When it comes to the fine tradition that is the Great British Sunday Roast, everyone has their own idea of how things should be done. Their own sure-fire methods, best codes of practise and of course, their very own flights of fancy. Habits that may well have been passed down from generation to generation. The majority of us for instance, would probably fight tooth and nail to declare that Mum’s gravy is the best in the world, and will hold the secret formula close to our hearts forever.
But seeing as this article is meant to be in the spirit of sharing and revealing, gravy is probably a good place to start. It is the cornerstone of a Sunday roast after all, and the bit that would take the longest if done properly.
Although most of us know that old school secret of saving some of the starchy water from your parboiled potatoes to make your gravy, it really is well worth investing time in roasting bones, herbs and vegetables to create a decent stock or base. A great chicken stock can be kept refrigerated or frozen for ages, so it's well worth making and portioning off. Gravy is all about building layers of flavour. Tweaking and tasting as you go, adding a splash of dark soy sauce or drizzle of Worcester sauce maybe for umami, along with a generous glug of wine, Madeira or port to deglaze and enrich along the way. But if you don't have two days spare to reduce your bone and vegetable stocks to a gorgeous naturally viscous and silky reduction, you could always go for one of our ready-made gravies and pimp it up with the juices from your own roast, not forgetting a little knob of salted butter at the end to add gloss. Gravy making does come under the category of the ‘dark arts’ after all and with good reason.
By and large, Sunday roasts are social occasions. A time when everyone gets together, so make the most of that and get the jobs divvied out. Like the collective peeling of spuds, carrots and parsnips. Whittling down muddy King Edwards and throwing them into a pot of water between our knees is a great leveller and focal point for conversation. However, peeling is also boring and can often leave you with pruned fingers. If this is the case, asked to be put in charge of the cauliflower cheese and remember to add a dollop of English mustard to the cheese sauce. Your friends and family will think that you are a culinary wizard.
Shelling of peas and podding of beans, well that’s a job for the kids. What with their tiny, nimble fingers. So long as they don’t eat too many raw. Other than that, best keep them out of the way. They will only knock your wine over.
Danger, danger, high voltage
Some jobs however do come with a high-risk factor, such as making the Yorkies. It takes a brave soul to pull that pudding tray out from the roaring oven, sunken holes filled with molten fat - and always use beef dripping, please - all ready to spit and seethe as the batter is poured in. Large, misshapen blooms of crisp joy are the reward but if they come out flat as pancakes, then trouble is ahead. So, choose that person wisely (or assume responsibility yourself). Do not under any circumstances resort to Aunt Bessie, she's a wrong-un.
Meat, of course, is the always the main star of the show and there is nothing like the gorgeous aromas that fill the house as it roasts away. Be it rib of beef, leg of lamb or pork shoulder. Rib roast, medium-rare, has to be the cut of choice when it comes to the Sunday dinner, as it has plenty of fat to keep the meat soft and succulent. It is a cut for high days and holidays though, so if you've got several mouths to feed, Topside is a great economical option if cooked right. Brown it on the outside, in a smoking hot pan with T&G Great Cow Rub, before putting in to a 180°C oven for the prescribed time (check out the cooking tips underneath the product). Little tips that can help you get a great result EVERY time are; take the meat out of the fridge 2 hours before to allow it to get to room temperature; get yourself a decent meat thermometer – you will not regret it – and rest the meat while you put the finishing touches to your gravy and free veg (more on this below).
And we cannot stress enough the importance of using good meat. 'Well, you would say that...' we hear you say. True, we are in the business of selling high quality meat, but apart from anything else that's because we believe it tastes better, and we're actually not advocating you buy more meat, rather in fact less meat but better quality. Our suggestion would be to eat three or four good quality pieces of meat a month, rather than several cuts of questionable supermarket fayre. And this applies across the board, we've all resorted, at some time or other, to a £5 chicken from the supermarket. But when you compare the flavour with a bird like our Herb Fed Ross Chicken, there is no comparison. And that flavour will be in part due to the longer, happier and more fulfilling life that the chicken has lived.
Basically, whether it be four legged or two, the animal you're eating should have had a natural outdoor life for as long as is possible before being carefully dispatched to the other side by a good, local slaughterman.
Whatever joint you decide on, the mouth-watering zenith usually comes when it is time to take the Sunday roast out of the oven, but hold your horses and step away from the carving knife – it has to be rested and left alone for a good half an hour or so. This is what food science guru Harold McGee has to say on the subject; "Large oven roasts should be allowed to rest on the countertop for at least half an hour before carving, not only to allow the 'afterheat' to finish cooking the center, but also to allow the meat to cool down, ideally to 120°F/50°C or so... As the temperature drops, the meat structure becomes firmer and more resistant to deformation and its water holding capacity increases. Cooling therefore makes the meat easier to carve and reduces the amount of fluid lost during carving." So, stay patient and wait to deliver it to the table, to be set down amongst all the accoutrements that have been prepared and slaved over by everyone. You will be compensated with a wonderfully edible work of art, to be carved and enjoyed by all. Saying that, a quick slice popped into the mouth, when no-one is looking won’t hurt anyone.
The Shock of the New
You might agree though, that the picture painted so far, very much falls into line with tried and tested, maybe even slightly antiquated way of doing things. So, are there any new trends or tricks of the trade that we can apply to elevate the humble Sunday roast away from this slightly old-fashioned approach? Well, baking whole vegetables in a salt pastry crust, such as celeriac helps to bring a touch of theatre to the table. If you really wanted to push the boat out, consider adding other meaty elements to your sides; such short-rib topped baked potatoes or steamed greens wilted and dressed in bone marrow butter.
The ultimate guide to creating a Sunday roast has to conclude really, in making sure that you have cooked enough food to supply leftovers for the next day. Given that the meal traditionally used to be stretched and eked out into the week, it makes sense. And besides, there really is an inherent beauty in a cold roast potato; or cold beef sandwich; or simply a slice of bread, slathered with dripping. All old school approaches, with delicious echoes of the past. The old Masters would heartily approve.