Sunday, 28 February 2010


The Sunday Roast

In this house we are not really meal-planners, we don't have any 'Friday night supper' traditions and we prefer a bit of spontaneity in our cooking. But Sunday mornings are for brunch and papers and Sunday lunshtimes are for roast dinners. Right now as I write, D is reading the paper and we are listening to the free opera CD that came with it. Later on I will strap V up in his carrier and we will be peeling, chopping, boiling, steaming and roasting a delicious dinner.

The Sunday roast is such a British classic that I almost don't want to participate and fall into the stereotype - but this is becoming a family tradition and since D and I grew up without any it's one we will keep. My nan cooks a roast dinner, every week. Every Sunday morning she can be found in the kitchen - later my grandad will be carving whatever meat they have and together they will seat and eat. When they were younger my grandad would go for a drink before lunch and often would tell everyone how wonderful his wife's cooking was and how she always cooks more food than they need - at least once a month he would bring one of his fellow drinkers home with him. I can imagine my nan's face as she opens the door to her half-sozzled husband and a random dinner guest.

Our roast dinner is adapted slightly to suit our needs - I don't eat meat and so often substitute with an unholy offering from the Quorn range, we steam all of our veg and have cheese sauce instead of gravy. One thing not to be compromised on though, is the roast potatoes.

I am in the process of perfecting my technique, they can be a bit hit and miss but the hit rate is steadily improving.

I prefer smaller potatoes, especially Charlottes (of course) but they are harder to peel. I am not meticulous about the peeling, I like to leave tiny specks of skin on - maybe for aesthetic reasons, maybe for laziness - I'm sure my nan would disapprove.

The smaller potatoes only need to be chopped in half, they cook quicker and go crispier sooner, but if I can only get those big dinosaur egg style tatties I chop them a couple of times. Ideally you want all the chunks to be the same size so they will cook evenly, but if you are cooking for a big audience (maybe the wrong word - does your dinner count as a show?) different sizes might be more appreciated as some will like their roasts small and crispy while others will like them a bit fluffier.

I par-boil in heavily salted water - this is the only time I use salt on my veg and is a habit I will have to drop when V is eating them too - for around 10 minutes. You want them to be slightly breaking up at the edges, but not so well that you could mash them.

Drain the water into another saucepan and keep the water for veggies later or making gravy. Shake the colander a little to 'fluff' up the potatoes and then leave until you are ready to roast - I leave them to go cold if I have the time. The great thing about them is that you can do the prep way before you need them, even freezing them at this point - which would make cooking Christmas dinner easier.

I put the oven on medium-high (I don't use specific temperatures in any of my cooking - cos I'm a rebel like that) and in a large roasting pan (one with deep sides) put a massive knob of whatever 'fat' I am using.

Note: I know people claim that goose fat yields the best roasts, but I would never try it and can't comment. I have used, sunflower, olive and vegetable oil, margarine and real butter in my experiments - and eventually asked my nan what she uses. The secret is Flora White - which I think is just solidified veg oil - and available at pretty much any supermarket (I use it in baking too, it is especially good for greasing baking pans and trays as it doesn't leave a buttery taste around the edges of your cookies or cakes).

Let the fat get to melting point, then watch closely as it heats. You want to wait until it is all liquified and turning clear - that's the key moment to drop your potatoes in - if they sizzle when they go in even better (but watch for spitting). Make sure that they are all covered with greasy loveliness - either by spooning it over or whooshing them around the pan and turning them over - I use the whooshing method because in my head it makes them less fattening - the more fat they absorb the heavier the calories. I grind coarse salt liberally over them and add a little to the oil too.

Arrange them in the pan so that the smaller potatoes are in the middle and the larger ones are around the outside - I know this doesn't make sense, but they cook quicker around the edge (I think maybe because the heat of the pan sides?).

Then sit back and let the roasting begin. And sit and watch and sit and watch - this goes on for a long time. Every now and then open the oven door, peer in (giving yourself a micro-dermabrasion as you blast your face with the heat), give them a shake and occassionally turn them over. When the bottoms are browning it's time to turn them.

Usually roasting takes between 40-minutes and an hour. Like I said before I am not precise with timings etc - plus it depends on the oven, type of pan, type and size of potatoes etc. With about 20 minutes to go I add pre-boiled parsnips, again making sure they are covered in 'fat' or brushed with a honey and olive oil mixutre if I'm feeling fancy - and a couple of cloves of garlic still in their pink skins. These smell amazing when they are cooking and - providing you get the timing right - turn into buttery melted delicious ooze (I know that's not the most appropriate word for a food-stuff but it works here) ready to pop out of the skin and into your waiting mouth.


Note: Parsnips cook quickly, I cut them into halves or quarters lengthways so the fat tops stay squishy while the thinner tails get crunchy - they are rank if you over cook them, I would rather eat them underdone than over.

Roasts have to be served steaming hot - preferably onto warmed plates - I don't bother but I know my nan would not hear of it any other way - so get them out after you have carved and dished up the veg.
Enjoy every Sunday for at least the next 40 years of marriage.


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