The Sunday Roast
The Sunday roast was an institution when I was a kid, usually had at lunch time on Sunday, or occasionally in the evening. It was taken for granted that there WOULD be a roast on Sunday, so much so that no one really ever gave it much thought. It was so ritualised that any guests visiting on Sundays would be included in the lunch, and about once a month my father would do the trek from Sylvania to Leichhardt to pick up my grandparents to participate in the meal. Because Saturday afternoons were baking times, the pie or strudel for dessert would be already made and ready to go at the end of the meal. I remember my mother having a heavy steel baking dish that always turned out the most delicious roasts and vegetables, and it had a build-up of baked on fat on it (we used dripping back then to bake) that my mother claimed was the secret to the perfect roast.
These days I constantly hear people say that they can’t cook a roast as good as their mothers, or they say they are no good at all with roasts. There are secrets to a good roast, and if you follow a few simple directions success can pretty well be guaranteed. I cook great roasts, and have the art of perfect baked vegetables down pat. In this column, I am keeping the recipes to a minimum, but giving you a world of hints and advise that will ensure that your family and friends will always want to visit you for your roast. I will attempt to break things down into general advise, meat advise, vegetable advise and a section for all the little extra’s that take a roast dinner from good to great.
So, get out your roast, peel your veges and here we go…
• Use a heavy-based baking dish for best results.
• Roasts are best baked at around 220°C.
• Use vegetable or canola oil for baking – olive oil really doesn’t work.
• Don’t worry if your meat is not fully defrosted – just add an additional 30 minutes to the cooking time.
• I cook my meat first, then leave it to sit while i bake the vegetables. Allow yourself at least 2-21/2 hours to get a baked dinner ready.
• As I have stated before, as far as I’m concerned ‘Gravox’ is as good as home-made gravy. However, for the purists I will describe the lost art of gravy making.
• Allow thirty minutes cooking time per 500g of weight, irrespective of lamb, beef or poultry.
• Remove from oven at least 30 minutes before serving, cover with foil and allow to stand. This allows the juices to flow back into the meat, making the roast more moist and succulent.
• Test your meat by pushing a baking fork or skewer into the centre of the meat. If blood flows out, allow a little longer. It is okay to leave both lamb and beef a little pink in the middle (NOT RAW), but poultry and pork should be cooked thoroughly.
• Unfortunately – and I’ve said it many times before – Australian lamb is not what it used to be. Our best meat is now exported and us good old Aussies are expected to accept second-best. Finding a lamb leg roast that is not tough these days is like playing a game of chance – with the odds stacked against you. If you can find a good butcher, stick with him, and if necessary pay a little more for your meat. The quality of supermarket meats is always in doubt, and you are never really sure what you are getting.
• Always carve your meat along the grain.
• If you want your roasts to be totally fat-free, place them on a trivet in your baking dish. This also tends to brown them evenly all over.
• Stand meat, then carve and leave ready on plates. When the vegetables and gravy are ready, zap the meat for about 40 seconds in a 1000 watt microwave (longer in lower wattage microwaves.
• The following cuts are best for roasting – Scotch fillet (rib eye); eye fillet and butt fillet; bolar blade, rump & sirloin; standing rib, silverside, topside & round.
• Some people like to brown their roasts before cooking, though I personally wouldn’t bother. If you do want to brown it, heat a mixture of oil and butter in a heavy-based frying pan, and brown on all sides before placing in your baking dish.
• Beef can be flavoured in many ways, including rubbing the whole roast in mustard before baking. The following Indian Spice Paste is also a great way to add a different flavour to your beef: INDIAN SPICE PASTE : 2 teaspoons coriander;1 teaspoon cumin; 2 cardamon pods, buised; 1 cinnamon stick; 1 star anise;1 teapoon ground turmeric; 1/2 teaspoon chilli powder; 1 medium brown onion, chopped; 2 cloves garlic, peeled; 4cm piece ginger, grated; 1 teaspoon salt; 2 teaspoons brown sugar; 3 tablespoons lemon juice; 1/2cup peanut oil – combine seeds, cardamom and star anise in a heated, dry frying pan and cook, stirring, until fragrant. Add turmeric and chilli ; remove from heat. Blend or process spice blend with onion, garlic, ginger, salt, sugar and juice until smooth. While motor is running, gradually add oil until well combined. Using a sharp knife, pierce beef all over with deep cuts. place beef and Indian Spice Paste into a large resealable snap-lock bag or large shallow dish. Rub beef with Indian Spice Paste to ensure an even coating; cover, refrigerate 3 hours or overnight.
• For an Asian flavour, try rubbing it with a mixture of honey, ginger and soy sauce.
• You can buy commercially prepared dry rubs that can either be used as dry marinades, or add some oil and turn into a paste.
