Crown Roast Is a Dinner Party Superstar
When I first started entertaining in earnest, in possession of my first post-grad apartment with an actual dining room, I did what many passionate home cooks do. I made elaborate dinner parties where I had no fun. I did thematic dinners in cuisines I had never cooked before, struggling to master unfamiliar ingredients and techniques. I got overly ambitious and did many too many courses and all of them plated, with sauce-painted plates and caramel spirals on top of fussy individual desserts. I spent most of my time in and out of the kitchen, finishing things a la minute, and endlessly clearing and plating and serving. I ended these evenings emotionally drained, physically exhausted, hungry, because I never figured out how to eat more than a few bites between serving and cooking. My kitchen would be a disaster that would take a minimum of three days to set to rights. There was always sweat, often burns or small cuts, frequently tears.
It took about two years to finally make a change. I thought about the homes I most loved going to, dining at. Hostesses who seemed ever at ease and spent more time at the table than in the kitchen. I started to pick up on tricks and tips, like serving dishes that were slow-cooked, braised, or made ahead and reheated. Dishes that were served room temperature or cold. Family style and buffets instead of plated, simple little nibbles instead of elaborate hors d’oeuvres. The ease of a giant pot of stew or chili or soup, served with a salad and crusty bread. Bakery bought desserts, or ice cream served with cookies, or even better, a couple large bars of dark chocolate and a bowl of cherries or little clementine tangerines or grapes. Cobbling together a meal mostly from a variety items bought at a local ethnic market, mezes or tapas or antipasti style, bolstered by one large dish made from scratch. To this day, my most common style of entertaining, whether for 4 or 40 is the same. Abundance, simplicity, and with my active presence at the party.
One of my personal favorite showstopper roasts is a crown roast. Made with either pork or lamb, this roast is made by taking the rack of the animal in question, Frenching the tops of the bones, and tying it into a festive meat wreath, which can then be stuffed or not, and roasted to perfection before slicing and serving. It takes some practice to learn to tie the roasts properly, but once you do it once, you’ll get the hang of it quickly. Most butchers will do it for you if you order ahead or they are not busy, but it isn’t hard to do it yourself. For sure let the butchers do the Frenching of the bones, which is hard work and they will always do it better than you can at home.
Watch: How to Make a Tri-Tip Roast
The technique is the same for pork or lamb. I use lamb more often, because a crown roast of pork serves between 12 and 16, and I am rarely serving that many. You can do a crown roast of lamb for as few as four to six people. Start by buying Frenched whole racks, which in lamb will mean about seven bones each. Turn them over so that you are looking at the underside of the bones, with the Frenched ends pointing away from you. Using a very sharp boning knife, make a small half inch deep slit between each bone at the base, trying not to go too deeply into the meat. You are essentially giving the racks a little bit of release so that they can curve easily. Many recipes call for literally sewing the ends together, which I find both annoying and a little creepy. I have no interest in meat sutures. So, I cheat a bit and just slice down between the bones on both ends, and use a small piece of kitchen twine to tie them together close to the eye of the meat, being sure than when I tie the second ends together, I am doing so with bones curving outward, the underside of the bones facing out.
Once the two racks are tied together, I will stand them upright and using both hands, push them together at the base to create a circle. You are looking for the end pieces to sit flush against one another, sealing up those cut sides, and the roast to look like, well, a crown! A super icky crown, to be sure, but you’ll see the shape. Then take a long piece of kitchen twine and tie the whole circle as close to the base as you can while still getting good grip. If you are serving four to six people, you’ll only be using two racks, but if you need to serve up to eight or ten, you’ll need a third rack, which can get a bit more wobbly, so place a bowl the right size in the center and use that to form your crown for tying.
Once the roast is tied, season the whole thing well with kosher salt. Then you have a decision to make. Stuffed or unstuffed? Stuffed roasts take longer to cook, so I tend not to do it, but they are also super tasty, so you make your choice. Some use a bread-based stuffing, some rice, there are endless options. If you are not stuffing, you may want to use an oven-safe bowl or ramekin inserted into the middle of the roast to help it keep its lovely round shape as it roasts. This is my usual plan, and then I tend to fill the center with herbs or vegetables or something after cooking.
Heat your oven to 450. Rub or brush your roast all over with oil. For lamb, roast until a meat thermometer registers 125 for rare (about 20 to 25 minutes), 130 for medium rare (25 to 30 minutes) or 135 for medium (30 to 35 minutes). For pork, let roast for 20 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 and roast to 145, about 90-120 minutes. Let lamb rest for 15-20 minutes before carving and serving, let pork rest for 30 to 40 minutes before carving and serving.
To carve, remove the twine and cut down between the bones, using your handy slits as a guide! For lamb, serve 2 to 3 chops per person, for pork, just one.