THERE is an essential truth about cold cooked meat that's revealed in a brisket sandwich -- what I call the brisket code. It goes like this: Even unadorned by gravy, hot brisket can be succulent and flavorful, but the next day, when it's cold and you're thinking it should be perfect for a sandwich, it turns out that it's become a sad, bland bit of business. You have to slather on horseradish to bring it back to life. Otherwise you might as well be eating bologna.
I keep the brisket code in mind whenever I cook meat the night before to serve cold or at room temperature the next day, which is pretty much my standard for summer soirées, picnics or potlucks. Since the flavors of something cold are usually less pronounced than when they were warm, and since flavors are always muted during storage anyway, the key is to start with more flavor: a blast of herbs, a rub or a marinade. A case in point: Beef tenderloin, served hot, is a fail-safe dish for a dinner party. It comes out of the oven caramelized, glistening and perfect. But just like that brisket, if the primary goal is to serve it chilled, the trick is to swab the meat with flavor -- lots of chili powder, oregano, garlic, mustard and olive oil -- before sliding it into the oven (roast it rare so it stays tender and juicy). The next day all you need to do is slice and serve, no compensatory condiments necessary. The flavors of mustard and chili, carried by the fat in the olive oil, have penetrated the meat beautifully.
Butterflied leg of lamb? Smear with a heavy-on-the-garlic rub including olive oil, herbs and citrus, seasoning the meat to the point where any extra sauce would seem gratuitous. Ditto a fiery jalapeño and ginger spiked yogurt marinade to give life to my take on tandoori chicken. The lack of any messy sauces on these meats means that they can all be packed up and taken on a picnic without worrying about dripping, leaking containers. A resealable plastic bag or sheet of aluminum foil will work just fine. You could even happily eat everything with your fingers -- if, say, you eschewed (or forgot) the plastic forks and knives and just packed a stack of paper napkins.
The brisket code can be translated to the world of vegetables, too. Think of it as the potato salad rule. Heavily season a potato salad many hours before the party, then give the flavors a chance to blend and work their way into the potatoes' otherwise bland, tuberous hearts. The same applies to sturdy vegetables like green beans, carrots, broccoli, snow peas and celery. Simply cook them lightly, dress them intensely (with, for example, soy sauce, garlic, good olive oil, plenty of salt, pepper and lemon juice), and, given enough time for everything to meld, the salad will sparkle. One thing to bear in mind, however, is that the acid in the dressing will dim any bright green colors. Keep some fresh chopped herbs around to serve as a last-minute garnish.
Preparing the entire main course in advance of a party (even though all of those here cook pretty quickly, in under 45 minutes) leaves you with more important things to do while the party's going on. Like chatting. Or making cocktails. Or fussing over fiddly hors d'oeuvres if that's your pleasure. The advantages of cooking the evening before a party can go beyond convenience. Cold meats slice more prettily and easily than their hot counterparts. Then there's the kitchen-temperature factor. Turning the oven on at night when it's relatively cool as compared to the daytime before your party keeps the kitchen cooler while you work. It also means that by the time your guests show up, the house will have been restored to its air-conditioned comfort zone. You'll be a lot cooler, too.
Mustard-and-Chili-Rubbed Roasted Beef Tenderloin
Time: 40 minutes, plus chilling
1 2-pound beef tenderloin, trimmed, rinsed and patted dry
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon chipotle chili powder
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 large garlic clove, passed through a garlic press
Kosher salt, to taste
1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Tie roast with kitchen string in three evenly spaced places to help keep its tubular shape.
2. In a small bowl, whisk together 1 tablespoon oil, the mustard, oregano, chipotle chili, chili powder, cumin, black pepper and garlic.
3. In a large skillet, heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil until very hot. Season beef generously all over with salt. Place it in pan and sear bottom without moving until it forms a golden brown crust, about 3 to 4 minutes. Turn and repeat with remaining sides.
4. Transfer beef to a rimmed baking sheet. Using a pastry brush, smear mustard-chili rub all over beef. Roast until a thermometer registers 115 degrees for rare and 120 for medium-rare (beef will continue to cook as it rests), 12 to 15 minutes. Let cool completely, then wrap and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature for at least 2 hours before slicing and serving.
