Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Trusting Your Trussing

As we get into the cooler months, I'm looking forward to cooking hearty meals with large hunks of meat. Yes, I'm talking about rich pot roasts, crispy whole-roasted chickens, pork loins, and, of course, that Thanksgiving turkey. Nothing says autumn more than sitting down to a plate of slow-cooked meat, potatoes, and root vegetables. I'm salivating just thinking about it!

Of course, along with these dishes comes the age-old question. To truss or not to truss? And if you truss the meat, how do you do it? It looks so complicated. Do you really need to do it?

I'm not really sure why trussing is something that people get all nervous about and I'm definitely not sure why professional chefs make such a big deal about using the right technique. In fact, they tend to treat it as some sort of art form. In most older cookbooks, there are entire chapters devoted to the topic with detailed photos. I've seen simple loin roasts tied with complicated enough knot sequences that you'd need to call-in a boyscout. I've seen turkeys poked, prodded, and sutured with tiny needles and secured to fancy fold-up racks. Even the queen of cooking herself, Julia Child, spent an awful lot of time on her television show threading a huge old needle with twine and punching it through the skin of a chicken.

Why Truss?
The basic purpose behind trussing is to take a non-uniform piece of meat and tie it into a more uniform shape so it'll cook evenly. That's it. It's that simple. As long as you accomplish that, you're good to go.

In the case of a chicken, you're trying to tie-up the legs so they don't flop around, stick-out, and cook much faster than the body. In the case of a cylindrical-shaped loin roast, you're trying to keep it round instead of letting it flatten-out under its own weight. In the case of a pot roast, you're trying to keep it from flattening and falling apart as it cooks.

Of course, if you're studying at Le Cordon Bleu, you'll have to learn all that fancy knotting. Why? Because the fancy French techniques look pretty. That's about the only reason. In the home, who cares? You can always (and probably should) remove the string before you bring the meat to the table. Nobody's going to see it.

How To Truss? (The Easy Way)
Here are a couple of very simple techniques for trussing common pieces of meat:

Chicken, Turkey, and Other Poultry - The objective here is to get all the legs and wings pulled-into the body so they don't cook faster than the rest of the bird. Think football-shaped. This can be done simply by tying the two drumsticks together at their ends in front of the cavity. Following that, use a piece of string encircling the entire bird like a belt to hold the thighs in. Use another piece of string to encircle the upper part of the bird and keep the wings in. That's it! It may not win any awards for aesthetics, but it'll do the job. Remove the string before bringing the bird to the table or, better yet, carve in the kitchen.

Beef & Pork Roasts - For both square-shaped and cylindrical-shaped roasts, use 3 to 5 pieces of string to tie "rings" around the roast, encircling the thinnest part and spacing the rings 1-2 inches apart moving up the long way. This will keep the roast from flattening-out as it cooks. There's no real need to tie the rings together.

Odd-Shaped Cuts - Occasionally, you'll find odd-shaped cuts of meat or fish where there are significantly thinner portions. In this case, either make a cut to fold the thin part over or under the main piece or slice the thinner portion off completely and tie the whole thing together to make one large, evenly-shaped roast. It may not be pretty, but it'll keep both pieces of meat juicy and tender. To serve, remove the string and slice in the kitchen. Nobody will ever know!

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