Meat cookery in the Lowcountry comes right out of the country French and English traditions that shaped so much of the rest of our culture. Roasts, daubes, and pot-au-feu fill all of our old cookbooks and appear on our tables today as they have since Carolina was a colony. For two hundred years our food was typified by this country cooking; it was, for the most part, woman’s work.
Butchering, sausage making, and outdoor cooking, however, have become a male province in this modern world. As families have become smaller and as we have become more health-conscious, most of the larger cuts of meat have been relegated to the holidays and special occasions when more than three or four people appear at the table. Today most meat cooking seems to be done on patio grills and smokers—steaks, chops, and tenderloins.
Everyone has so embraced the idea that the South has always eaten pork, pork, and more pork that Dr. Elizabeth Reitz’s zooarchaeological evidence to the contrary comes as a surprise even to Sandlappers. Speaking at the opening of the Charleston Museum’s exhibition, “The Bountiful Coast: Foodways of the South Carolina Lowcountry,” Reitz showed that not only was animal husbandry never a major farming practice in the Lowcountry; but also that duck and veal bones were those most commonly found in her digs in the area.
I usually cook meat like poultry, in a very hot oven or over coals. In no cooking do I make more use of my senses: roasts hiss when they need to be basted; doneness is judged by touch. The stew is ready when it smells and looks “just right.” Even so, I recommend that you use an instant-read meat thermometer, available at restaurant supply houses. Check the thermometer to see what it reads in boiling water. If it’s not 212°, adjust the temperatures you’re expecting accordingly.
Let roasts come to room temperature, then sear them on top of the stove or by beginning the roasting at a very high temperature—450-500°. The structure of the muscle fibers in a piece of meat and its amount of fat, not the weight, determine how—and how long—it should be cooked. Insert the meat thermometer into the meat at its thickest point, without touching the bone, to test for doneness. I like meat rare; you may find that the temperatures that I give are a bit low for your palate. Before you carve a veal, pork, or lamb roast, let it rest for at least ten minutes to relax and become juicy again. With beef, try to relax yourself and let it go longer, even 20 minutes if you can resist the aroma.
I eat rare roast beef when its internal temperature has reached about 130°; 150° is medium. Veal and pork are perfectly pink and delicious at about 140°. I eat lamb and mutton ever so slightly more cooked than beef, at about 135-140°. So that a roast does not stew in its own juices, I use roasting racks and baste the meat as it hisses.
© 1992 All rights reserved. Published by UNC Press.