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
Garlic-and-Herb-Rubbed Butterflied Leg of Lamb
Time: 55 minutes, plus 2 hours' marinating and chilling
1 (7 1/2-pound) butterflied leg of lamb, well trimmed
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup mixed chopped fresh herbs, such as sage, thyme, basil and parsley
Grated zest and freshly squeezed juice of 1 orange
8 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1. Pat lamb dry with paper towels and place it on a rimmed baking sheet. In a bowl, combine oil, herbs, orange zest and juice, garlic, salt and pepper. Rub mixture all over lamb. Cover with foil and let marinate at room temperature for 2 hours.
2. Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Remove foil and transfer lamb to oven. Roast until a thermometer reads 120 degrees for rare and 130 for medium, about 35 to 45 minutes, depending on how you like your meat. Let cool completely, then wrap and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature for at least 2 hours before slicing and serving.
Yield: 12 to 15 servings
Time: 50 minutes, plus 4 to 12 hours' marinating
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 small onion, peeled and cut into chunks
1 jalapeño, stemmed, and seeded if desired
1 inch-long piece gingerroot, peeled and sliced into coins
2 garlic cloves, peeled
4 pounds skinless chicken drumsticks and thighs, rinsed and patted dry
Vegetable oil, for brushing
Lime wedges, for garnish
1. For marinade, combine all ingredients except for chicken, oil and lime wedges in a food processor and purée until smooth.
2. With a sharp knife, make several incisions on each chicken piece to help marinade penetrate meat. Transfer chicken to a large glass or ceramic baking dish and pour in marinade, turning chicken pieces to coat. Cover dish with plastic wrap and transfer to refrigerator for at least 4 hours or overnight.
3. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Remove chicken pieces from marinade. Transfer chicken to a roasting pan and drizzle with vegetable oil. Roast, basting occasionally, until juices run clear and meat is just cooked through, about 25 minutes. Let cool completely, then wrap and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature for at least 1 hour before serving. Serve with lime wedges.
Yield: 6 servings
For a Cold Roast, Salads That Heat Up or Cool Down
By MELISSA CLARK
THESE side dishes can be prepared in the morning and will hold up nicely without refrigeration for several hours. Make these to taste, adding the seasonings a little at a time, adjusting the quantities as you go.
SESAME GREEN BEAN SALAD -- Cook green beans until crisp-tender; drain. Toss with sesame oil, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar or lemon juice, olive oil and sliced scallion, and season with salt and pepper. Garnish with sesame seeds if you have them. This can also be made with broccoli or snow peas.
POTATO, PARSLEY AND CAPER SALAD -- Cook small red or Yukon Gold potatoes and cut into slices (or use sweet potatoes cut into cubes), and gently toss while still warm with olive oil, red wine vinegar, capers, minced garlic and plenty of salt and pepper. When cool, add at least one bunch of parsley leaves, coarsely chopped. This salad should be green.
CELERY, BLUE CHEESE AND TABASCO SALAD -- Slice some celery ribs and chop the tender leaves. Toss with plenty of blue cheese, olive oil, salt and pepper, and many dashes of Tabasco.
MOROCCAN-INSPIRED CARROT-CILANTRO SALAD -- Shred carrots. Toss with olive oil, lemon juice, harissa or a pinch of cayenne, and plenty of chopped cilantro. Garnish with golden raisins if you have (and like) them.
WATERMELON AND FETA SALAD WITH OLIVES -- Toss cubes of watermelon with crumbled feta, calamata olives and a drizzle of olive oil. Season with salt just before serving.
CORN-BREAD PANZANELLA -- Toss toasted cubes of corn bread with chopped tomato, cucumber, green pepper, red pepper, red onions, olive oil, chopped basil and a sprinkle of balsamic vinegar. Or use toasted country bread or ciabatta.
SHREDDED ZUCCHINI SALAD WITH PARMESAN -- Shred tender zucchini. Toss with good olive oil, sea salt and shavings of good Parmesan or young pecorino cheese. Season with pepper.
CUCUMBER AND TOMATO RAITA -- Peel, halve and seed cucumbers, then thinly slice into half moons. Halve cherry tomatoes and squeeze out their seedy guts. Toss with plain Greek yogurt, chopped mint and toasted cumin seeds. Season with salt.