Monday 26 January 2009
Even people who cook regularly have a tendency to brick out when it comes to carving. Was it the first glass of wine? Or the second? The fear of failure? Or just the 'I've been on my feet in the kitchen all day... I've had enough!' moment. Hence, the image of the roast being presented for carving to the paterfamilias, who has never actually made its acquaintance until then, but will nevertheless proudly set-to.
Well, whether you're the cook or the stand-in, this is what you should do:
Rule #1. Heat the plates to at least 70°C. By the time you have carved enough for four, the meat is bound to be nearly cold. Use the old restaurant trick of a decently hot plate to put the heat back in. If you put the plates in the oven at 70°C just before you start to carve, they will be hot when you need them.
Rule #2. Cool the meat until it's barely warm. Sometimes you read about 'resting' meat - what they mean is cooling it. Not only is it difficult to carve hot meat, but all the fatty juices pour out making a terrible mess and leaving slices of dry fibre. Tepid is ideal. The combination of hot plates and hot sauce will re-heat the slices as they are served.
Rule #3. Remove some, or all, of the bones before roasting. A sharp knife and some of the elasticated netting from the butcher does the trick ( the latter to keep the thing together, post-surgery). Slice to the bone from the point with the least meat, cut round as best you can and remove it. If it's a bird, just removing the wishbone makes life infinitely easier, and boning the whole thing is better yet.
Rule #4. If you weren't in charge at rule #3 stage, but were roped in later, remove the bone if you can. Easiest is a large T bone or rib roast (aka Fiorentina). Just cut all the meat off the bone in the largest possible pieces and lob the bone at the bin, or the dog. If it is a chicken, take the breasts off in one piece - use your fingers to help if nobody is looking. If the joint is a shoulder of lamb, the carver's nightmare, it's the same method. If you are not sure where the bone actually is, prod around a bit with the tip of the knife - or better a skewer - until you have the anatomy worked out. Don't worry if you leave meat on the bone - you will probably leave less than you would have done if you had tried to carve it on the bone.
Rule #5. Take a boneless piece of meat and slice across the grain - never along the grain. Meat fibres are tough and long fibres are tougher to chew than short ones.
Rule #6. Unless the piece of meat is large, do not slice vertically, slice thinly at 45°. The slice will be longer and look better on the plate.
Rule #7. Rule's 3-6 are easier if the knife is properly sharp.
Rule #8. Slice all you need before getting the plates out of the oven. It is better to keep people waiting rather than serve them in dribs and drabs.