Sunday, October 31, 2010

My Sunday Best

One thing that Americans do share with the English, in a food sense, is the idea that Sunday is meant for a nice homemade meal that the family enjoys together.  It is on Sunday that the house fills with lovely aromas, mom doesn’t really seen to mind slaving away in the kitchen, and everyone gets along, even if it’s just during that meal.  However, when it come to English Sunday dinners, the type of food is a bit more specific.  I present, the Sunday Roast, also commonly known as the Sunday Joint.

By roast, I just mean any type of meat that is slow roasted in the oven.  The meat generally used is beef, pork or lamb, but anything could work.  It is usually accompanied by gravy made from the meat juices, a vegetable of sorts, perhaps stuffing or Yorkshire pudding, and some sauces or condiments that complement the flavors.  The Sunday roast is not a new invention by any means.  In fact, the tradition has been done since the medieval times.  The working people spent all day Monday through Saturday doing hard labor so Sunday was their day to relax and were rewarded with beef roasted on a spit over an open fire.  Today’s roast is prepared in much less rugged forms but is still a lengthy and messy business.  But at the end of the day, when you are left with something that is so comforting and filling, and will usually provide leftovers for the next two days, the effort seems much less irksome.

My first experience with a Sunday roast was in a pub called The White Hart in Stratford.  Most pubs do a traditional array of roasts every Sunday, and some require reservations, but this pub actually had the fare on the Tuesday I was there, and it was just what I needed to warm up.  It was the most traditional of roasts: beef with gravy, potatoes and mixed vegetables, and Yorkshire pudding.  And it was really quite good.  The beef was moist and tender, the gravy not overpowering in onion flavor, and the Yorkshire pudding was fun to try; I had never had it before.  Contrary to its name’s implication, this English side dish is actually a savory pudding.  Made from a simple batter, similar to an unsweetened crepe batter, it, when cooked correctly, forms a steam pocket and rises as it bakes.  The end result is what looks like a muffin with a crispy and crunchy exterior.  But on the inside, it is mostly hollow and warm and soft.  And it is perfect for mopping up gravy juices.

So after this delicious lunch, I really wanted to try making my own roast.  I have only ever singlehandedly roasted a chicken and have never really done the whole gravy deal but I decided to take the plunge and headed to the market for ingredients.  I got a piece of lovely pork loin with a beautiful big fat cap from the butcher at The Ginger Pig.  He gave me a bit of a funny look when I told him I only need enough for one person (roasts are usually meant for a whole family) but patiently carved me a little personal cut of meat.  I stocked up on veggies and herbs and headed home anxious for my feast.  Now I did make this Sunday roast on a Thursday, but sometimes you just crave something and all conditions are perfect (like no homework and an empty flat) so I decided just to forget tradition and give it a go.

I used Jamie Oliver’s recipe for roasted pork with gravy and crackling with roasted potatoes and carrots on the side, but quite a bit downsized for the single serving.  It turned out beautifully too.  The meat was so moist and tasty because the fat layer really helped to keep in the juices, the gravy was brimming with sweet caramelized onion flavor, and the veggies were roasted to crispy perfection.  The potatoes were so crunchy I could have sworn they were deep-fried rather than roasted, and the carrots, now fluffy and tender on the inside, were so sweet and concentrated in flavor.  This is something I will definitely have to make for my family back home.  I wish I could have added in the Yorkshire pudding but as I have mentioned, my kitchen here is a little ill-equipped so I had to pass on that one.  A sage and onion stuffing would be a nice addition too.

Roasted Pork Loin with Gravy for one

1 500 gram cut of good-quality pork loin
1 stalk celery
half of an onion
1 large carrot
1 clove of garlic
olive oil, salt, pepper

Take the roast out of the refrigerator about 30 minutes ahead of time to let it come to room temperature and preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. While the roast is hanging out, roughly chop the celery, onion,  carrots, and garlic into chunks and place them in a roasting dish.  Toss them with some olive oil, salt and pepper, and some chopped thyme (I actually used lemon thyme for a bit of citrusy flavor).  Take your roast, and generously rub it with olive oil, salt, pepper, and chopped thyme as well.  Place the roast in the center of the dish, nestled among the veggies.  Reduce the oven temperature to 400 degrees and place the dish inside.  It will need to cook for about an hour and ten minutes.  As it cooks, periodically check on the vegetables.  Toss them around and if they start to look really dry and burnt, add a bit of water to them.

