The Great British Roast Dinner: Sunday lunch of Champions

The Great British Isles can be a cold, wet, grey place at any time of year. The weather can be beautiful through the office window all week and then as soon as a potential day in the outside presents its self the heavens will open and rain will pour. Eating wonderfully roasted meats with a fine gravy and select vegetables by a warm fire on such a day has become a very British tradition.

Great Britain, despite its diminutive size, has always been a locally diverse place. Travelling from town to town you’ll hear strong local accents that change a great deal over a surprisingly short distance. This is reflected in perhaps its most famous signature dish. The Roast Dinner, variously known as Sunday roast, or The Sunday Joint.

The Rules ( Britannia! )

There is no true, precise, one-stop definition of a British roast dinner. Regional differences occur, family to family differences occur, often at the dinner table. But there are some definite fundamentals.
Roast joint of Meat or Chicken, Roast Potatoes, Gravy. These three must appear on every roast dinner plate or it simply is not a roast dinner. Ok, you can have a nut-roast in replacement of the meat in this enlightened day and age, but that’s pushing it.

Like driving on the left, the Pound and the game of Cricket there are a number of particularly British rules that must also be applied. Here they are. Beef is served with Yorkshire pudding and horseradish sauce. Lamb is served with mint sauce. Pork with apple-sauce and crackling. Chicken with ‘pigs-in blankets’ and stuffing.
Also, gravy must not be considered a sauce. It is an ever-present conduit, a flowing core for all the fabulous flavours of the meal to be enjoyed through. As Cricket is more than just a game, gravy is far more than just a sauce.

Get the Gravy right.

If the gravy isn’t right, your Sunday is ruined. That’s a fact. Well, alright not ruined but certainly tainted. There it sits temptingly steaming in its boat upon the dinner table. Gravy is always served in a boat, or sometimes to invoke the sprit of 1970s cooking, in a Pyrex jug.

The perfect light shade of brown, the flavours emanating outwards. Its consistency pourable but certainly not watery. The juices of the meat combined with the starchy water saved from the par-boiled pre-roasting potato. A carrot, maybe an onion and giblets (if it’s a chicken roast) add to the richness. If necessary a bit of cheating is allowed in the form of gravy granules. The more gravy granules the more likely the gravy will be served in Pyrex.

“did those feet in ancient time walk upon on Englands mountains green”
Traditionally the Sunday roast revolves around a trip to Church. The family would leave early on a Sunday morning skipping any breakfast to hear the sermon but not before the meat was put in a slow cook oven. Then the fast would be broken at a large meal in the early afternoon.

There are also traditions around the leftovers. Bubble and Squeak, so named as that’s how it sounds frying. Is a mash of leftover roast potato, cabbage and any other vegetable used in the initial dinner. It is fried, turned , mashed around, fried and turned until crispy pieces exist all the way through. Then served with cold-cuts of meat or sometimes amongst sausages and bacon with a full English breakfast.

Then of course a bone broth or soup can be made from leftover bones or the chicken carcass.

Out of a packet!

In 1908 powdered or granulated pre-mixed gravy became available named Bisto. It quickly became a best seller. Bisto is now as synonymous with gravy as ‘hoover’ is to the vacuum cleaner. In latter years pre-made frozen Yorkshire puddings have become a very popular alternative to the gamble of making homemade puddings rise. Inevitably ‘T.V Dinner’ style pre-packed microwavable ‘roasts’ are always lurking on the supermarket shelves but frankly there’d be more flavour and possibly more nutrition in the packaging than the meal itself.

The Sunday Pub Roast

I ever there was a time when ‘other peoples kids’ were of a concern its at a Sunday Pub roast. ‘Other peoples kids’ can make or break a Sunday just as inferior gravy can. Ranging from just plain awful from beginning to end to a wonderful communal family time filled with memories the Sunday pub roast has to be experienced but pick your ground well. It’ll likely be the busiest single time of the week for the Pub with every customer requiring feeding and waiting upon in a short 3 to 5 hour window. It can all go very wrong, very quickly for an unprepared staff. Tempers flare and then there come ‘other peoples kids’ to wind it all up a little.

However there are few better ways to spend a warm Sunday afternoon than sitting in English pub garden enjoying a well thought out and skilfully prepared roast dinner with family and friends over a few pints of good ale.

The true secret to a real Great British Sunday roast is in the nostalgia, nobodies roast is better than the one their Grandmother made. The Yorkshires shell puffed and airy, the crackling crispy but melt in the mouth succulent. The omniscient gravy containing the souls of a thousand family Sundays on that Sceptered Isle. The best way to sample it at its authentic best is to find a well fed native and solicit an invite to their Mums house on a Sunday.

The Roast dinner is not all about the food, its about the home-made meal and the company.