Roast beef with Yorkshire pudding, crispy potatoes, rich gravy, spiky horseradish and classic vegetables is one of the great meals of the world. The joy of sitting with the ones you love, slowly devouring the feast (alongside several glasses of red wine) truly can’t be beaten. And while of course you can find terrific iterations at decent pubs (thankfully open again these days), it’s more than worth making at home.
For one thing, paying £12 – £20 a head for a roast in a pub (plus wine) is not cheap. For another, I have very specific ideas about what a proper Sunday roast beef entails, thanks in large part to many wonderful roast beef meals cooked by my mother, with little to no deviation from the method or accompaniments. Finally, I absolutely love the ritual of cooking roast beef. I’ve cooked it so many times it feels more like a ceremony than a recipe – hence the novel of instructions that follow.
At this stage I feel it is my duty to provide you with a fair warning: as long as it will take you to read my narrative and instructions, it will take far, far longer to prepare the meal. Roast beef is a real production. Cooked properly, it takes all afternoon. I don’t feel I ought to offer any form of apology for this, however; a huge part of the enjoyment of this meal is pottering away in the kitchen, slowly filling the room with beautiful things to eat, gin and tonic in hand.
A Word on Clearing Up
Part of the ritual of cooking roast beef is revelling in domesticity for long periods of time. To that end, I give instructions not only for the food preparation but also for ways to make your life easier, and to make the whole Sunday dinner experience more enjoyable. This includes pointing out your opportunities for doing some light clearing up, and ideas for how to spend your time that isn’t already budgeted for.
Obviously, it’s your kitchen and you will have your own system for keeping relative order, but do consider taking me up on my suggestions. Cooking in a messy kitchen is stressful and not fun. Missing out on G&T o’clock because you’re trapped under a pile of dishes is stressful and not fun. And frankly, being fed by someone who is overwhelmed, surrounded by chaos and starting to resent the people she’s feeding is not fun, either. (I also offer a suggestion for the ideal time to pour a drink, while we’re on the subject.) Consider the tips for tidying an ounce of prevention.
A Word on Timing
The instructions that follow aren’t a normal recipe, but rather like a slightly demanding itinerary.
The total cooking time is about four hours, five if you’re starting out. Half the cooking time is spent carrying out the series of jobs you can get out of the way much earlier in the day, then you’re free to do whatever you’d like, resuming the operation when the beef goes in. That’s when the clock really starts ticking, and timing matters.
I’m not talking about Michelin-star-Heston-Blumenthal-precise timing, but rather sticking to a schedule that allows for enough time to get the spuds crispy, the Yorkies risen, and keeps everything else hot enough in the meantime. (Not to mention enough time to enjoy a gin and tonic part-way through the cooking.)
A Word on Beef
Any roasting joint is absolutely fine – topside, rib roast, sirloin or fillet of beef are all great choices. (Not pot roast, which is totally different and requires long, slow braising. Another meal, perhaps.) A butcher or good meat counter can offer you some advice on what size and cut will work, but if you haven’t got that option, go for a rib roast. Expensive, but fabulous. Aim for about 200g uncooked per person, or a little more if you want sandwiches the next day.
A rough guide to roasting beef is to cook it at 325F / 160C / 150C Fan for 20 minutes per pound / 450g, plus 20 minutes at the end, for medium. (For example, 600g / 1.3lbs cut will roast for 25 + 20 minutes.) Obviously if you want it rarer, cook it a little less. British joints of beef come with a lovely layer of fat, but if yours is looking a little lean, rub it with some olive oil or butter. Season well all over with salt and pepper in any event.
A Word on Yorkshire Pudding
I don’t want to attract the wrath of Yorkshire men and women, but I don’t use a Yorkshire pudding tin for my Yorkies anymore. I use a sturdy muffin tin to make slightly smaller Yorkshire puddings. I don’t have a double oven (…yet) so I need to adjust the size in order to get the Yorkies to cook properly. A muffin tin works better because the Yorkies are smaller, and therefore cook much faster. Also, the oven doesn’t have to get quite as hot, meaning the potatoes can stay in without risking cremation.
