If your extended family gets together for dinner only a couple times a year, you'll want to make each of these meals count with a show-stopping centerpiece. The holiday season is a time when cooks across the country put their best foot forward with elegant roasts of all kinds, and we have 26 festive recipes that will help you join them, regardless of what meat (or vegetable) you want to serve, what budget you're working with, and how much effort you're willing to put into the dish. Keep reading to find the perfect roast for your holiday dinner, from prime rib and slow-roasted pork shoulder to glazed ham and a vegan Wellington.
Crown roast of lamb is without question one of the ultimate holiday roasts—gorgeous, delicious, and luxuriously expensive. Given the price, you definitely want to cook it right. That means using a technique called the reverse sear, which involves cooking the meat most of the way through in a very low oven, then blasting it under the most intense heat your oven is capable of to brown the surface.
The gamey taste of lamb can be divisive: Some people love it, some find it a turn-off. Most of that flavor is found in the fat, so trim the fat off of a boneless leg to make a roast that's mild enough for the whole family. You have plenty of options for flavoring leg of lamb—here, we use a simple marinade of garlic, rosemary, lemon zest, and anchovies. The anchovy enhances the lamb's savoriness, but won't taste one bit fishy.
Extrapolating from the classic combination of lamb and mint, here we stuff a leg of lamb with a mild, herbal mint pesto, complemented with the rich, pungent flavor of roasted garlic. You could easily cook this using the same reverse-sear technique described in the previous leg of lamb recipe, but if you happen to be celebrating the holidays someplace warm and want to save space in the oven, consider firing up the grill instead.
Typical Sichuan spices, like cumin, dried red chilies, fennel seed, star anise, and mouth-numbing Sichuan peppercorns, might seem unexpected in a roast served as part of an all-American holiday spread. But given that lamb is so common in northwest China, we find these flavors perfectly appropriate. To tame the heat from the spice rub, serve the lamb with a refreshing salad of celery, cucumber, radishes, carrots, mint, and cilantro.
Pork loin is easier on the wallet than lamb, but just as tasty when cooked right. Again, we recommend the reverse-sear method here, and advise you not to cook the meat to death—modern pork is totally safe when cooked to medium, so don't be afraid of a little pink. For a cozy winter meal, we love pairing a tender, browned roast pork with a medley of roasted root vegetables, like carrots, parsnips, and turnips.
To make this extra-impressive roasted pork loin, you'll have to get friendly with your local butcher—ask them to get you a loin with the skin and fat cap left on. You'll also want your butcher to partially detach the bones, allowing you to stuff the pork with thyme, rosemary, and garlic. If you score the skin and start dry-brining the loin a few days before you roast it, you'll be rewarded with tender meat underneath crispy crackling.
It may be a time-consuming project, but slow-roasted pork shoulder provides one of the best ratios of effort to reward of any roast we know. Just season the pork with salt and pepper, and toss it in the oven for a full eight hours. For that minimal amount of work, you'll end up with meltingly tender meat, shatteringly crisp skin, and very satisfied guests.
Traditional porchetta is made with pork loin that's cut so the belly is still attached. This causes problems because the two cuts cook totally differently—get the belly hot enough for long enough to tenderize it, and the loin is going to turn out dry. Our solution is to just get rid of the loin entirely and make an all-belly porchetta instead. Luckily, it's a method that produces terrific results: juicy, extra-aromatic pork, with a crispy and salty skin.
Looking for a presentation that's just as stunning as crown roast of lamb, but in a leaner, more affordable package? The pork version of the dish is similarly juicy and flavorful and looks equally impressive. Use the same reverse-sear technique to cook it; just know that it will take a little bit longer. For the cleanest presentation, wrap the exposed bone in foil so it doesn't char.
Be careful when cooking city hams: They come precooked, so it's easy to dry them out when reheating. Most city hams are sold vacuum-sealed, so reheating them sous vide makes a lot of sense. After that, we pop them in the oven just long enough to set the glaze—here, a simple one of tart balsamic vinegar and caramelly brown sugar.
If you don't own a sous vide circulator, you're not out of luck. It's totally possible to reheat a city ham using the oven alone, with an oven bag or aluminum foil to protect it from the heat. Cook the ham covered until it hits 120°F (49°C), then cook it uncovered with the glaze—in this case, a combination of maple syrup, dark molasses, and whole grain mustard—for another 15 minutes.
Don't have a sous vide setup or room in your oven? If you're blessed with a warm climate, you can also heat a city ham on the grill, wrapping it in foil in the same way you would when using the oven. Here, we complement the pork's smoky flavor with a sweet-and-sour glaze of pineapple juice, Coca-Cola, and apple cider vinegar.
If there's any holiday roast that could be called the king of them all, it's prime rib—this high-end cut just screams "celebration." But it's got a price tag to match its status, so, as with the crown roast, you'll want to do everything you can to cook it right. How to do that? Yup, the reverse sear is back again! To ensure a nice and crispy exterior and deeply seasoned meat, we suggest salting the roast the day before and letting it sit, uncovered, on a wire rack set in a sheet pan in your fridge overnight.