• Lamb leg or lamb shoulder are the best cuts – if you can buy good quality.
• If you want to roll, or stuff and roll your lamb, get your butcher to remove the bone for you. Keep it for the hound.
• Rosemary and mint go beautifully with lamb. Pierce your lamb leg all over with a sharp knife and push slices of garlic and small sprigs of rosemary into the cuts. Mint sauce is still the best accompaniment for lamb.
• Don’t forget that lamb is very fatty. Supermarket rolled roasts are notorious for being nearly all fat – so DON’T buy them. Roll your own – that way you can trim off a good deal of the fat.
• ROLLED LAMB FILLING: Quarter a red capsicum, remove seeds and roast in a very hot 240°C oven, skin-side up, until skin blisters and blackens. Cover capsicum in plastic wrap for 5 minutes; peel away skin; slice. Lay slices of roasted capsicum down the centre of your deboned lamb loin, and top with 20g baby spinach leaves and 1/3 cup loosely packed basil leaves. Roll tightly and secure at 2cm intervals with kitchen string. Don’t use coloured string otherwise you will colour your roast – remember Brigid Jones?
• The most seductive thing about pork – apart from he sweetish meat – is the delicious, morish crunch of crackling. It is also the one thing people find difficult to do. I have tried various recipes over the years, and have found the following the best. You can score the fat yourself, or get the butcher to do it for you. The rind needs to be scored about 1cm apart, across the pork in the same direction you will carve. It needs to be scored deeply through to the fat, to ensure he fat is rendered and the crackling will be crisp. Preheat the oven to very hot 250°C. Place pork in a large baking dish. Rub the scored rind with course cooking salt. Roast pork, uncovered, in very hot oven 25 minutes or until the rind blisters, Drain excess fat from the dish. Reduce oven temperature to 180° and roast according to weight.
• Alternatively, if you find you are still having problems, remove the rind entirely from the roast, rub with some oil and salt, and either bake on a flat tray in a 250° oven until it blisters and crisps or place under a griller on its lowest height and grill until blistered and crisp.
• Supermarkets often keep a range of marinated chickens, including flat-splayed, in the butchers section. If you want to save yourself the hassle of marinating, I have found these quite convenient.
• The size of a chicken will tell you its weight ie a size 16 chicken is 1.6kg in weight, a size 20 is 2kg etc.
• Check your chicken doesn’t contain a giblet bag, and remove the neck if tucked inside. Your dog will love you for this little treat. Rinse the chicken under cold water, and pat dry with paper towel before baking.
• Stuffings are always nice with chickens – but not essential. A simple and tasty flavouring is to stuff the cavity with 12 unpeeled garlic cloves, and 10 lemon thyme sprigs. Rub the skin with a halved lemon, then brush with 2 teaspoons oil. CHORIZU-STUFFING: 10g butter;1 medium brown onion, chopped finely;1 chorizo sausage, diced; 11/2 cups breadcrumbs; 1/2 cup ricotta. Melt butter in a fry pan and cook onion and chorizo until onion softens. Cool 10 minutes; combine chorizo mixture in medium bowl with breadcrumbs and ricotta. Stuff prepared chicken cavity with mixture before baking. COUSCOUS STUFFING; 1 teaspoon olive oil; 1 medium brown onion, chopped finely; 11/2 cups chicken stock;1/4 cup olive oil;1 tablespoon finely grated lemon rind;1/4 cup lemon juice; 1 cup couscous; 1/3 cup toasted slivered almonds; 1 cup seeded dried dates, chopped finely;1 teaspoon ground cinnamon;1 teaspoon smoked paprika; 1 egg, lightly beaten. Heat oil in small frying pan. Cook onion until soft. Combine stock, extra oil, rind and juice in medium saucepan; bring to the boil. Remove from heat. Add couscous, cover, stand about 5 minutes or until stock is absorbed, fluffing with fork occasionally. Stir in onion, nuts, dates, spices and egg. Stuff prepared chicken cavity with stuffing before baking.
• Use dry rubs on chicken skin to enhance flavour of both skin and breast.
• 40 CLOVE CHICKEN; Separate coves from 3 garlic bulbs, and leave unpeeled. Place half the cloves inside the cavity of the chicken, and the remaining cloves in the baking dish. This sounds like a lethal garlic overload, but quite the contrary, Baking lightens and sweetens the flavour of garlic, imparting a really delicious flavour to chicken.
• BASIC GRAVY: (Makes about 2 cups) Pan juices; 2 tablespoons plain flour; 2 cups chicken or beef stock. Remove roast from pan and cover. Reserve 2 tablespoons juices in baking dish. Stir in flour and cook, stirring,about 5 minutes or until browned. This is known as deglazing your pan. Stir in stock and cook over high heat, stirring, until gravy boils and thickens. Strain before serving. You can replace 1/2 cup of stock with red wine if preferred. For onion gravy add a small, finely chopped brown onion to the juices and cook until soft before adding flour. For peppercorn gravy place prepared gravy into a small saucepan and add 1 tablespoon drained canned green peppercorns. For mushroom gravy place prepared gravy into a small saucepan and add 100g finely sliced, cooked button mushrooms. Cook stirring 2 minutes.
