Monday, April 09, 2007

A Traditional English Sunday Roast

My Take on a Classic

picture photograph how to make recipe for traditional english sunday roast 2007 copyright of sam breach
Roasted Leg of Grass-fed Lamb

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.

picture photograph how to make recipe for traditional english sunday roast 2007 copyright of sam breach
This is what Sunday lunch really should look like

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:
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
Delia Smith
Heston Blummenthal
Nigella Lawson

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.

picture photograph how to make recipe for crumble 2007 copyright of sam breach
Pear Crumble

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...

picture photograph how to make cornish clotted cream 2007 copyright of sam breach
Homemade Clotted Cream

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.

2006 | Fish n' Chips, missus?
2005 | Dinner for 12

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A Traditional English Sunday Roast


  • At 10/4/07 08:28, Blogger The Yorkshire Foodie said…

    Damn - you just beat me to it! I was dithering but I'll have to go with the beef now - I can't compete with that!
    I remember those Sundays you describe very fondly too.

  • At 10/4/07 08:51, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    When it comes to roast potatoes there are two things to bear in mind:
    1) the potatoes - as you rightly say, floury not waxy and peeled
    2) the fat - they should really be cooked in beef dripping, duck or goose fat - goose fat being my favourite.
    The important thing is to get the fat hot before the par-boiled potatoes go in.

    And it's not just English women y'know! There's an English man here who makes a pretty mean roast potato!!

  • At 10/4/07 09:55, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Next year I am going to grow my own potatoes especially for roast potatoes. We don't get King Edward's here and they're my favourite for roast potatoes.

    The Dutch ones work but even their 'very floury' varieties are not quite the same. You can imagine how excited I was when I saw King Edwards listed in the specialist seed catalogue.

    My neighbour in the UK taught me how to make the best roast potatoes - you par boil them and then bash them around a bit in the pot before adding them to the hot oil. Makes those wonderful crunchy bits.

    I grew up in the 'colonies' where we were sometimes more English than the English!

  • At 10/4/07 12:58, Blogger ChrisB said…

    While you were cooking lamb I was cooking beef and my crumble was rhubarb first pulling of the season so we didn't really have as much as I would have liked.
    Your meal looks as good as I'm sure it tasted. My potatoes were not as crunchy as usual but the yorkshire pudding was well received.

  • At 10/4/07 13:21, Blogger Beccy said…

    Sam, that lamb looks very tasty, I wish I was there.

  • At 10/4/07 13:39, Blogger myriam said…

    that roasted leg looks great! promise not to stop the clotted cream experiment. i desperately want that recipe (no clotted cream here in switzerland!)

  • At 10/4/07 13:53, Blogger FaustianBargain said…

    that looks delicious. i also go to hugh whittingstall's recipes. he is a personal hero of mine. altho' i always skip on the mint sauce.

    i think fava is in season, no?..they'd go well with lamb too. i hear you say medlar jam? did you get them from the other side of the pond? i am almost positive that they cannot be found anywhere in the states. is it available in san francisco? the fruit itself is notoriously difficult to figure out..very cunning fruit, medlar. a little too soon, its practically inedible. if you have any left, try it simply smeared on some good blue cheese. sigh.

  • At 10/4/07 14:21, Blogger Fen_Tiger said…

    No Yorkshire pudding?

    Tsk, tsk...

    Never was much for lamb, but I could eat an entire pan of roast potatoes! My mum is British, and we lived there for several years when I was young.

    Your blog is great, Sam!

  • At 10/4/07 14:27, Blogger Trig said…

    The "traditional" English roast has come a long way in the past few years to the point where it's hard to recognise as the dish that used to be served in pubs when I was young.

    The new Sunday roast has better quality meat more creatively prepared (as with HFW's approach) and slower cooked, far more inventive and much firmer vegetables, greatly improved roast potatoes and reduced juices to replace the old Bisto gravy. You've got it just about right here Sam.

    Richard - you are right of course, goose fat makes a great roastie. My own choice of potato is Maris Piper, although most of the celebrity chefs opt for Caras or the traditional King Edwards.

  • At 10/4/07 14:40, Blogger nicole said…

    Those peas sound so very yummy ... and I am looking forward to hearing about how to make the clotted cream!

  • At 10/4/07 15:10, Blogger Owen said…

    Sam - funnily enough the best american potato for roasting is the often overlooked idaho russet - they are much more floury than the trendy yukon, fingerling, red, white, etc etc.

    The biggest problem is that they are often too big so you have to cut them up. I also suggest a very quick parboil and then shake them hard in the colander to provide some rough bits on the outside to get the best crunch...

