I still miss my mother's Sunday roast dinners. The magic of slow-cooked, fall-apart lamb; crispy, golden vegetables; velvety gravy; and the wonderful roasty aroma as it all came to fruition. You got a sniff of it the moment you walked in the back door.
I've never been able to quite replicate Mum's roasts, mainly because I've never been game enough to slather everything in dripping the way she did. She kept the leftover fat from previous roasts in an enamel basin in the fridge and used it liberally to carry flavour and crispy golden comfort to the next round.
Mum's roasts were glossy and gorgeous, and the lamb, hogget or mutton came directly from our farm, the vegetables from the garden - long before the foodie phrase "paddock to plate" had been invented.
My roasts are good, but not in the same way. Lately I've been cooking Silver Fern Farms' prime-cut roasts, with good results. They do lamb, venison and beef, and they're a good size for smaller families. They're lean, trimmed, boneless, they come with sound instructions, tasty rubs are available and they can be on the table pretty quickly.
I love roasts for their simplicity, their nostalgia content and for the fact that you can't eat a roast on the run. It is a sit- down family meal, it demands conversation, decent manners, the chink of cutlery on china.
The roast's many fine attributes were remembered yesterday on Selaks New Zealand Roast Day, an occasion which Auckland-based wine company Selaks says is "about celebrating our nation's most loved meal and all accompaniments that go with a great roast, including roast veges, gravy and the perfect wine match".
Selaks launched its national roast day in 2010; in the lead-up each year it ropes in celebrity chefs to share recipes and it encourages people to sit down to a Sunday roast (the Sunday tradition stemming from the days when families gathered for a big midday meal after church).
Food fashions come and go, but the roast has never really gone out of favour. It is rooted in the country's colonial and agricultural heritage, it has sustained generations of farming and urban families, it has shown up on hotel and restaurant menus down the decades.
In 1875, a special dinner menu at the prestigious Northern Club in Auckland listed roast sirloin of beef with horseradish sauce, and roast saddle of mutton with red currant jelly, among the many choices. In 1940, the menu at Auckland's Grand Hotel included roast sirloin of beef, and roast sucking pig and apple sauce.
Chefs are still cooking roasts. Kitchen king (and former Waikato boy) Josh Emett currently has a Sunday roast on the winter menu at his Ostro eatery in Auckland, selling it as "a selection of classic roast meats designed to be shared".
Closer to home, Good George Brewing and Dining Hall, in Frankton, also does a Sunday roast: meat-and- three-vegetables for $19. Staff member Carey Milicich says, "not everyone's got time to do a roast on Sunday, so we put it on and people can have it here."
Chef Adrian Hodgson, who owns Te Rapa restaurant The District with wife Sue, cooked a Sunday roast at their previous eatery, Suburbia, in Beerescourt. At The District, he reserves them for special occasions such as Mother's Day and Father's Day.
Hodgson has loved roasts since childhood, when his family sat around his grandmother's table in Hawke's Bay each week and ate "good Napier roast lamb, with all the trimmings".
While it may be comfort food, Hodgson says you have to do it well. For a good result, his advice is to buy the best quality meat you can. Maybe scotch beef, or a boned and rolled lamb leg.
Hodgson sears the meat in a pan to lock in the flavours, cooks it at 180 deg C for medium rare, the timing depending on the size of the cut. Resting is important at the end.
He parboils potatoes and kumara, drains them, fries them in a pan in duck fat (he loves the flavour and golden colouring this produces), then finishes the vegetables in the oven. He also makes cauliflower cheese.
Traditional flavours rule for Hodgson: garlic and rosemary is great with lamb, and mint jelly to serve; horseradish and Yorkshire pudding works with beef. Gravy is made from pan juices deglazed with red wine, thickened with a butter and flour roux, salt and pepper to season.
In Cambridge, meat purveyor Carrie Andrews says she and staff regularly offer advice to customers on preparing roasts, and other cuts. Carrie and husband Tommy own Wholly Cow, which has meat stores at two locations in Cambridge, and their products come from their nearby sheep and beef farm in the hills of Whitehall.
Carrie says at Wholly Cow they're happy to help with tips on seasoning, oiling, timing, resting, and making the best of the various cuts. They find quite a few people short on such knowledge.
So how did Carrie learn to cook roasts? "From being the ninth child in a big farming family - my mother was always cooking."
The Andrews have four children of their own, and roasts are a regular on the menu. At present Carrie is enjoying winged rib roast of beef. This is cooked (covered) in a hot (200C) oven on a bed of chopped carrots, onions and celery. It is uncovered towards the end; it is meltingly tender and delicious. She rests the meat, adds stock to the caramelised veges in the bottom of the pan to make gravy. Sounds damn fine for a Sunday roast.
Check selaksnzroastday.co.nz for more on Roast Day, and recipes.
Vintage menus mentioned are found in Dining Out, A History of the Restaurant in New Zealand, by Perrin Rowland (Auckland University Press).
- Waikato Times