Everybody loves a roast dinner, and as far as I am concerned anything goes – have what you enjoy and mix it up a bit. Most would consider that yorkshire puddings are only okay with beef, stuffing is only okay with poultry, red wine with red meats, white wine with poultry. Forget what you are ‘supposed’ to do, and eat/drink what you think is delicious.
The star of the roast dinner is the meat (unless you are vegetarian), and it will make everything more delicious if you have the correct cooking utensils. I like to cook my meat on a rack and I have a lovely purpose made baking tray with a rack inside. When the roast meat is resting, I transfer the tray to the hob and use it to make my gravy – that way you don’t waste the lovely meat juices. If the meat has created a lot of fat, I drain most of the fat off first, but I make sure that my gravy includes all of the lovely caramelised bits that have fallen off the meat. I also cook the potatoes under the rack so that they soak up the lovely meat juices while they are cooking, but we’ll move on to potatoes later.
I hate the effort involved in washing up, so I always take a few minutes to wrap the bars of my cooking rack with foil, then when the cooking is complete, washing up the rack is easy. Another good tip is to organise the height of the shelves in the oven before you turn the oven on – make sure that you can slide the tray with the meat into the oven easily and it is not touching the shelf above.
If you don’t have a purpose built tray with a rack, another good tip is to use a sliced onion as a trivet. You can either slice the onion quite finely and spread it out in the bottom of the tray and then place the meat on top, or slice an onion horizontally into three or four equal slices, and then place them in the tray and balance the meat on top of them. The onion will smell lovely while cooking and will end up really soft and caramelised (you can serve some with the dinner), it will also add bags of flavour if you cook the potatoes in the tray around the onions.
When you buy the meat, if you are going for red meat, choose something that has a layer of fat on top to keep the joint moist, and preferably a joint with a nice marbling of fat through the meat – not too fatty, but certainly not too lean either. If it has no fat at all, it will not taste delicious. If you are worried about the meat drying out, buy some streaky bacon and cover the meat with a lattice of bacon to keep it basted while cooking. When you roast a chicken, you can keep it moist by carefully making a pocket between the skin and the breast meat, and placing oil or butter (or dairy free spread) inside the pockets. I never stuff chicken because it alters the cooking time too much – I always place my stuffing in a separate dish. The chicken legs will take longer to cook than the breast meat, so pull them away from the body of the chicken to allow the hot air to circulate around them and cook them perfectly. If you leave them tucked up close to the chicken you could end up with raw legs and cooked breast, or dry breast and cooked legs. If roasting poultry, I usually squeeze lemon juice over the prepared bird, and then put a quarter or two of the lemon inside the cavity so that it releases a lemony aroma as it cooks.
Roast dinners are easy, and in my opinion probably one of the easiest meals to make because they are quite forgiving if you get the timing a bit wrong. The meat will need resting time, so it is perfectly okay to wait until the meat is cooked before starting the veg. The meat will not get cold if you wrap it in foil and cover it with clean tea towels to keep it cosy.
So first of all – work out what you are having and get your timings right. The cooking time will depend very much on a) your oven b) the size of the meat c) how cold it is to start with d) if it is on the bone or filleted and e) how well done you like it cooked.
Personally I like my meat medium-rare (beef, lamb, duck), but not pork or chicken – you shouldn’t really have pork or chicken rare, but also not overcooked – the pinkness should have just gone. You can use a meat thermometer if you are not sure. If I have guests who like their meat well done, I cook slightly longer than normal, and after resting I give the end pieces to the ‘well done’ guests and save the middle pieces for me. If the end bits are not well done enough – put them back in the hot oven on a plate once sliced – they will soon cook on some more.
I never use a meat thermometer, I tend to use the skewer method where you stick a metal skewer into the thickest part of the meat and check the colour of the juices. If the juices contain too much blood, it needs longer.
Once the meat is cooked, transfer it to a plate and cover with foil and some thick tea towels or hand towels to keep it warm. It will need resting for up to 20 minutes. This is the ideal time to start your vegetables – root veg can take up to 20 minutes – swede, cauliflower and brussels will take longer than cabbage, carrots and peas.
Potatoes should be a real star of roast dinners – crispy and delicious. I always cut mine lengthways to get the largest surface area:
Then put the potatoes in a saucepan and bring them up to the boil, simmering them for approx 5 minutes. Drain them. Shake them around a little to rough up the edges, and place them in the roasting tray with the meat so that the meat can drip onto them.
I usually put around 1-2 tablespoons of lard in the tray, but you can use oil if you don’t like to use lard.
To make the gravy, remove the potatoes from the pan – they can be transferred to a heatproof plate and put back in the oven to keep warm. This is an ideal time to put the yorkshire pudding into the oven, as it takes about 20 minutes, and you can crank the oven up to a nice hot setting 200-220 deg C.
Put a stock cube in the gravy pan with a little water (not too much) and warm it on the stove top.
Once the veggies have cooked you can then transfer the hot vegetable water to the gravy pan – this will add a lot more flavour to the gravy.
So here is a plan for the meal:
1. Turn on the oven. Prepare the meat and work out the cooking time and temperature (there are lots of charts available online, but the exact time will vary depending on your oven, so use the chart as a guideline). Peel your potatoes and slice them lengthways.
2. Put the meat into the oven and start boiling the potatoes. They should take about 5-10 minutes to come to the boil, then simmer for approx 5 minutes and shake and drain.
3. Put the potatoes in the oven with the meat.
4. Prepare the other vegetables and put them in saucepans. If using parsnips or sweet potatoes or squash, season and oil them – they will need approx 40 minutes roasting depending on how small they are sliced – I recommend large pieces. The seasoned veg for roasting can then go into the oven approx 20 minutes before the meat comes out.
5. Prepare yorkshire pudding mixture and stuffing if required.
6. Stuffing takes about 40 minutes, yorkshire pudding takes 20 minutes. Select a container for the yorkshire pudding and put some lard or oil into it. This container will need to go into the oven to warm up 10 minutes before the meat comes out.
7. Prepare serving plates and dishes.
8. Go and relax, check the meat periodically and turn the potatoes.
9. 20-30 minutes before the meat is cooked, put the roasting veg/stuffing into the oven.
10. 10 minutes before the meat is cooked, warm the yorkshire tin.
11. Just before the meat comes out, start heating the veg in saucepans (depending on timing).
12. Take the meat out and cover to keep warm. Put the yorkshire pudding in, crank up the oven.
13. Put the potatoes on a plate and keep warm.
14. Start the gravy with a little water.
15. When the veggies are nearly cooked, carve the meat, then finish the gravy using the vegetable water, and serve everything together.