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Dublin: 1°C Thursday 20 January 2022

Sunday comforts: How to cook the ideal roast dinner, according to top chefs

We asked some of Ireland’s experts how they prep their meat, veg and roast spuds.

Image: Shutterstock/AS Food studio

THE CHANGE IN seasons brings some real treats, from cosy jumpers to roaring fires.

One of the best parts about winter, though, is setting things up for a Sunday roast, and filling the house up with mouth-watering aromas.

A good roast dinner is different in every house – much depends on traditions passed down through generations – from how you season your meat to how you roast your spuds.

This week I asked some of Ireland’s favourite chefs, bloggers, food writers and producers for their top tips on making a perfect roast dinner. And my humble addition to all this expert advice? Make double of everything – especially the gravy!

The meat

For many people, a quality piece of meat is the most important aspect of a roast dinner, and food writer and stylist Nessa Robins agrees, telling me that a prime cut of local Westmeath beef is her favourite meat for roasting.

I first sear it on a nice hot pan until it’s browned, as it enriches the finished flavour of the beef, while the remains of the pan can be used as a base for a flavoursome gravy.

In TV cook Karen Coakley’s house, they have a preference for lamb, no matter what time of the year: “A shoulder of lamb is hands-down my favourite, especially with mint sauce,” she says. “Slow-cooked until all the fat renders out and the meat just pulls away. It’s a proper homely dinner.”

Karen likes to incorporate Middle Eastern flavours into her cooking, often roasting her lamb with ground cardamom, rose petals and a little tumeric. This is her go-to method: 

Cover it with tinfoil, pour a cup of water in the base and pop it in the oven, and set it to cook low and slow. Go away for your Sunday walk, come back, and it’s done, ready for serving with some flatbread, maybe some couscous and hummus or natural yoghurt. It’s delicious.

shutterstock_1163829325 Source: Shutterstock/Wicked Digital

The veggies

Fresh winter vegetables, slow-cooked in the oven to develop their deliciously earthy flavours, will transform a roast dinner (and if you have veggies at the table, the veg can be satisfying enough to form the centrepiece of a dinner too).

For Seaneen O’Sullivan, co-founder and chef at L. Mulligan Grocers in Stoneybatter, this season’s bounty means staff are “really spoiled” in the kitchen, with cauliflower, tenderstem broccoli, pumpkins and squash all featuring on the menu when it’s time for a roast. She describes her favourite veggie-based side at the moment: “Mushrooms, slow-roasted while slathered in smoked Irish garlic.” 

Head chef at Waterford’s GrowHQ, JB duBois recommends the following approach for roasted veggies like beetroot or carrots:

Season them well with Irish sea salt, a drizzle of oil and some nice fresh herbs, such as thyme, rosemary or sage.

DuBois likes to roast them for a half hour covered, and takes off the lid for the last 15 to 30 minutes, so the vegetables stay moist but deliciously caramelised.  

shutterstock_746823406 Source: Shutterstock/Olha Afanasieva

The gravy

Wade Murphy, co-owner and chef at Restaurant 1826 in Adare in Limerick has strong feelings about the addition of gravy: “In my opinion, it’s not a proper roast without a good gravy,” he says.

O’Sullivan agrees, and has a homemade recipe featuring “loads of mushrooms, root vegetables and red wine.”

For Murphy, it all begins with the stock – for thickening and adding texture and a complex flavour. Oh, and no flour:

We don’t use any flour in our sauces here, we just reduce it until it’s a very syrupy glaze and chill it until it’s ready to use.

When his meat is finished cooking, he removes it from the tray, and replaces it with some finely-sliced carrots, shallots, garlic and a sprig of thyme. He then caramelises the veg and deglazes the tray with a good quality red wine until it’s almost evaporated. At that stage, he brings back in the reduced chicken stock and allows the mixture to simmer until the right consistency. After that, all that’s left is to “strain through a fine sieve and serve with your roast.” And bask in the praise of your diners, I should imagine. 

The roasties

Food writers Russell Alford and Patrick Hanlon of Gastrogays are fans of all types of potatoes – from gooey gratin to creamy mash. But one type reigns supreme:

Everyone knows the roastie is the king of the potato when it comes to a roast dinner.

Somewhat controversially, they don’t peel the potatoes first, “We love the flavour of the skin sometimes even more than the flavour or texture of the flesh.” They also recommend cutting them into angular shapes, par-boiling and chaffing first, before adding a tablespoon of flour for extra crispiness. 

They love to experiment with alternatives to “plain ‘ol cooking oil”, using pork lard or even ghee, explaining, “It’s absolutely extraordinary with roast potatoes.” They’re not alone in thinking this way; Wade Murphy employs duck fat to finish his roasties with a richly-flavoured golden crisp.

The stuffing 

For food writer and cookbook author Imen McDonnell, a key feature of a roast dinner is a good stuffing. She likes to use a straightforward-but-beloved McDonnell family recipe of boiled potatoes, butter, onion, mixed herbs and seasoning. She explains:

As simple as the recipe may be, my late mother-in-law Peggy’s savoury potato stuffing always seemed exotic and heartwarming to me, as I’d never encountered it back home in the States.

While this dish is particularly good with chicken and turkey, it’s guaranteed to serve as a crowd-pleasing side to any roasted main. McDonnell said:

Peggy only made her potato stuffing on special occasions, but it always brought comfort and joy to all the faces around the table. And that’s the essence of a good roast dinner for me: people coming together to celebrate family and traditions over beautifully-cooked food.

And the wildcard: Yorkshire puds

Food writer and author Kate Ryan is a big fan of what she used to call ‘Yorkshire surprises’ when she was growing up, because her mum struggled to make them. She recalled, “They were soggy, rock hard, burnt – you never quite knew what you were going to get, but we still ate them!” For her, Yorkshire puddings are exclusively for serving with beef: “Everything else is sacrilege.” 

She likes to let the batter rest for at least an hour, out of the fridge, as “the batter mix will start to partially ferment, making the puddings light and fluffy.” Then she heats a drop of oil in the bottom of a muffin pan (dripping will work well here too) to seal the base and encourage the batter to rise. After that, the real trick is patience: “Do not open the oven door to check how they are getting on. To do so is to bring disaster upon your Yorkie.” 

And we don’t want that – because they are, as Wade Murphy says, “Ideal for mopping up all the delicious flavours of the perfect roast dinner.” 

More: Just as tasty: 6 vegetarian-friendly alternatives to the classic Sunday roast>

About the author:

Rachael Kealy

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