A Desert Island Dish

If I had to decide on one final meal to have on this earth it would, without question, be my mother’s roast beef, roast potatoes, Yorkshire puddings and home-made gravy. No Michelin starred dining, molecular gastronomy or fancy fusion. Quite simply a hearty and honest home cooked meal, cooked with good British beef, roasted to succulent pink perfection, served alongside golden crusted, fluffy centred roast potatoes and crispy Yorkshire puddings, all softened with a rich, dark and meaty gravy. This is my idea of real unadulterated celestial cuisine.

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In an attempt to recreate this heart warming memory, influenced by my own personality and style, I decided to cook up a feast on Sunday afternoon to celebrate, in my view, the best of British in its entirety. To guarantee I had the best fundamental elements to recreate this magnanimous meal, I made a trip to a renowned butcher in Balham to ensure we had the finest quality, organic beef. A cliché I know, but supermarket meat will just not cut it here. The reasons why TV chefs, food writers and cooks harp on about sourcing organic, free range, grass-fed and every other superior characteristic imaginable for meat are plentiful and widely substantiated. Supermarkets have a tendency to sell bright red beef, pumped with water (and who knows what else) to increase the weight, “juicy” looking factor and therefore profit margin. A joint of beef or fabulous steak should not be bright red. It just shouldn’t. Good quality meat which has been hung (or “dry aged”) should be dark red and almost matte in colour, the antithesis of the shiny blood-red beef available on our supermarket shelves. Although provenance is important when buying, trust is equally as crucial when purchasing a joint of meat. Trust in a butcher to sell you a competitively priced, high standard of dry-aged beef, dark in colour with generous marbling, no additives and no hidden agendas.Trust in their knowledge and honesty and trust that your meat will actually taste of meat. No flavourless, rubbery meat which exudes water the instant it hits a hot pan and turns an unpalatable grey colour.

My experience at Chadwick’s not only ensured I had the perfect sized joint for my hungry party of 5, but accurate cooking times and tips for the best roast possible. Something you are unlikely to find on supermarket packaging, often way off the mark in terms of cooking guidelines (in my experience leading to overcooked, flavourless and dry joints of meat).

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I was lucky enough to have a rib of beef cut to my exact size from this mammoth piece of meat.

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A fantastic range of homemade dishes, minced steak, black pudding, pork chops, pork belly, pork loin, bacon, steaks, beef joints, lamb, oxtail, stocks, sausages, kebabs, kievs…, I could go on for a while.

Ever since watching Nigella celebrate a family Christmas with an impressively over sized rib of beef, it has been something I have wanted to try. Granted, this is not a frugal cut of meat but it is a celebratory feast. It might not be Christmas but I need no more excuse than the end of February’s dreary weather and a hint of Spring to enter into foodie festivities. To serve the five of us, generously, I was assured that my 1.8 kilo joint (of bone in rib of beef) would be more than adequate, and that it was, even with a small portion of leftovers. To emulate my desert island dish in my own personal style I served the roasted rib of beef alongside crispy roast potatoes, cooked with hot duck fat, rosemary and garlic, creamy cauliflower cheese, rich meaty gravy and some simple chunky carrots and peas (no roasted veggies due to lack of oven space!).

As per my mother’s cognizant advice, I used the beef fat (dripping) to cook my Yorkshire puddings and made sure to reserve the precious meat juices to enrich my gravy. Previous experience has taught me that cookery shows, chefs, writers and books proffer duck or goose fat for the crispest and most delightful roast potatoes for good reason. Duck (or goose) fat has an extremely high smoking point, or in other words, you can heat it to a very high temperature before it burns. Ideal for roast potatoes which need to hit searing hot fat to perfectly crisp up the edges whilst guaranteeing a soft and fluffy centre. Ideally you should preheat the fat in an excruciatingly hot oven for around 10 – 15 minutes before adding the par boiled potatoes. This hot, hot, hot, fat and a roughed up, par boiled potato, are the two main keys to success. By steam drying and “roughing up” the edges of your potatoes you are giving yourself the best possible fighting chance of a perfect roast potato. To take one more fail safe step you could also sprinkle a tablespoon of polenta over your par boiled potatoes to help form a crisp golden shell (thank you Nigella for this little tip).

