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Should You Boil a Roast?

Updated on February 12, 2013
Will you be this happy with your boiled roast?
Will you be this happy with your boiled roast? | Source

In the 1988 motion picture classic “The Naked Gun,” Priscilla Presley’s “Jane” prepares a romantic meal for Lt. Frank Drebin by stealing into his flat and boiling a roast. A generation of ironists has now equated a boiled roast with the height of romance. This, of course, raises the question – should you boil a roast? For couples looking to crank up the excitement by reenacting the classic scene, this is indeed a serious question.

Alas, the joke is on would-be culinary re-enactors. Boiling is seldom if ever an appropriate method for preparing a roast.

“Very Hot, and Awfully Wet”

From a culinary perspective, the appeal in boiling a roast seems clear. Moist, juicy roasts are prized. So shouldn’t boiling the roast in water – or, even better, a savory broth – produce an ideal result?

Not really. The juices that make a good, juicy roast ideal are the internal juices. They are generally not external liquids, such as might be contributed by a boiling pot of water.

Keeping the Juices Flowing – or, Not

The real question is, how do you make the most of a roast’s internal juices. There are a few keys. Of course, you’ll want to keep the roast intact and keep the moisture from escaping. Towards that end, a quick sear at the beginning of the cooking process can help. By quickly caramelizing the meat’s outer layer over high heat, you can seal in the flavorful goodness that “makes the meat.”

Don’t Take Things Too Far

Probably the most important thing to do in order to keep the roast juicy is to avoid overcooking it. It stands to reason, of course, that overcooking any meat will dry it out. A roast is no different. Of course, everyone has a different idea of what’s a perfect idea of doneness. And, foodborne illnesses are always a concern, and auger in favor of erring on the side of cooking too much. But, when it comes to juiciness, less (done) is more.

Taking Things Slow

If you have a mind to boil a roast, you’re probably shooting for a delectable “cut with a fork” outcome. But the answer is not conventional boiling. Rather, it’s to cook the meat slowly, at a very low heat, in a pot in the oven or even a crock pot.

The logic behind this method is clear. Just as a quick, hot sear will create a crust-like outer layer – see above – the inverse holds as well. Cooking slowly and relatively coolly will cook through the meat while keeping as much of the moisture in place.

Now, here, I’ll eat my words – to a certain extent. Many recipes for pot roasts and the various derivations thereof do call for liquids in the pot. But, once again, you’re talking about a long, slow boil, one that relies as much on the meat’s own juices as the external liquids – liquids which eventually serve as the base for a sauce or gravy as much as more than they do as a heating mechanism.

What Goes Wrong on the Stove

Conversely, putting a roast smack dab in a boiling hot pot of water cooks it too fast. As each layer cooks, it will toughen up. The result is likely to be a sinewy mess that absorbs little, if any, of the outside liquid.

Somehow, I don't think this was boiled.
Somehow, I don't think this was boiled. | Source

Rules are Made to be Broken

Having said all of that, there are people who swear by boiling certain roasts, usually for a small portion of the cooking time. Certain roasts – or roast-like cuts – are frequently boiled. For example, corned beef is fatty enough that it can survive a good boil with its tastiness intact. And there are cooking methods that depend entirely on water-based preparation, such as sous-vide: a slow-motion method of cooking food (often meat) inside a sealed plastic bag in hot water for an extended period of time.

But surprising your love interest with a dripping hot chunk of beef, bobbing along in a stovetop pot? That might be one of the many things that show up in romantic relationships on the big screen, but that just don’t transfer to real life.


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