Roasted Potatoes and Carrots

6 small new potatoes
a handful of baby carrots
olive oil, salt, pepper, thyme

Immediately after placing the roast in the oven, start working on the roasted vegetables.  Scrub and peel the potatoes and halve them (actually you may want to do this beforehand to move things along faster).  Place the potato halves and the carrots in a pot of salted water and bring it to a boil.  Once boiling, continue to boil the vegetables for about 8-9 minutes and then drain them in a colander.  Remove the carrots and place them in a baking dish.  However, toss the potatoes around in the colander by shaking it a few times.  This will scruff up the edges and make for a much crispier skin.  Put the potatoes in the dish with the carrots.  Liberally coat them with olive oil and season with the salt, pepper, and thyme.  Place them in the oven along with the roast and let them cook for about 50 minutes to an hour, tossing them around every now and then.  You can even add a little bit of the fat from the roast for good flavor.  They are ready when the potatoes are really golden and crispy.

Now wait around until the roast has been in the oven for an hour and ten minutes before you remove it, but if it looks like it’s done earlier, remove it then.  Place the actual roast aside on a plate and cover it with foil to rest for about 15 minutes.  Now it’s time to make the gravy.  Although the original recipe called for flour, chicken stock, and wine, I had none of these.  But, Jamie Olive mentioned that they are not necessary.  If using good ingredients, just water will make good gravy…and it did.

Tilt the dish with the vegetables so that the juices and fat run to one corner.  Using a spoon, carefully skim off 90% of the fat.  Then place the dish on the stove and turn it to a high heat.  Add a half-cup of water to the pan and start by scraping at the bits stuck to the bottom.  Once the liquid starts to bubble, use a potato masher to crush all the vegetables, releasing their flavorful juices.  As the liquid evaporates and reduces, continue to add another half cup of water two or three more time all the while mashing up the vegetables.  It this point, the aroma coming from the bubbling gravy should cause severe salivation.  After 10 minutes or so of this process, place a colander over a saucepan and pour all of the contents of the roasting pan into the colander.  Use a spoon to squeeze out every drop of moisture from the vegetables into the gravy in the pot below.  Afterwards, put the saucepan with the gravy onto a low heat to keep it warm until everything else ready.  Give it a little taste too, adding any salt or pepper if it needs it. 

Finally you can prepare you plate.  Remove the carrots and potatoes from the oven after the time is up and set them aside to cool for a minute.  Meanwhile get out a cutting board and carving knife to cut your roast.  Remove the upper fat cap, which has now turned to crackling and is naughtily edible too.  You should be able to do this quite easily and will be left with a beautiful little roast that you can carve into as many slices as you desire.  It will be so moist that the knife goes through like butter.  Place the slices on the plate along with your heaping pile of potatoes and carrots and spoon over a generous measure of the gravy.  This dish will leave you so full and happy.  So, if you are feeling up to the challenge and the mass of dishes to clean afterwards, you will impress anyone you cook this meal for.  I thought the roasted beef from the pub was good, but this dish blew it out of the way.

Oh, and one more thing.  Nothing is better that cold leftover roast meat on a sandwich the next day, right?  So that is exactly what I did with my leftover pork.  With a little help from my local cheese supplier for some flavor combination advice, I constructed a wonderful yet simple sandwich.  I cut two slices of a nice brown bread loaf I had and buttered one side of each.  Then on one piece, I spread around some spiced plum chutney.  I topped that with slivers of fresh and creamy Stilton bleu cheese and the cold pork.  I heated up the leftover gravy slightly and poured that over for a bit of moistness, and then added a few lettuce leaves before placing on the other slice of bread.  Absolutely delicious!

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