A Traditional English Sunday Roast
My Take on a Classic
This month I am asking bloggers to help me prove to the world that English food perhaps doesn't deserve its reputation at the butt-end of every culinary joke. In an online event I have entitled "Fish & Quips", the plan is for bloggers to highlight something they love about English food to show it off in its very best light. Then, on April 23rd, which is England's little-celebrated, National day, named after St George, roundups of all the entries will be published, proving once and for all that English cooking really does have something special and unique to contribute on the global culinary stage.
For my own Fish & Quips entry I wanted to celebrate the tradition of an English-style Sunday Roast. When I was growing up the Sunday Roast was typically eaten in the early afternoon, after returning home from church. Times were different then. Life was a little slower: Apart from the newsagents, open for selling Sunday papers, shops weren't even allowed to open on Sundays. There was even a law against it.
The Sunday lunch was planned in advance, it was part of the ritual, part of a tradition where the whole family would get together and eat at the same time. One week it might have been a roast belly of pork with crackling and apple sauce, the next perhaps beef with Yorkshire pudding and hot Colman's mustard or horseradish. My mum makes a wicked Sunday roast and her roast potatoes are second-to-none. I wish she lived closer so she could still invite me around to enjoy her version once in a while.
When it is my turn to roast meat, I usually gravitate towards lamb, my childhood favourite. Last Sunday, since it was Easter and I had invited some friends over for a Sunday roast, lamb with all its connotations of Spring, was indeed the obvious choice.
"Like the breaking of a loaf of bread or the opening of a bottle of wine, the carving of a roast at the table, to share among family and friends, is as honourable a ritual today as it has been for centuries. It's hardly surprising that it happens most often on a Sunday. And no wonder when asked in a survey what their favourite meal was, well over half the country [UK] replied 'roast dinner'. The next most popular, at less than a quarter, was fish and chips". Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, The River Cottage Meat Book, UK edition, page 203.I don't usually use a recipe when I roast a leg of lamb - but this time I turned to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and his River Cottage Meat Book to see how he would approach the subject. The pair of us both cut slits into the lamb before stuffing with garlic cloves and rosemary, but Hugh's suggestion of adding pieces of anchovy in there too struck me as inspired. As Hugh said "don't worry about it turning out fishy - it won't. The anchovies simply melt into the meat as it roasts, combining beautifully with the garlic and rosemary and lending a delicious salty tang to the juices too." Fred saw me dealing with the fish and he expressed concern. Lamb isn't his favourite meat anyway - but then for me to be stuffing it with pungent little fishes did look, for all appearances, to be slightly unfair on him. But the piece of lamb leg was stunning - grass-fed in Oregon - and shipped down to by Prather Ranch. It roasted up beautifully using Hugh's 'sizzle - then slow' technique. It was perfect - the meat was juicy and tender and even Fred was raving about it.
Apart from a big slab of roast meat (or a nut loaf), the other essential staple of a good Sunday Roast is roast potatoes. Some would say gravy too - but I didn't make gravy on Sunday, simply using the thin pan juices instead which is how I prefer it. My English friend Ian did ask me "where's the gravy" and I felt slightly guilty. But only slightly.
The best roast potatoes I have ever eaten, have been made by English women. My mum's spuds can't be beat and my English friend Penny, here in San Francisco, is a dab hand with the roast tater too. The Americans and French do great potatoes, but they don't do great Sunday Roast potatoes. For a start - the potatoes have to be peeled. No skins allowed. Preferably they should be floury potatoes but it is harder to find the perfect variety here in the USA. I went to the potato guy, David Little, and asked for something floury and he suggested the Russian banana variety. They were OK, but perhaps not quite floury enough and I think I overcooked them for a few minutes, but they sufficed.
If you want to make roast potatoes the English way, then look to one of the English chefs for a recipe:
The beauty of cooking your own Sunday Roast is that you get to choose which vegetables accompany it. When I was a kid, the downside of the Sunday was lunch was that I would usually have to eat some soggy cabbage, tough old broad beans or brussel sprouts. This time round as the chief home chef, it was my duty to select the sides and since it is Spring, there is no better or more English thing to serve with the lamb than freshly shelled peas (thanks Ian), simply steamed for a few minutes and then served with chopped fresh mint and a slab of salty butter. Perfect.
I can't resist asparagus either at this time of year. I chose the biggest, fattest spears which I peeled and then simmered just a few minutes before sauteing gently in a lemon scallion butter. They were succulent and juicy. Mmmm.
Finally, for the English, a lamb roast wouldn't be a lamb roast without mint sauce to dot on the meat and what could be better than making it fresh? I used this recipe by Jo' Pratt and it worked perfectly.
We didn't have a lot of fancy desserts when I was growing up, but crumble was a regular treat in our household. Making the crumb would usually be my task. Back then we probably just used margarine with white sugar and flour and a bit of bran to make the topping, and the fruit would have been home grown rhubarb or foraged blackberries and apples.
These days I tend to get a little more fancy, but I never use a recipe - this is the perfect make-it-up-as-you-go-along dish. On Sunday I reduced some red wine with cinnamon, clove and some Medlar jelly (handmade in Somerset). I then combined the wine with some slices of comice pear from H&J Orchards and topped with a crumb made from local pecans, walnuts, jersey butter, raw cane sugar, a few rolled oats and wholewheat flour. Perfect. I even served it with clotted cream! Clotted cream you say? Yes. I made clotted cream, but I think that is what we'll call the start of an ongoing experiment that needs to be continued another day...
Read more about how to enter Fish & Quips here. Sign up now even if you are only toying with the idea of taking part and make sure you have your entry posted and added to the database by Friday April 20th in order to be included in St George's Day roundups.