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It’s your old pal Kit (Christof) Fennessy here. I've been writing this blog with your help for ten years, and there's over a hundred and fifty recipes, restaurant reviews of Australia and around the world, and general gourmet articles in these pages for you to fritter away your idle hours on.

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Thursday, July 5, 2012

Le Rosbif

Bonjour geezers!

Of course many know the tale of how the Rosbif got his name.  English soldiers fighting in France, back in the day would order “roast beef”, because they couldn’t stand all that foreign garlicy muck.  The locals started rolling their eyes and gesticulating over their shoulders complaining about les “rosbifs”.

Further research into the etymology of the word “rosbif” reveals everyone being very vague. Some place it to the nineteenth century, others to the period of the Crusades or Middle Ages.  Me?  I can tell you exactly.  1045: the day Edward the Confessor went home to visit his mother in the rainy part of France and complained about the food.

And how very true it is that the English love their beef (and also like complaining)!

On going on my working holiday a Angleterre, their traditional Sunday roast revealed that an avoidance of garlic and “that foreign muck” has made for several hundred years of concentrating on how to do one thing well – as always a recipe for success!

The piece of meat central to the whole experience, to sit cheek by jowl with your jowls, is of course the roast beef. I’ve tried differing ones with varying success, but last weekend pushed the envelope and did a traditional English roast (OK, I couldn’t come at the brussel sprouts), and learnt a thing or two about roasting beef…


Rib Roasts
Want to go all cor blimey?  Use a piece of meat on the bone.
Catching up on some tips from my mate Stephanie Alexander, she thinks that the best cut is with the bone in as it cooks with more flavour. Use a wing rib sirloin from the hindquarter or a standing rid roast from the forequarter.
As usual, she recommends the short hot burst (240 degrees) at the start for 15 mins, and then turning it down and cooking at a moderate temp for varying weight as follows.

The wing rib is sirloin steak on one side, the standing rib is porterhouse.  This is the one I tried on the weekend, and wow!  Impressive drama at the table when you carve it up and there’s a bone in each portion (sorry sensitive vegetarians!).

On the bone (per 500 g)
Rare                  15 minutes
Medium            20 minutes
Well done         25 minutes

Boneless (or boned as Eddie Maguire would say) – turn the oven down to 220 after the burst here:
Rare                  10 minutes
Medium            15 minutes
Well done          20 minutes

I’m slightly more cautious than Stef with my timings, and don’t have a fan forced oven.  You know the type of gas stove I’ve got.  The one you have to lie on the floor with your head in it to light?  The kind you get in a cheap rental?  Yeah, that kind.  With no thermostat control, which goes flat out if the knob is past ninety degrees.  And a griller you have to light with a candle it’s so rusted up.
Not that I’m one subject to hyperbole.

Long resting time is important for this, so pop it on top of your pile of plates in the griller compartment, covered in a couple of layers of foil.  It will be good for up to an hour.

As a final note, you might like to put little white paper hats on the bone at the end.  That sounds kind of appropriately doily and beef-eater-esque…

Topside / Shoulder
I’ve found these mystery bag roasts at major supermarket chains.  You know the piece of meat that says “succulent roast”, or “tasty meat”, or worst of all “flesh”… all without actually providing much information.

If you’re lucky it might have a drawing of a cow on its plastic drippy bag.  The cow will be smiling in a paddock, grinning away unaware it’s about to be prodded into a machine and chopped into miscellaneous cubic chunks.
My best guess is that this is topside or shoulder, which is best treated by searing in a ovenproof pot and then popping in a low oven and basting occasionally (pot roast! – thanks Mrs Brady!!... I mean Alice!).

The long slow treatment with this, and you can get surprising results.

I did one even more basically in a wood fired stove in a Wombat Valley slab hut which insects flew through, using the grilling pan from a gas cooker as the baking dish.

This was also the roast I got closest to producing one of the best gravies I ever produced.

Surprisingly gravy isn’t a universal European phenomenon.  Once, in America, Jane and I cooked a roast for some Spanish people who were visiting, and one of them said in delight while hopping into a chicken roast with gravy: ‘Zis sauce.  Eet is hamazing.  What do you call it?’

It felt like something right out of the Castle.  ‘Yeah, it’s called gravy?  You have it with roasts.  And maybe schnitzels…’

The vegetable roux under a roast is always a good idea, but the essential thing is to fry off some of the roast left in the bottom of the dish (i.e. it’s flavour with most of the fat tipped off) with some flour and then deglazing.  You can use wine.  Stock if you’ve got it for the next liquid added, water if you’re desperate.  Salt please.

I went all out on the gravy last weekend, and got OK results, but nothing will ever beat that woodfired-stove gravy.  I burnt the flour a bit and it took a while to make, but it was right on the money.

Don’t worry about lumps.  As per Jamie Oliver (again), you can push the deglazed roux through a sieve and bob’s your uncle.

I first became aware of these traditional English roast scenarios while travelling through Yorkshire, where we stopped for a Sunday roast at a pub.
They were like massive crispy vol-au-vents filled with the most delicious gravy I’ve ever tasted, next to a roast smothered in the same.
The meat was an inferior top side pot roast, and I thought that it looked like there was already too much gravy, but I was delighted when the glooped on gravy ran out and was able to slice into my Yorkshire pudding and refill the plate with brown liquid tasty.

Essentially they’re a way of padding out your roast, cheaper and more storable than vegetables, the batter for these bready accompaniments should be prepared before you pop the roast in the oven, to give the batter time to form chains in the goo (a chemistry thing, trust me, I’m a scientist – now take your clothes off, touch your toes in the corner with your back toward me and cough…).

Makes 12

150g plain flour
pinch o’ salt
1 egg
1 ¼ cups milk
Fat rendered from roast

Sift flour and salt into a bowl, break in egg then gradually beat in milk.  Let batter rest for an hour.
Oil a muffin tray with hot fat.  Heat tins till pans are hot, I think Jamie likes about a teaspoon of fat in each cup so that when the batter goes in, it starts to puff and curl straight away.  Pour batter half way up tins, bake for 25 minutes till puffed and crispy.

When the roast comes out put the Yorkshire puddings in.  You’ll be amazed.  Top shelf, 180 degrees while your making your gravy, and wollah!  Go really Yorky, cut the lids off and fill with gravy!

I won’t bore you with vegetables in this one, and might leave potatoes till another time (thank goodness – I can hear my Mum thinking – doesn’t he ever leave off???)

So it’s “Ta ra”, then Geez, innit?  Have a pucka weekend…