What’s at the Center of Your New Year’s Table?

We all have our holiday rituals. On Christmas Eve in my house we’ve always put out the seven fishes, offering explanations (with varying degrees of plausibility) as to just what the meaning of this meal might be, though all agreed that the Catholic prohibition against eating meat for the day dictated the menu. The seven fishes were always followed by an orgy of sausage and peppers at midnight, served up by my grandmother at the first moment ecclesiastical law allowed us once again to consume meat products.

The symbolism behind traditional New Year’s Day meals is less murky: They almost always relate to encouraging luck and prosperity in the new year (though sometimes they are indicative of a lack of both). And, of course, the protein at the center of the table, a grand roast or fowl, embodies carnivorous abundance.

In a down economy, what are people laying out on their table this year? Jessica Applestone, proprietor of Fleisher’s Grass-fed and Organic Meats in Kingston and Brooklyn, NY along with her husband and master butcher Josh, says they couldn’t keep two relatively inexpensive offerings in the house this year: pork shoulders and tenderloins. Which Applestone calls “an odd but compelling combo. Something with flavor and fat and something lacking both.”

The other big seller at Fleisher’s is ham hocks, which people use to make Hoppin’ John, one of those dishes that’s full of magic and voodoo meant to bring luck. Perhaps many folks are hoping the Hoppin’ John will bring them better Christmas bonuses next so they don’t have to serve tenderloin.

At The Fatted Calf in Napa Valley and San Francisco the traditional Italian favorite porchetta, often made with a rolled pork shoulder, has been the top seller leading up to New Year’s weekend, even though the shops offer many specialties intended just for the holiday, and the porchetta is available year round. The Fatted Calf sells its porchetta stuffed and ready to go into the oven and slow roast at home. The real deal is cooked over an open fire, but most settle for the kitchen version.

This type of pork roast cooks for about 3 1/2 hours at relatively low temperatures (start it at 375 and turn the oven down to 325 after 40 minutes). It’s done cooking when a thermometer inserted into the deepest part reads 140 degrees. Give a good long rest of about 40 minutes and then slice away, aiming for pretty thin, consistent pieces. A little porchetta goes a long way (the ability to stretch the meal is likely what’s making this such a hot seller this year: that and it’s pure fatty deliciousness).

Kari Underly, a third generation butcher in Chicago and author of The Art of Beef Cutting, says her favorite New Year’s Day centerpiece is the ribeye petite roast, an updated version of the traditional prime rib roast without the ribeye cap and internal fat.

“I have to warn you that this is a specialty cut and you may have to explain to your butcher exactly what you are looking for and possibly how to cut it,” cautions Underly. Ask your butcher to remove the ribeye cap and trim the internal fat. If you have to buy the whole ribeye roast have the butcher cut it for you, well, what the hell. The extra ribeye cap is perfect for some fajitas the next day: jus what the doctor ordered to soak up two days of bubbly imbibing.

“I prefer my petite ribeye roast cut from the chuck end of the ribeye,” says Underly. “This roast is lean, juicy and tender and because of the size it will cook much faster.”

You can find step-by-step instruction on how to cut the ribeye petit roast in The Art of Beef Cutting. Underly’s recipe follows:

INGREDIENTI

Prep Time: 30 mins/ Cook Time: 60 mins/ Serves: 6 to 8

1 beef ribeye petite roast (1 to 2 pounds)
1/4 cup basil pesto sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons crushed red pepper
1 can (14 1/2 ounces) diced tomatoes with onions, drained
1/4 cup coarsely chopped Kalamata olives
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil or 2 teaspoons dried
basil leaves
1.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Combine pesto and red pepper; spread evenly onto all surfaces of beef roast.

2.

Place roast, fat-side up, on rack in shallow roasting pan. Insert ovenproof meat thermometer so tip is centered in thickest part of beef. Do not add water or cover. Roast in 350 degree oven 50 to 65 minutes for medium rare to medium doneness.

3.

Meanwhile, combine tomatoes and olives in medium saucepan; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer 3 to 5 minutes or until sauce is slightly thickened, stirring occasionally. Stir in fresh basil; cook 1 minute. Keep warm.

4.

Remove roast when meat thermometer registers 135 degrees for medium rare; 150 degrees for medium. Transfer roast to carving board; tent loosely with aluminum foil. Let stand 10 minutes. (Temperature will continue to rise about 10 degrees to reach 145 degrees for medium rare; 160 degrees for medium.)

5.

Carve roast into slices; season with salt and ground black pepper, as desired. Serve with tomato-olive mixture.

So what's on your table?