Friday, 16 November 2012

Adventures in Sunday Roast

I have a difficult relationship with the concept of a Sunday Roast – which still seems to be a strong tradition in England; certainly lots of pubs offer it as an enticement to spend a lazy afternoon with them, and from scanning Twitter it seems a lot of people still do it at home as well.

When I was growing up, it seemed to me to symbolise the tedium of childhood Sundays, where nothing was open, everything moved at a slower pace, and the television schedule was terribly dry and religion-oriented. Although I always ate it up and asked for seconds, the roast was kind of the antithesis of food I would actively seek out, preferring more exotic flavours from round the world, preferably with a bit of spice and garlic.

In addition, something which has coloured my view of it ever since, when I was about 11 I was called to the kitchen and told I needed to learn how to make a roast dinner, so I could “make it for my husband” - I took afront to this, thinking firstly, I may not want a husband, and secondly, if I did, why wouldn't they be making the roast? So since then it had been a point of principle not to learn how to make a roast – a small act of anti-genderisation politics against a meal that wasn't my favourite anyway!

But I have been treated to many lovely meals made by @dave_car that just happened to involve a roast element – pheasant, partridge, quail, grouse – so in an effort to return the favour, and feeling inspired by a chicken and garlic dish I'd had recently at @DraftHouseUK, I decided I'd finally give it a go and adventure into the world of the "Roast Dinner".

I knew that the key thing (apart from me not messing it up of course) would be to start with good ingredients - so I visited Harborne Village Butchers, a newish shop run by two lovely guys who have worked as butchers in Harborne for many years. All their stock is free range and I've been impressed with the quality of every single thing I've bought here since they opened. So I nervously confessed I needed to learn how to roast a chicken, and asked what they had suitable for two people, with leftovers. They fixed me up with a free-range bird, ready for the oven, and a jar of goose fat for the potatoes, and I promised to report back how it all went in return.

Next was a trip to @lokiwine in Birmingham's Great Central Arcade, to ask Phil's advice for a decent white to go with chicken, with the caveat 'anything but Chardonnay'. Phil was able to help out with a few suggestions, including a Viognier and a Spanish white, which I mulled over while checking out a few fine samples from his Enomatic sampling machines. Eventually we settled on a Jean Orliac Loup y Es-Tu? Blanc which I think includes Viognier and Marsanne in the mix, so should be zippy and fresh but with a slight honeyed note to balance it out.


Preparations started on the Saturday night - as I only have a small oven with one shelf, about three batches of roasting would be needed to assemble a complete meal. I decided to roast some little Chantenay carrots with orange juice and local Rea valley honey (from Stirchley), and these worked out really easy to do - top & tail 1kg of carrots, give them a scrub but don't peel, mix olive oil & the juice of one orange in a hot metal baking dish, chuck the carrots around and then drizzle over about a teaspoon or so of honey and give it all a good mix. Then roast for 20-30 minutes at Gas 6, taking them out and turning over every 10 minutes until they're a bit browned looking and yielding, but still with some texture left. I found these also made a good accompaniment to a range of other dishes like winter-spiced lamb or pork in wine.

With part 1 done, I slept a little easier, and woke up on the Sunday morning ready to tackle the next bit - potatoes. This involved using King Edwards (Delia's suggestion; other good varieties are apparently Maris Piper and Desirée), cutting into equal-sized chunks, par-boiling for 6 minutes and then shaking a bit in a colander to rough up the edges. Meanwhile, I got my baking tray good and hot at Gas 7, and spooned in half the jar of goose fat (around 100g), which quickly liquefied. I tossed the potatoes in this to cover, and then roasted for around an hour, checking and turning them every 20 minutes. They came out nicely golden, so I put them to one side and my oven was now free for the main event.

... and after!
... before ...
This didn't involve much prep really - sticking my hand up it to check there were no giblets and shoving some lemon halves, bay and rosemary in there; then rubbing the skin all over with a mixture of olive oil, sea salt and finely chopped rosemary. Lastly, surrounding it with a mixture of stock, white wine and garlic cloves that had been simmered a little, and covering the dish tightly in foil so no steam escapes. Then into the oven it went, and the nervous waiting commenced. Towards the end the foil was removed and it developed a nice golden colour - finally looking like I imagined it should! 
I used this recipe and was pretty impressed it all went to plan.

The finished article
So finally I plated up with the potatoes, carrots, and some green beans, and the sauce containing about 15 cloves of garlic each, and served it with the wine - and then stared at it for five minutes exclaiming "it worked!". The chicken was beautifully moist and tasty, and most importatly too the sauce was full of flavour, with the garlic cloves soft and squishy to be added to each mouthful. The potatoes had stayed crunchy on the outside and fluffy on the inside, with the vegetables hopefully adding some balance health-wise. It's fair to say I felt rather pleased with myself in my 'new venture'!


Credit to @dave_car for this one
The following week, I was back at Harborne Village Butchers, this time asking for "whatever bit of beef would be suitable for roasting for two people, with plenty left over" - I also wrote down their instructions on cooking the beef just right - i.e. flavoursome but pink in the middle. But on this occasion although I made the veg and potatoes, I did need @dave_car to step in - he laid the beef on a bed of shallots, rosemary and sage to roast, and made a great gravy with the meat juices and some Reserve port - and to top it off, some mini Yorkshire puddings. The beef came out perfectly tender and enticingly medium-rare, with lots left over for future meals. So another roast success, albeit not all my own work this time, but still, I can chalk it up as another area now explored in my cooking map of 'unknown places'!


  1. Sunday roast for me is a good routine at the moment, the end of the weekend, I enjoy settling into the kitchen, the preparation and best of all is opening a few beers whilst 'looking busy'!!!

    1. I can certainly see the appeal of spending the day cooking, it can be a mentally relaxing activity when you are "in the zone" (especially with a few beers!), but I just wouldn't want to get into a 'Sunday routine' as I hated the predictability as a child and felt it made Sunday a bit of a "non-day" - having said that, I need to work out what I might try cooking this weekend ...