    IMHO anyway...

  • At 10/4/07 15:14, Blogger Barbara said…

    The great Sunday roast is a tradition in NZ and Oz too. One good thing the Britz brought to the colonies.

  • At 10/4/07 23:29, Blogger Alice Q. Foodie said…

    Wait a minute - homemade clotted cream??? We will definitely have to talk about that! When we got back from a trip to England a couple of years ago I looked into making some, but it looked to be really difficult and I gave up. Maybe all is not lost after all.

    I did a slightly different version of a Sunday roast and yorkshire pud for my "fish and quips" post, which isn't up yet - but I will work on it when I get back. I also made some really good scones the other day. Wait until you see my tag line!

  • At 11/4/07 02:10, Blogger Gemma said…

    Roast lamb is my favourite as well and I have a recurring argument with my half French boyfriend about the mint sauce that I view as non negotiable and he views as completely unnecessary. Roast potatoes cooked in goose fat are wonderful wonderful things. I've been trying to think up a suitable entry from an English girl living in Scotland so should be ready to cook this weekend.

  • At 11/4/07 07:21, Blogger Kevin said…

    I did a lamb roast for Easter as well. Boned it out then stuffed it with gremolata. Like you, a quick browning in a cast iron skillet, then into a slow oven,

  • At 11/4/07 08:15, Blogger Sam said…

    yorkshire deli - please feel free to make the same thing - it will only help to reiterate the glory of lamb within the minds of the naysayers.

    Richard leader - I am pretty sure you make a mean roast potato too - you just havent made one for me yet! I couldnt get goose or even duck fat last weekend but I used some lamb and bacon fat mixed with peanut oil instead. I actually happen to like them in oil too because when they cooldown they don't go all lardy - I am a bit of a too slow eater you see. (Talk too much)

    Ash - I would check the special seed catalogue too but I don't quite see potatoes growing on my deck. I use that par boil - bash around technique too - its kind of de riguer amongst us Brits

    Mum - we only get the rhubarb guy once a fortnight which is why I had to make pear crumble

    Beccy - I wish you were here too

    Myriam - I will continue with the clotted cream experiments for sure

    faustianbargain - skip on the mint sauce? how could you?
    Yes - said medlar - I bought some ion England at the Cheddar farmers market in Somerset two years ago and I still have some left. It's really good. Might feature is tomorrow.

    fen_tiger - Yorkshire pud is for beef, not for lamb. Lamb has mint sauce instead.

    Trig - I thought it was just common sense. WHen I was growing up I am pretty sure we couldn't afford such good cuts of meat, but we did grow our own vegetables (albethem overcooked). I think you are right - I managed to capture the modern version of a Sunday roast = good = because it is better for our reputation than the old style.

    Nicole - the peas were yummy - eand so simple - especially if you get your first guest to shell them.

    Owen - the colander trick is exactly what I did - the russian bananas were a little bit floury but not quite enough. Thanks for the potato tips.

    Barabara - I am sure we brought more than one good thing - no?

    Alice - will tell you about it on Thursday.

    Gemma - managed to get the mint sauce past the french BF - this one made with apple juice and cider vinegar is a little less harsh than the malt vinegar one of my childhood. But I do have a French friend who is very outspoken about his brutal feelings towards mint sauce - it's ok - he didn't get on the invite list for lunch.

    Kevin - the browning doesn't occur in a skillet in Hugh's recipe - it happens in a high oven before you turn it down. Just as well - not sure I would have found a skillet big enough!

  • At 11/4/07 17:03, Blogger Chubbypanda said…

    Hmmm... I'd forgotten that Sunday roasts are British too. Maybe I should make a Fish & Quips contribution as well. I did a roast beef and a roast chicken the last two weekends that I've been intending to write up for the blog anyway.

    I'd love to try roasting up a leg of lamb, but the fiancee always feels too sorry for the poor lil' things.

  • At 12/4/07 06:47, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Great, since I don't have enough problems with sweets and treats, now waiting for clotted cream!

  • At 15/6/07 09:53, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    does anyone know a pub/bar in San Francisco that does a Sunday Roast? I feel like one this weekend.

  • At 15/6/07 10:06, Blogger Sam said…

    I have heard but can't personally vouch for the Pelican Inn at Muirwoods on the way to Stinson - is that too far away for you?

  • At 23/10/07 13:15, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Since when did a traditional sunday roast look like that! i mean come on!! wheres the gravy? wheres the yorkshire pudding! and most importantly where is the slices of beef!
    Asparagus!!!! come on! I ma british and this is not traditional


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