14 November 1997

Whatever happened to the Sunday joint?

Has the Sunday roast lost

its popularity?

Sybil Norcott hopes not

and savours roasts

past and present

I &#42 past years Sunday mid-day was the time for the family to gather for a largish joint of roast beef, pork or lamb, plus the recognised accompaniments.

Roast beef demanded Yorkshire pudding served from the tin, horseradish sauce and, with my family, raw sliced onion, cucumber and tomatoes freshly covered with vinegar.

The large joint went into the oven with the potatoes for roasting before we walked to church. We returned at a quicker pace if the sermon had been long and weary, in case the roast was getting too crisp. There was no foil in those days and the roasting tins were made with tight fitting lids. The meat was removed from the tin and the gravy made to our liking by thickening some of the meat juices, adding vegetable water.

&#42 Dinner not lunch

We never knew how many would be having dinner with us (yes, dinner not lunch), so the table was never laid in advance for it was considered rude to add extra places to an already set table.

Lifestyles have changed. Over the years the supermarket prepacked portions have taken the place of the succulent joint, the art of carving is fast fading but to me, if catering for a large number, a roast is so much easier. It looks after itself while we catch up on news.

Years ago the butcher boy on a bike with an enormous front basket, carried the meat to the outlying farms: Wednesday steak and kidney or braising steak, perhaps a piece of shin or an ox-tail, and he took the order for Saturday delivery of the well hung, tender Sunday roast.

The joint was not over-packaged, so was automatically washed and dried before being cooked. Maybe that is something we should remember to do even with todays superior wrappings, transport and refrigerated storage.

One thing I do so hate is the elastic netting that keeps the shape of the joint while cooking and also helps to keep the suety "added fat for roasting" in place! I look for the pleasantly marbled beef where the fat grew naturally and belongs to that specific joint.

At home elastic netting is replaced with string. Its so much easier for the carver. The string does not shrink into the joint while cooking because I have a special ball that has been submerged in water and soaked overnight to make it shrink, then allowed to dry before storing.

In todays highly competitive market, to hang beef for an adequate period, allowing the enzymes to break down the fibres and create tenderness, adds to the cost. This aging cannot be achieved to the full at home, but a joint purchased mid-week will keep in the refrigerator until Sunday and the flavour will continue to improve. Well hung beef will cook slightly faster than a less matured joint.

It is usual to carve across the grain. While this does not make the joint more tender it appears to, as the short fibres are easier to chew. When the joint is cooked a resting time in a warm place firms the roast and is an advantage to the carver.

Carving the joint at table adds atmosphere to the occasion and with discussion as to likes and favourite titbits it becomes a pleasurable ceremony. So, bring back the family Sunday roast with all its trimmings, I say.