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Here is the magnificent joint weighing in at 1.8kg to comfortably feed 5, unashamedly greedy, people..

Roast Rib of Beef and Trimmings
Serves 5, amply

1.8kg Rib of Beef (Côte de Bœuf)
2 large onions
5 carrots
500 ml homemade beef stock (or made from a cube)
5 anchovy fillets, plus the oil from the tin
salt and pepper
olive oil
550g King Edward potatoes
3/4 jar of duck fat
2 sprigs of rosemary
5 large garlic cloves
400g peas

Cauliflower Cheese

1 cauliflower
500ml milk
4 tbsp plain flour
50g unsalted butter
1 tsp grated nutmeg
150g grated mature cheddar cheese (plus 50g for topping)
4 tbsp fresh white breadcrumbs

Yorkshire Puddings
Makes 12

2 large eggs
100ml semi skimmed milk
100ml plain flour
salt and pepper

An hour before you are ready to start cooking the beef, remove it from the fridge, take it out of the packaging and place on a plate to bring up to room temperature. If you have a time in mind to sit down and eat with your friends, I find that it’s helpful to work backwards from this point with a cooking “itinerary”. As a self-proclaimed list lover there is no way I would embark on this kind of multi faceted roast without such a plan, but for those of you who are list averse please let me persuade you to humour me and try it just this one time, I promise you won’t go back to free styling after this. Write down your final “sit down” time and work backwards with your resting time (20 – 30 minutes), your cooking time (12 minutes per 500g for rare, 15 minutes for medium, and 20 minutes for well done, all at 170°C Fan) and browning time (20 minutes at 200°C Fan). Set your “preheat the oven time” to roughly 15 minutes before your start time. This will give you just enough time to sear and coat the beef in your flavoured rub before it goes into the oven.

Preheat your oven to 200°C Fan/220°C Non Fan. Chop the unpeeled onions into 1cm rings. It is extremely important not to peel the onion. Although I needn’t promote extreme laziness on a Sunday afternoon, the skin of the onion actually adds a lot of flavour and dark brown colour to the pan juices which form the base of your gravy. Peel and top and tail your carrots. Toss the onion and carrot peelings/tips in a tablespoon of olive oil and a good pinch of salt and pepper. Use these to create a sort or trivet in your roasting tin for your joint. Chop the carrots into your desired style and place in a pan of cold water.

To make the rub, finely chop your anchovies and grind some black pepper over them. Using the flat edge of your knife, smear the pepper into the chopped up anchovies to create a rough paste. Now, anchovy haters, please do not turn away in disgust at the though of rubbing these tiny little fish all over your beautiful joint of meat. I do not like anchovies straight out of the tin, you will find me picking them off my Caesar salad with the best of you but please trust me here and use them. They will not turn your beef fishy in any way whatsoever, in fact they melt into a tantalising salty river of flavour running all over the beef, enhancing the “meaty”-ness of the dish in ways I cannot explain.

Place a heavy based frying pan on a high heat. Pour a generous tablespoon of olive oil into the palm of your hand and gently massage all over the beef. Season generously with salt and pepper. Pour all of the oil from the tin of anchovies into the hot frying pan and place the joint, fat side down, into the pan. Hold the joint, pressing down firmly to help the fat render, for around one minute or until the fat turns gloriously golden. Rock the joint making sure that all of the fat makes contact with the hot pan to maximise colour on all sides and to facilitate the rendering process. Carefully flip the joint over to brown on both sides for around one minute or until a luscious brown crust has formed.

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Once the meat has been seared, place it on to your vegetable trivet. Quickly smear the meat with your anchovy paste and place straight into the hot oven for 20 minutes. Subsequently, turn the oven down to 170°C Fan/180°C Non Fan and cook for your further allotted time.

Whilst the meat is cooking prepare your Yorkshire pudding batter and leave to rest. I am not actually a protagonist of the “rest your batter” persuasion. I am however, fairly certain that getting any job out of the way, which can be done in advance, greatly decreases levels of stress and increases well-being. This batter is incredibly simple and satisfying to make. Mix your flour with a pinch of salt and pepper in a mixing bowl, making a well in the centre. In the jug you have used to measure your milk, whisk in the two eggs. Slowly pour this mixture into your flower, whisking constantly. Whisk until you have a smooth and lump free batter then step away and forget about it.

