Soit Prudent mon Enfant. Les Rosbifs n'ont pas loin d'ici.

Thursday 28/10/2004

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Diary and Notes

Over some wine about a week ago, the three people whom I share a flat with (and me), decided we would take it in turns to cook something very traditional from our home country (they being an American, German and a Mexican). Today was my go and what else could I cook but the dish that steeled our mettle at the battles of Agincourt and Crecy - fine olde English roast beef. Unfortunately two of the three never managed to join us and so, with my friend Marc along to break his evil vegetarian ways, it was just me, Marc and my American friend Carrie. You may say that I was foolish and should have saved my one roast beef dinner this year until I was back in England with people who understand these things - but I say to you NO! This is how it should be. This is 'There is some corner of a foreign field...', this is kicking a ball at the Hun across no man's land on Christmas day 1914. This is why the English can wave two fingers in anger and those poor Americans only one. This is conkers and oak trees, warm beer, cricket, tut-tutting from the Daily Mail about somebody's exposed flesh and having a really good fight on a Saturday night, pissed in the centre of Bristol.

Now I felt it important to point out to my guests the importance of what they were doing. I tried to explain that by sitting down and eating this meal they were not just eating dinner but taking part in a ceremony. It is as much to an Englishman as the mass is to a catholic. That's what this is, the real English mass, the blood and body of our nation, on a plate and covered in gravy. But unfortunately for me there are specifics of cooking a good roast beef dinner that were not readily available here. I'll make a short list: A big piece of beef, a large oven with more than a single shelf, some type of gravy making stuff, the right sort of flour for Yorkshire puddings, something to cook the Yorkshire puddings in, horseradish, good English mustard, King Edward potatoes, parsnips, proper peas that are green and taste of peas and a big roasting tin. I searched around for things and found most of them. I had to jiggle around things in the oven as it only had one rack and managed to use a big glass dish like a small table to create a second. The Yorkshire pudding wasn't anyway near good enough, I claim bad ingredients and not having a metal tin (had to use a big glass lid). The wine was cheap but good and the apple cake that Carrie bought from Karstadt was fantastic. That said, I had a go and it wasn't a disaster.

Oh and buy a much bigger piece of beef than you need. Bigger joints cook better, give you more juice for stock and allow you tasty sandwiches for days to come. And one last 'oh, by the way', cooking a good roast dinner is all about


  • Roast top rump of beef,
  • Roast potatoes,
  • Yorkshire pudding,
  • Roast parsnips,
  • Baked carrots with butter and garlic,
  • Minted peas,
  • Red wine and onion gravy,
  • Horseradish sauce.

  • Apple cake with cream.

  • Finca Flinchman, Malbec 2003.


  • Beef: Big lump of top rump, mustard, black pepper, string.
  • Potatoes: Potatoes, vegetable oil, salt.
  • Yorkshire pudding: Flour, eggs, milk, baking powder, vegetable oil, salt.
  • Parsnips: Parsnips, oil.
  • Carrots: Carrots, butter, garlic.
  • Peas: Peas, mint sauce.
  • Gravy: Onions, olive oil, red wine, beef stock, some thickener, mustard, black pepper.
  • Horseradish: Go and buy some in a jar, in Germany they have about 50 types.


  • Beef: I used to be a butcher so tying piece of top-rump into a shape for roasting is second nature and not something I am going to explain. It's something that is dead simple, but needs pictures to demonstrate. When the beef is rolled, smear with mustard and pepper and leave to get to room temperature (absolutely essential). When at room temperature, heat a frying pan to very hot and place the beef in. Sear for a little while, then turn, sear etc.... Make sure you get a nice browning all over. When the beef is seared, place into a hot over for about ten minutes, then turn the oven down to allow it to cook at a lower heat (the size of the joint dictates the length, I left mine in for about 1 1/2 hours). When it's cooked take it out of the oven and leave covered with foil for 15-20 minutes before carving. If you don't leave it for a few minutes, firstly you'll burn your hands and secondly it will be chewy.

  • Potatoes: Cooking good roast potatoes is easy, but you need good potatoes. King Edwards or maris piper are best. I have German spuds and what variety they are I don't know. Here's my normal cooking method. Peel and chop into 1/2 (don't try to make them all the same size, the beauty is having some big, some small, all of different texture and succulence). Place in salty water. Boil for 5 mins and drain. Put the lid on the pan and give them a good shake. This breaks up the surface and allows them to crisp up more. Put in a tin, pour over some oil (you don't need too much) and place in the oven. Don't touch them for at least 1/2 an hour, then turn them and leave again. After about an hour drain off any excess oil and keep on cooking. Some recipes say roasties take 45 minutes, this is a lie and the poeple peddling this lie know it. Good roasties take over an hour and a half depending on the type of spuds. You can't really overcook them, so don't worry. Just don't play with them too much and they'll be fine.

  • Yorkshire pudding: Put a big dollop of flour and a little baking powder in a jug (if you've got self raising flour, no baking powder is needed). Mix in a egg and stir to a paste. Stir in some milk and a pinch of salt, whisk to make a batter. Leave batter in fridge for 1 hour. When you come to cook them put some oil in your Yorkshire tin and place this in a good hot oven. Only when it's smokey hot should you pour in the batter, put back in the oven, close the door and leave. Do not open the door for at least 12 minutes. When they're done, they're brown and crispy on top.

  • Parsnips: Peel, slice and cook with the potatoes, but don't put them in until the spuds have had at least 3/4 hour. They don't take as long.

  • Carrots: This is an adaptation of how my friend Denise Maloney always cooked them. Peel, slice thinly, add a little butter and some freshly minced garlic. Wrap in foil and bake in the oven for 1/2 an hour.

  • Peas: Stir in a bit of mint sauce when they're cooked.

  • Gravy: Fry a very finely chopped onion in a little olive oil. When browned add a glass of red wine and reduce by about 1/2. Stir in a dollop of mustard and some black pepper. Add the juice from your beef and something to thicken and cook slowly for a while longer yet.