Menu really doesn’t seem like a fitting description for this incredible feast, not least because it is cooked at home for those you love, and frankly, there isn’t much choice in the matter. My perfect roast beef dinner is proscriptive and finite, as follows:
Proper Sunday Dinner
Gin & Tonic
Roast Beef & Gravy
Cauliflower and Cheese
Peas and Carrots
Apple Berry Crisp with Vanilla Ice Cream
Ingredients – To Feed 6
Roasting joint of beef (see A Word on Beef, above)
For the Yorkshire Pudding
1 cup milk
1 cup plain flour
½ tsp salt
Vegetable oil or beef dripping
1 large head of cauliflower
1 ½ tbsp butter
1 ½ tbsp flour
¼ cup dry white wine
1 ½ cups milk
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 cup + ¼ cup grated aged cheddar
½ cup + ¼ cup of finely grated parmesan
½ cup breadcrumbs
Drizzle of olive oil
Salt and pepper
6 medium potatoes
1 tbsp butter
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp beef fat or butter
2 tbsp flour
500ml low sodium beef stock
¼ cup red wine
1 tsp redcurrant jelly
1 large carrot per person, plus 1 large handful frozen peas per person
Jarred horseradish sauce (I like the creamed stuff)
What to do
1. Before starting, read the instructions through to the end, run and empty your dishwasher, and make sure you’ve got all the ingredients (especially those needed for a G&T).
Think about what time you want to eat and make a little plan accordingly. The whole process takes about four hours, so budget two hours to complete steps 2 – 8, which involve (at a glance):
- Cauliflower and cheese
- Yorkshire pudding batter
- Peeling and par-boiling the potatoes
- Removing the beef from the fridge
- Peel and chop the carrots
- Getting the house in order (more on that below)
And another two hours to carry out the rest. To get it right, you have to do a little reverse-planning to figure out when to put your things in the oven. (It really helps doing this in advance, to help give you something to aim for.) For example, today I want to eat at 4pm. Working backwards, I usually remove my roast beef from the oven 45 minutes before we sit down to eat to allow enough resting time, and to make sure I can get my oven hot enough in time for the Yorkies to cook properly. For a 650g / 1.5lb joint, I can take it out of the oven at 3:15pm. It needs to roast for 45 minutes, so it should go in at 2:30pm. It needs to come out of the fridge a full hour before I start to cook it, so I will take it out of the fridge by 1:30pm at the latest. See how this works?
I’ve done a schedule for you below (appears after the recipes needed for Steps 2 – 8) so the only thing you need to do is to make sure your beef will be cooking for the right amount of time, and update the schedule accordingly. Oh, and cook the roast dinner. Let’s get started.
2. Start by making the cauliflower and cheese.
De-core the cauliflower, discarding the larger leaves. Cut the cauliflower into florets and place in a deep pot. Cover with water, salt the water generously and bring to the boil. Boil until the cauliflower is just tender (4 – 5 minutes from boiling) then drain. Lay the cauliflower florets out on a clean tea towel to steam dry.
Tip: Drying the cauliflower out prevents a watery cheese sauce.
Tip: No need to wash up the pot you boiled the cauliflower in; use it to boil the potatoes later on.
3. Make the Yorkie batter while the cauliflower is on to boil. It needs to rest, so best to get it mixed up early. (Just takes a couple minutes, anyway.)
Whisk the milk, flour, salt and eggs together until smooth. Transfer to a jug for easy pouring later on. Set aside (it’s fine on the counter) and don’t keep stirring it despite your better instincts.
4. Next, make your cheese sauce.
Melt 1 ½ tbsp butter in a saucepan over a medium heat. Add 1 ½ tbsp flour and stir, cooking for a minute or so. Add ¼ cup of dry white wine, whisking in. Slowly add in 1 ½ cups milk, whisking constantly. Add 1 tsp Dijon mustard and a pinch of salt and pepper. Keep whisking until the lumps are gone, then ditch the whisk and switch back to a wooden spoon.
Keep cooking, stirring often, until the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon (see photo below). Add 1 cup grated aged cheddar cheese and ½ cup finely grated parmesan. Turn the heat off and continue stirring, allowing the cheese to melt in the residual heat. Set aside to cool slightly.
