the practices established by habit and tradition.

I still remember leafing through the monolith that was the original Big Fat Duck Cookbook. Page after page of mad-cap illustrations, detailed passages about processes, memory and taste. As well as stunning photographs of what was at the time, some of the best food in the world. It also dispelled kitchen myth after kitchen myth. Searing a steak didn’t seal in its juices, mushrooms didn’t soak up water when washed and olive oil in your pasta water does nothing to stop it sticking. Heston also explained that the level of ‘doneness’ in meat is actually the result of it reaching a specific temperature. Therefore, if you place a piece of meat in a bath that's heated to an exact temperature, it will heat just to that temperature and not a degree above or below. Which is why the cook is completely uniform. It was called, ‘sous vide’. It was idiot-proof and it was consistent.

This method is not sous vide, but it does require the equivalent of knowing what is happening inside a souffle. For that you can pick up an oven probe in most supermarkets for about a tenner. Inserted into the centre you can monitor its core and in doing so, gain an advantage over generations of cooks before you.  The second part is heat, while waterbaths rely on exact settings for the finished product, here the oven is set slightly higher. One reason for this is to do with how heat is transferred. Water transfers heat with much greater efficiency than air, about 25 times so. Which is why you can put your hand in a 100℃ oven and be fine for a few moments (don’t test this at home) but the same amount of time in boiling water results in hospital trips and skin grafts. A slightly hotter environment compensates for this and the heat slowly permeates through. Which means this takes a bit more time as for example, the cote de boeuf pictured was about 800g and took almost an hour to reach 54℃. Speaking of time, we know time plays a big part in meat, which is why the price goes up the longer it's been aged. With ageing, steak becomes more tender as connective tissue is broken down by enzymes (called cathepsins). However if the temperature of meat rises the cathepsins will start to work faster and faster, essentially tenderising the meat at warp speed.  Until they reach 50℃, at which point activity halts. When meat is cooked by more conventional means, i.e. higher temperatures, it denies these enzymes the time to do their job. Put together, the result is the triple threat of tender, juicy and perfectly cooked.

I learnt this from my time in Sweden, in a kitchen that incorporated as many traditional techniques as modern ones. Hollandaise was extruded from a ISI siphon and ice cream was spun in a pacojet. But also, breakfast required at least a dozen variations of pickled herring and mustard had to be made by hand for a certain seasonal fish dish. For me it showed how you can progress without losing sight of your ideals, and while I don’t yearn for the days of a 63°C egg or lamb served with a terrine of ratatouille gels, the work that began with Kurti and This has radically changed how we cook today. That knowledge and precision is something I feel this simple recipe embodies. Because at the end of the day the only thing that really matters is the result. And in this case, the result is often my Dad loading up his plate and muttering to himself, ‘You can’t bate it.


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