The cauliflower cheese can also be made in advance so feel free to get this out of the way whenever suits you during the day. Cut off the outer leaves and snap, or cut, the cauliflower into large florets. Cut the stalk into large chunks and boil this with the florets for five minutes in salted water. Drain and place in a large oven proof dish. Put the pan back on the heat and melt the butter. Whisk in the flour and cook this light brown paste for around one minute on a medium heat. Pour in your milk, turn up the heat and whisk until the mixture has thickened. This will take around 2 – 3 minutes. Turn off the heat and whisk in the 150g of grated cheddar cheese until all the cheese has melted and you are left with a thick white sauce. Season with salt and pepper to taste and stir in the nutmeg. Immediately pour over the cooked cauliflower and sprinkle over the breadcrumbs. Lastly top with the remaining cheddar cheese and leave to one side. Once ready to cook, place in to the oven at 220°C for 20 minutes.

For the roast potatoes, peel and chop the potatoes and place in a pan of cold water. When ready to cook, put the duck fat in the oven at 200°C Fan/220°C Non Fan and turn the heat on to high under the potatoes, adding a pinch of salt to the pan. Bring the water up to the boil and cook for five minutes. Drain the potatoes and let them steam dry. Place them back in the pan and give them a good shake to fluff up the edges, this will ensure an even crispy outer shell and soft fluffy interior. Carefully remove the piping hot fat from the oven, tip in the potatoes, garlic cloves (unpeeled) and rosemary leaves (torn from their stems). Give everything a good stir to coat in the fat and quickly place back in the oven for 45 minutes, or until golden brown, stirring half way through.

Once the beef is cooked to your liking, remove from the oven and place the joint on a carving board and cover with foil. Immediately pour all the juices and fat from the tin into a jug and put the roasting tin and veg to one side. Skim the fat from the roasting juices and pour into each indent of your Yorkshire Pudding tray, if there isn’t quite enough, eek it out with a little sunflower or vegetable oil. Place the tray back into the oven and turn up the heat to 220°C Fan or as high as your non fan oven will go. After 10 minutes the oil will be spitting and viciously hot. Using a jug, pour the batter 3/4 of the way up into each indent and quickly place into the oven for 20 minutes. I also put my cauliflower cheese in at this time which you may wish to do depending on how many spare ovens you have! Both will take around 15 – 20 minutes and are ready when lusciously golden and crisp.

To make the all important gravy, put the roasting tin and all its contents onto a low heat on your hob. Sprinkle in two tablespoons of flour and stir into the vegetables and sticky meat residue. Once the flour has been absorbed pour in your beef stock and around 100ml of boiling water. Stir fairly vigorously to ensure all the flavour stuck to the bottom of the pan is released. Turn up the heat and bring to a boil. Strain into a small saucepan, pressing out every last drop of flavour from your roasting vegetables. Season to taste and leave on a low heat until ready to serve. Any juices on the carving board can also (in fact, must) be added to the pan before serving. 

Boil your carrots for ten minutes in salted, boiling water, adding the peas for the final five minutes. Drain and serve alongside your Yorkshire puddings, garlic and rosemary roast potatoes, cauliflower cheese, meaty gravy and thinly sliced roast beef.

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Crispy Yorkshires with their little spindly tails (lazy pouring on my part).

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Golden and crispy topped, creamy cauliflower cheese.

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Fantastic carving skills, with a little help from a friend. We like our beef rare….

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Rosemary and garlic scented, perfectly crisp roast potatoes.

photo 4.A delectable, delicious, Desert Island Dish.

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5 thoughts on “A Desert Island Dish

    • I love honey or maple roasted parsnips. Simply peel and top and tail the parsnips (use the trimmings in your roasting pan under the meat) then cut into long batons of a fairly regular size. Toss with a little olive or vegetable oil, honey or maple syrup (if using) and salt and pepper. Cook at around 200°C for 30 – 45 minutes (you can whack them in under the potatoes), giving them a bit of a shake half way through. Cooking times will vary depending on how many you’ve squished into one pan and how good your oven is. You can also cook carrots in the same way all mixed up in the one roasting tin. If oven space allows, this is the method I usually use for mixed roasted vegetables, you can also experiment with different root veg, herbs and flavourings. Happy cooking!

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