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Temperature and timing come first

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THE veteran cook's careless phrase ``Oh, I'll just throw in a roast,'' may be both mystifying and intimidating to the kitchen novice. Although roasting is a simple way to cook a large amount of meat, with or without vegetables, correct temperature and timing are of utmost importance. Years ago, American cooks would test oven heat by holding their hand in the oven. Roasting was largely a hit or miss affair. But since the development of good ranges and accurate oven thermometers, the subject of meat temperature has become essential.

Let's start at the beginning. Although you may be tempted to buy economy cuts, the more expensive cut will assure you a tender, juicier result. And always use a meat thermometer. It's difficult to guess at what you can't see. Oven thermometers are seldom reliable and, like the weather, can be capricious.

There are two basic schools of ``how to's'' for roasting meat, depending upon the desired end result. One is slow roasting, geared for the family that prefers its meat medium to well-done. This entails cooking the meat for the indicated time at a constant low heat of 300 to 325 degrees F. The other method involves starting the process at 450 degrees F. (searing in the juices) for 15 minutes, then lowering the heat to 300 degrees F. and continuing to cook until the meat thermometer registers the doneness desired. Both of these methods require a preheated oven.

First, make sure the meat is dry. If you have marinated a tenderloin, for example, drain it well and pat it dry. You may season the outside by shaking the roast in a plastic bag in which you've placed several tablespoons of flour and seasonings of your choice.

Do not use salt, as it draws out the juices. Place a meat thermometer in the thickest part of the roast, avoiding fatty areas and taking care not to touch bone. Put meat or fowl in preheated oven and check the thermometer after half an hour. Set a timer so you won't forget to check. This will give you a feel for how quickly your treasure is progressing.

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