• MINT SAUCE: 1 cup cider vinegar; 1/4 cup boiling water; 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh mint leaves; 1 tablespoon brown sugar; 1 teaspoon salt; 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper. Combine all ingredients in a small bowl. Stand 30 minutes before serving.
• APPLE SAUCE: 2 small apples; 2 tablespoons sugar; 1/2 cup water; pinch ground cinnamon. Peel apples, cut into quarters; remove cores; slice apples, Combine apples, sugar, water and cinnamon in a small saucepan, cover, bring to boil. Reduce heat. Cover; simmer 5 minutes or until apple is pulpy. Whisk until sauce is smooth.
• I hear as many complaints about problems baking vegetables than anything else. ‘They don’t brown’ is one of the commonest complaints, and I’m about to tell you the secrets to perfect baked vegetables.
• All root vegetables are suitable for baking, including swedes, turnips, onions, carrots, sweet potato (white), kumera (orange), Jerusalem artichokes etc. Don’t forget the pumpkin. To add some real variety to your baked vegetables, try adding some beetroot, fennel or celeriac to your mix. All root vegetables take around about the same time to cook, so put them all in together. CUT THEM EVENLY, and NOT IN HUGE PIECES. Keep it smallish for quicker, more even baking.
• Vegetables should be baked at around 240°C, which is why you do them separately to your meat.
• You are often told to place pumpkin in later than potatoes, but I don’t agree. I really love my pumpkin overcooked – as do many other people I know. It develops the most delicious sweetness, and the outside will caramelise (it is NOT burnt) due to the sugar in pumpkin. I could eat this and nothing else with my roasts. Use Butternut, Jap or Queensland Blue. Some of the little novelty pumpkins also bake nicely.
• The following potatoes are best for baking – chat, desiree, russet burbank (Idaho), kestrel, King Edward, kipfler, nicola, royal blue, ruby lou and spunta.
• My personal favourite – despite being a bit more expensive than traditional potatoes – are kipfler. They look great on the plate, bake beautifully and taste delicious.
• Make sure your oven is right up to heat before adding your baking dish to the oven.
• Cut potatoes into smallish pieces – if you cut a 1 – 1 1/2 cm slice from the potato, cut off the top third, then cut the remaining two-thirds in half. this makes them a perfect size for baking. Place in a microwave-safe bowl with 1/4 cup water and microwave on high for 5 minutes (alternatively, place them in a saucepan of boiling water and cook for 5-7 minutes). Drain. Toss or roll all your vegetables in canola or other oil (NOT olive oil) and place in the baking dish. DO NOT ADD OIL TO TH DISH. Bake at 240°C for around 30 minutes for until vegetables are cooked and brown. Turn them over at mid-point. They may take up to 45 minutes – just keep an eye on them after the 30 minute mark.
• Any green veges go with a roast, though the traditional green accompaniments are peas or beans. Buy them fresh and cook them in the micrwave. Peas take 3-4 minutes, and beans 2-3 minutes. Don’t under-estimate microwaves. They are really great for cooking vegetables perfectly in a very short time.
• Broccoli, cauliflower and broccolini are also great roast accompaniments.
• MINI YORKSHIRE PUDDINGS: Something for the true traditionalist. 2 eggs; 2/3 cup milk; 2/3 cup plain flour; 1 tablespoons vegetable oil; 20g butter. Preheat oven to very hot 250°C. Whisk milk, eggs and flour in a medium bowl until smooth. Heat oil and butter in a small saucepan over low heat until the butter melts. Pour the oil mixture into a small jug. Divide oil in jug among holes of 2 x 12-hole mini muffin pans . Place in very hot oven about 1 minute or until oil mixture is very hot. Working quickly, divide batter among holes of pans. Bake, uncovered, in very hot oven about 10 minutes , or until puddings rise and are browned lightly.
• When beating egg whites, ensure your bowl and beaters are spotlessly clean. Any impurities or grease will stop your whites from becoming stiff.
• The secret to great scambled eggs is to add the eggs to the pan when the butter starts to foam fiercely. Leave to start setting, then working quickly scramble them in the pan, leaving a little bit moist. DON’T OVERCOOK.
• For poached eggs, add salt and 1 tablespoon white vinegar to the water. Bring to the boil, then turn off the hotplate. Quickly add your eggs to the water (egg rings are best for poached eggs) then leave for 8-10 minutes until set and cooked to your taste.