Make the breadcrumb topping by combining in a bowl ¼ cup of grated aged cheddar cheese, ¼ cup finely grated parmesan, ¼ cup breadcrumbs, a tiny drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of salt and pepper.
When the cauliflower has stopped steaming, transfer the cooked florets to a baking dish and pour over the cheese sauce. Top with the breadcrumb topping and set aside until it’s time to bake. Do not refrigerate.
5. Tidy up.
Tidy up any debris and wipe down your board and knife before moving on to the next stage.
6. Prepare the roast potatoes.
Peel and chop the potatoes into pieces roughly the same size. (I usually get three or four chunks out of a fist-sized potato.) Slice at an angle to get the maximum surface area. (It’s really not an exact science – just chop them up.) Place the potatoes in a deep pot (the one you used to boil the cauliflower) and cover – just – with water. Salt the water and bring to the boil. Once boiling, boil until you can just insert a fork but the potatoes aren’t cooked through. Drain in a colander and give the potatoes a shake in the colander to chuff them up – the scruffy edges are what give you a really crisp roast potato. Leave the potatoes to steam dry and get cold.
7. Peel and slice the carrots. I like slicing them on the diagonal, but if you’re into rounds or batons then be my guest.
8. Take stock and get ahead.
Frankly, once you’ve made your cauliflower and cheese, Yorkie batter, prepared the roast potatoes and carrots and done a general tidy up, you’re in great shape! Most of the work is done, and you’re getting very close to that gin and tonic.
There are a few things you can do now to get ahead (and later, while the beef is roasting):
- Prepare Yorkshire pudding tray by drizzling in a tiny bit of fat in each hole (beef drippings are ideal, but vegetable oil is a fine alternative)
- Prepare roast potato tray by adding the butter and oil to the tray
- Load the dishwasher
- Prepare dessert, if applicable (something very simple, please)
- Set the table
- Decant the wine
- Put the horseradish on the table
It’s also very possible you’ve reached the time the beef should come out of the fridge. If that’s the case, you’ve officially entered the schedule for finishing the roast.
Schedule for Finishing the Roast – Eating at 4pm
1:30pm – Take the beef out of the fridge to come up to room temperature.
2:20pm – Preheat your oven. Season beef with salt and pepper.
2:30pm – Beef goes in the oven at 325F / 160C / 150C Fan. (Roast earlier if heavier – see A Word on Beef, above.)
2:31pm – Make a gin & tonic and sit down for a little rest.
3:05pm – Place prepared potato roasting tray in the oven to get hot.
3:15pm – Take the beef out of oven, cover with a layer of tin foil and then a clean tea towel and leave to rest somewhere warm. Turn oven up to 425F / 210C. Tip potatoes onto their hot roasting tray, season with lots of salt and toss around gently. Place potato tray in the oven to roast, and the cauliflower and cheese goes in as well.
3:20pm – Make the gravy. Start by adding 2 tbsp of beef fat or butter (plus any brown bits from the beef) and 2 tbsp flour to a saucepan over medium heat. Cook for a minute or two, then add the red wine, whisking constantly. Add the beef stock and redcurrant jelly, whisking to remove any lumps. Bring to a bubble then lower the heat, stirring occasionally, until thickened. Taste and adjust using Gravy SOS if required. Keep over a low heat until serving.
3:30pm – Bring carrots to the boil in just a few inches of salted water. Place prepared Yorkshire pudding tin in the oven to get hot.
3:40pm – Flip potatoes. Remove the cauliflower and cheese from the oven. Turn the oven up just a little more to 450F / 220C.
3:45pm – Pour Yorkshire pudding batter into the holes, about halfway up each. The recipe as specified will make 11 or 12. Keep the oven door closed now until the Yorkshire pudding are done! Next, add 1 handful of peas per person to the boiling carrots.
3:50pm – Drain the peas and carrots, return to the pot and cover to keep warm.
3:55pm – Carve the beef (or nominate someone to do this for you). Cover the carved beef with foil to keep warm.
4:00pm (ish) – When the Yorkies look a deep golden brown, remove the Yorkies and potatoes from the oven. Pour the gravy into a gravy boat (or a mug with a spoon). Plate up, or set out each element and ask everyone to help themselves.