Beef rib roasts are packed with meaty flavor, so they can stand up to all sorts of intense seasonings. For this grilled roast, that means a crust of sage, thyme, rosemary, marjoram, and sharp Dijon mustard.
Where prime rib is big, brash, and intensely flavored, beef tenderloin is subtler, more tender, and more elegant. It's also extremely lean, which makes it a less forgiving cut to cook. If you pull it from the oven even a few degrees past medium-rare, it'll be dry, so we recommend taking it out just shy of 130°F (54°C). Basting the roast with a mixture of browned butter, thyme, and shallots helps to infuse it with flavor.
Sometimes food can go so far out of fashion that it becomes retro-cool. It's unclear whether beef Wellington has reached that point yet, but what's certain is that this old-school dish, made by wrapping up beef tenderloin, prosciutto, mushroom duxelles, and foie gras in a crisp puff pastry crust, is ready to make a comeback as an extravagant, labor-intensive, and supremely rewarding holiday centerpiece. We find that a sheet of phyllo dough, rather than the more traditional crepe or slices of ham, makes the best barrier to keep the puff pastry from absorbing too much moisture from the other ingredients.
Spatchcocking, also called butterflying, is hands down the best way to cook a turkey—laying the bird out flat means the individual parts heat more evenly, for meat that's better cooked and incredibly crispy skin. You won't get the classic whole-bird presentation, but we think that's a small price to pay for the juiciest, most flavorful turkey you'll ever eat.
I know, I know—the holidays are all about upholding traditions, and Grandpa isn't too keen on the odd look of a spatchcocked turkey. If you must cook the bird intact, the best way to do it is on a V-rack set on a baking sheet (for maximum air circulation and crispy skin) that's in turn placed on a Baking Steel (which will radiate heat toward the slower-cooking legs). It might not turn out quite as tasty as a spatchcocked turkey, but it'll come pretty close.
Cooking a whole turkey with stuffing inside presents another problem: It may be great for presentation, but the stuffing needs to hit 145°F (63°C) to be safe to eat, and by that time the turkey is going to taste like cardboard. Our solution is to par-cook the stuffing before it goes in, ensuring that it hits a safe temperature just as the turkey finishes cooking.
Spatchcocking is the best way to cook a whole turkey, but if I'm being honest, I have to admit it's not my favorite turkey recipe. That honor goes to this totally nontraditional turkey "porchetta," made by rolling a turkey breast up with a curing mixture of spices and herbs, then roasting it. Actually, even that's a lie: My real favorite turkey recipe is this unbelievably juicy and flavorful deep-fried, sous vide turkey porchetta.
Spatchcocking doesn't just work for turkey; it's also the best way to roast a chicken. The look of it may be unfamiliar to you, but the technique is simple, requiring only that you cut out the backbone with a pair of poultry shears or good-quality kitchen shears and flatten out the bird. Removing the backbone has the added benefit of giving you some bones with which to make a simple jus while the chicken cooks.
The classic Italian technique of cooking chicken under a brick (or beneath a second cast iron or aluminum skillet) yields wonderfully crisp skin and juicy meat in less time than your average roasted bird. Marinate the chicken with garlic, lemon juice, and minced aromatics to give it extra flavor before roasting it to a perfect golden brown.
Done right, roast goose is a wonderfully flavorful and impressive holiday centerpiece. The trick is making sure the goose's high volume of fat renders properly without the meat becoming tough and overcooked. This recipe, adapted from Cook's Illustrated, does that by pricking the skin and blanching the goose before roasting. We also dry-brine the bird, to guarantee even juicier meat and crisp, flavorful skin. Serve it with gravy and our prune and apple stuffing with chestnuts for a totally delicious, totally old-school holiday feast.
Duck à l'orange is a classic French recipe featuring a whole roasted duck with crispy, crackling skin and an aromatic sweet-sour sauce known as sauce bigarade. While duck à l'orange is often cloyingly sweet with a heavy, syrupy sauce, this recipe calls for bitter oranges, which balance the dish's sweetness and cut through the rich and fatty duck (if you can't find bitter oranges, we give you the option of substituting a mixture of navel oranges and lemons). The full recipe takes several hours, and is sure to impress even your grumpiest relatives.
Sure, this vegan take on beef Wellington is more work than some other roasts, but it's an incredible dish that's guaranteed to make the vegetarian and vegan guests at your table feel loved. A mix of mushrooms cooked three ways, roasted carrots, dehydrated beans, braised cashews, and aromatics, all wrapped up in layers of phyllo dough, creates a centerpiece that meat-eaters are bound to enjoy just as much. Cut down on your day-of labor by making the mushroom duxelles, roasted carrots, and bean/cashew mixture in advance and storing them in the refrigerator.
These adorable glazed roast pumpkins, stuffed with mushrooms, kale, kabocha squash, and Gruyère, make a centerpiece with every bit as much wow factor as a whole roast turkey or handsome leg of lamb. Plus, they can be made in multiple stages, or even assembled entirely in advance and reheated, giving you extra flexibility that'll come in handy as your kitchen fills up with friends (and dishes). Par-roast the pumpkins before stuffing them to ensure every component turns out well cooked—yes, you can eat the pumpkins themselves, too!
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