The holidays are rich with tradition. From light displays, to caroling, to gift-giving, and family time, we all have our tried-and-true favorites to fill us with good cheer. One of those traditions likely involves a big holiday meal (or eight!), with enough calories on your plate for a family of four. If you happen to be hosting one of these meals, you likely need a meat option up to the task. This means large cuts like roasts, or full birds. In my house growing up, the Thanksgiving favorite was turkey (of course). For Christmas, pork roast was a multi-generational holiday tradition. Cooked by each of my grandmothers when my parents were growing up, it made its way to my childhood Christmas dinner table, despite being referred to as “dry meat and gravy” by my mom and her sister.
As an aside, I should note that my mom, and her mom, are outstanding cooks. The fact that the pork roast was dry was no indication of their culinary prowess, but more a consequence of the times. Currently, pork is butchered and prepared in a much more sanitary way. As a result, you can cook pork more similarly to beef. A medium temperature is not only okay, but desirable. However, during my mom’s formative years, that wasn’t the case. Conditions weren’t quite as clean, and there were significant health concerns regarding raw pork. Therefore, it needed to be cooked all the way through, and served with a more similar texture to fowl than beef. A medium temperature was a no-no, and all pork was cooked well done to ensure safe consumption. The problem with well done is it leaves the meat dry. Unfortunately, because of this, several generations grew up on tough chops, and chewy roasts. Hence the term, “dry meat and gravy.”
These days (lucky for us), a medium pork tenderloin is an option, and a succulent one at that. Still, when cooking for large groups, I sometimes find the meat selections a bit boring and bland, despite being able to cook them at the proper temperature. That’s why they’re still often served with gravy. If you’re like me, gravy can be a solid option. That being said, there are times when gravy won’t do because I want something to complement the flavor of the meat without overpowering it. That’s when a glaze works extremely well. Glazes add just enough flavor to take your holiday roast or bird from mundane to masterful. Different from sauces, glazes provide a thin layer of more subtle flavoring that is typically brushed (or otherwise spread) along the outside of the meat, and cooked with it for a significant amount of time. Sauces, on the other hand, tend to be texturally thicker, stronger in flavor, and added either towards the end of the cooking cycle, during plating, or as an accompaniment on the side.
If you find yourself hosting a large group this holiday season, and you’re looking to add a bit of flair to your holiday meat option, I recommend using a glaze. They can add welcome depth while allowing you to preserve the comforts of tradition.
As with many things in the kitchen, especially those involving flavor, preference is key, experimentation is encouraged, and “to taste” is subjective. But, glazes have some basic components. Fundamentally, you’ll have a mixture of sugar (including honey and syrup) and liquid (think water, or juice) that you’ll thicken (via reduction, cooling, and/or adding cornstarch). If you want something more savory (like soy), add that to the mixture. If you don’t, leave it out. Once you have these basics down, you can start your own glaze trials and find the flavors and consistencies you like most.
This one has a special place in my heart. I love the savory-sweet combination which goes so well with so many things. Consider a soy glaze on beef, chicken, or fish and you won’t be disappointed. Get the recipe.
Mustard is one of my favorite condiments—yellow, dijon, or honey! So, when I’m looking for hints of mustard without overpowering the flavor of the meat, a mustard glaze is perfect. Because I’m partial to mustard, I think this could pair well with most anything. Think salmon, pork roast, chicken, ham, turkey, or even beef (likely a dijon). Get the recipe.
Brown Sugar Glaze
I recently had a ham with a brown sugar glaze, and it was one of the best ham experiences I’ve ever had. The caramelized sugar gave the meat an ever-so-slightly crispy edge with the right touch of sweetness to balance the saltiness of the meat. Get the recipe.
Maple or Honey Glaze
Similar to the brown sugar glaze above, the maple or honey glaze is perfect for adding a touch of sweetness to an already savory option. Think ham. Get the recipe.
There’s something about apples with pork that makes me want seconds! So, an apple glaze on a pork roast is a no-brainer for me. Brush it on before cooking, then chop up your favorite baking variety and throw them in the roasting pan with your meat. When the roast is done, you’ll have a wonderful fall/winter dish. Get the recipe.
Want to add a glaze, but don’t want to go through the trouble of making one? Buy one. To activate the ultimate glaze cheat code, use your favorite preserves. I’m serious! Go to the store and snag something that looks appealing. Cherry and apple are great on pork roasts. Blackberry works well with gamier meat like venison. Mint works amazingly well with lamb. Buy a jar, spread a thin layer onto your meat pre-roasting, and you’ll be glazed up!
To give your guests a real treat, just add a glaze atop your meat (cheesy rhyme alert!). You’ll look like a kitchen pro by serving restaurant-quality food, and your guests will leave happy. After all, once your guests are well-fed, the floor for the evaluation of your gathering bottoms out at “good.” Remember: Your holiday meat need not be boring, so glaze on!
Header image courtesy of Carlsbad Cravings.