I’m not a religious person (I don’t even belong to the Church of Baseball) but I think I may have found my higher calling here in London. I now absolutely consider myself to be a parishioner of the Church of Sunday Roast. I was not raised in this tradition, I am a foreigner and an outsider, but as we’ve learned through history, no believer is more zealous than a convert!
As I’ve observed, these are the core tenets of this religion:
- Roast meat
- Two or three veg sides
- Roasted potatoes
- Yorkshire pudding
The central component of the Roast is, obviously, the meat. Usually one of three options: Beef, pork, or chicken. Lamb is often available, or any game animal, but the Main Three are nearly omnipresent. There are caveats here, though, and some exceptions can be made. First and most obvious, we do welcome vegetarians into the fold with open arms (Sunday Roast is meant to be a community!) but there’s always just the tiniest bit of skepticism. Clearly they’re here only for the gravy. Secondly, while the meat may seem to be the center of the meal, the serving size of said meat is actually pretty small and reasonable. Rarely more than about 4 to 5 ounces per serving. And that’s ok, though, because that leaves plenty of space for the other members of the Sunday Roast pantheon.
The veg sides can be pretty much anything. I’ve had cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, parsnips, rutabaga, peas, green beans, red cabbage, and many other veg. Generally it’s a little over-cooked for my professional tastes, just a bit too soft, but the one thing that kills me (heresy already from the new convert!) is that the British never seem to salt their vegetables. Just as everyone brings a certain amount of “baggage” to a new relationship, salt is firmly rooted in my professional and emotional suitcase. Put salt on the damn veg before you serve it. Seriously, WTF. Clearly we all know how salt works, because you’ve used it in the delicious gravy! Now just move your hand a little to the left and put that salt on the veg, too. Before serving it, if-you-please!
As we move down the dogmatic list, we get closer to the non-negotiables, starting with the potatoes. They don’t have russets here, but do have smaller, baking potatoes with thinner skins that I’ve come to appreciate (acknowledge here that I grew up in Idaho, land of Simplot and potatoes…) and they make for a delicious starch side. Cooking techniques vary as do preferences, but you have to have potatoes on the plate in some fashion.
Next is the hallmark item, Yorkshire pudding. Without the Yorkie, it’s just a bunch of meat and veg on a plate. I once was talking with a professional colleague of mine about Yorkshire puddings. This is a chef who specializes in Middle-eastern cooking: spices, herbs, flavors, colors, everything that makes that particular cuisine distinctive. And so in that vein, I was brainstorming other versions of Yorkshire pudding. Nothing outlandish, maybe just some fresh thyme in the batter, or a little paprika, or something for a little punch. As the words were coming out of my mouth, my buddy cut me off mid-sentence and without a trace of irony or tolerance said “Don’t fuck with the Yorkshire pudding”. Apparently, I had stepped across some sort of line into that area where even converts can’t tread. I may have gotten the smack-down here, but I have to admit I’m still a little “Yorkie-curious” so see what options might exist for this puffed pastry.
Finally, the reason we all go through the effort of Sunday Roast: the gravy. If you skimp on the gravy, you will be excommunicated. Immediately. Full stop.
Church of Sunday Roast is also a lot like Judaisim in the sense that arguing over what’s the proper Roast is common, nay, to be expected. Discussion, arguments, challenges are what make Sunday Roast reach great heights. It’s the British equivalent of the Indian garam masala, or the Mexican guacamole, or the French ratatouille. Every family has their own “secret” version or preferences, and woe be to the outsider who deigns to tell them otherwise!
For me, an American transplant, Sunday Roast is a little slice of home. It’s so much like a mini-Thanksgiving meal but served every Sunday! And how can that be wrong? It’s the same time-intensive cooking techniques, lots of menu items to juggle, a single deadline for food service at an unreasonably early hour for such a production. Similarly to the US Thanksgiving meal, mediocre-to-poor cooking skills make up the foundation of everyone’s nostalgia about the Sunday Roast, too. I’ve had one home-cooked Sunday Roast while here which was fantastic (blew the lid off most of the professional Roasts I’ve had!), but I can understand how making a meal with this many moving parts would intimidate your average amateur cook, not to mention if you’re a parent of 2.5 children! Like at home in the US, Sunday Roast is often taken as an excuse to crack open a nice bottle of red wine at 11am. Nothing like a little liquid stabilizer to get you through the process.
I have yet to take on my own Sunday Roast at home myself, mostly for fear of missing some key component or aspect that is unknowable to outsiders. But I am looking forward to the day when I’m ready to test my adopted Britishness!