When we were in Britain during winter a few years ago the one thing we tried to do each week – with mixed success – was to find a pub for Sunday lunch.
The most memorable of these was at a pub called The Rock Inn in Devon, on the edge of the Dartmoor National Park. It was a windy, rainy, miserable December day and we’d been aiming for a hotel in a town called Bovey Tracey – of course, the Tracey’s would want to have a look at Bovey Tracey. Unfortunately, the place we had in mind had been taken over by a 1-year-old’s birthday party. Instead, we drove on to a village where Dartmoor ponies were grazing on the side of the road and the mist was rising up from the moor. It was just perfect – as was the Sunday lunch.
As an aside, Bovey Tracey takes its name both from the River Bovey and the de Tracey family who were the lords of the manor. One of the silver-spooned offspring – not that I think they had silver spoons in the 12th century – William de Tracy was implicated in the murder of Thomas A’Becket in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170. According to one of my husband’s cousins who has done a lot of family research there’s apparently a curse on the male sons of the family as a result – that they will always feel the wind in their face. Although William did attempt to do a sort of penance by rebuilding a church in Canterbury, I’m not sure how that affected the curse. Oh, and the curse story was backed up by this guy I met one time working in a tour shop in Queenstown, New Zealand. Once we’d got over the fact that we had the same surname with the same spelling he said, ‘Hey did you know there’s a curse on our family?’ It’s a small world.
Enough of curses and back to the subject of Sunday lunch – the concept of which is not one that sits well in an Australian summer. Hours in the kitchen with the oven on at war with the air-conditioning is, quite frankly, ludicrous – and a waste of electricity. Sunday lunch for Saturday night dinner, however, is a different story entirely.
As Nigella writes in How To Eat, “Traditional Sunday lunch does, of course, mean beef.”
At this point, she brings up the issue of BSE and advises checking in with your guests to make sure that they’re okay with eating beef. She also mentions how, at the time of writing, it was still illegal to sell beef on the bone. How To Eat was published in 1998 – the same year that the BSE inquiries in Britain were taking place. Whilst I certainly recall the crisis, we were untouched by it in Australia and I did need to head to google to remind myself of the story.
Anyways, Nigella’s Sunday lunch consists of:
- The Roast Beef
- The Gravy
- The Roast Potatoes
- The Yorkshire Pudding
Being unapologetically bossy, Nigella, bless her, also gives us a run-sheet for the perfect traditional roast beef Sunday lunch that I followed (much to my husband’s amusement – I’m not normally one who allows myself to be organised) for Saturday evening timings. Nigella likes her beef a lot rarer than we do – just a moo away from blue – whereas we’re more of a medium-rare family. With the help of her handy table (see below) I adjusted the cooking time accordingly and the beef cooked exactly as we like it.
In fact, as hilarious as my family found it, following Nigella’s list the whole process of putting a roast dinner with all the trimmings on the table was remarkably stress-free – although the wine I consumed while I was preparing it also helped.
First up was the gravy. Usually, I’m in the can’t-be-faffed-might-as-well-use-gravox camp but for the purposes of this exercise, I made proper caramelised onion gravy – Nigella’s way – and am glad I did. The little bit of effort – and it was a very little bit of effort – was rewarded with a rich beefy gravy, sweetened by the slow-cooked onions and a dash of Madeira.
While I was in gravy making mode I took the beef out of the fridge, rubbed some mustard over the outside and brought it up to room temperature before putting it in the oven. I also prepared the horseradish cream to serve with the beef by stirring some horseradish (from a jar – not only is obtaining fresh horseradish at this time of the year impossible, but Nigella says it’s fine from a jar) into a couple of spoonfuls of creme fraiche.
Then it was time for potatoes. The key to perfect roast potatoes is to par-boil them for about 5 minutes, then drain them and shake them about a bit to roughen up the edges and then tip them into a baking tray containing very fat (have this heating up while you’re par-boiling your spuds).
Before I move on to the Yorkshire Puddings, a word on vegetables. Rather than roasting root vegetables, we like something with more colour and usually opt for broccoli or beans and carrot.
The last piece of Nigella’s Sunday Lunch is the Yorkshire Pudding. She makes hers in an enamel dish rather than, as she puts it “those depressing, canteen-style individual portions”. I, however, like it in individual portions and use a muffin tin.
The recipe itself is a simple one:
What you need
- 300 ml milk (full fat)
- 4 eggs
- 250g plain flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- a 12 hole muffin tin
This recipe makes 12 individual yorkies or one large one. I usually halve the recipe when there’s just the 3 of us.
What you do with it
When the beef is cooked and taken out to rest turn the oven up to 220C, put a splash of oil into each of the compartments of the muffin tin and pop it into the oven to heat up for about 10 minutes. In a jug beat the milk and eggs together with the salt and let it stand for 15 minutes before whisking in the flour. When the oil is hot carefully remove the tin from the oven and pour the batter evenly into the compartments. Put the filled tin back into the oven and cook for 12-15 minutes – or until risen and beautifully golden.
I’ve taken on the challenge to cook my way through Nigella Lawson’s How To Eat. You can find other episodes here.