We all have opinions, but if you don’t like roast dinners yours is wrong
VICE described them as ‘assorted brown and beige sludge’
Everyone in Britain has their vision of the perfect weekend. Solitary reading by the fire in a log cabin, perhaps. Making love under white bedsheets in the dappled light of a lazy Autumn morning. Maybe just going for a nice long country walk. Whichever it is, though, you can bet it ends with a delicious Sunday roast.
Or is that just me? Yesterday, VICE declared that “Roast Dinners Are Just Fucking Awful.” Now everyone is obviously entitled to their own opinion, and anyone is obviously allowed to say they don’t like roasts for their own personal reasons. It’s just that, obviously, they’re deeply, deeply wrong.
The article depicts the roast as a symptom of Britain’s bleak history; years and years of grey misery manifested as a plate of viscous clart. Hence the roast is nothing more than “assorted brown and beige sludge” which “makes you feel uncomfortably full.”
Yet to dismiss our nation’s favourite meal just because you often find yourself semi-comatose post-roast seems a bit strong. The glory of the roast dinner is in its absolute excess – the knowledge that you can go back for second and third helpings and still survive the rest of the week on leftovers crammed into endless tupperwares. The roast is gluttony realised, which is why wanting to throw it back up and sleep for a fortnight after eating it is just part and parcel of the whole experience.
Likewise, to disparage gravy is to completely miss the point: “I don’t believe in meals that you have to put shit on to make them edible.” But what is spaghetti without its bolognese? What’s a pizza without cheese? What’s a curry without, well, curry sauce? If the roast dinner is “woven in the omnipresent melancholy of British life,” then gravy is woven into the idea of the roast – and that’s no bad thing.
There’s nothing more British than gravy, a substance which exists because some bright spark thought solid meat would taste better if we could pour liquid meat on top of it. It worked; from off-brand Bisto to the fancy stuff made with real stock, gravy is a national treasure. The issue isn’t that you need it to make a roast taste nice – it’s that, like chips and cheese or sausage and mash or a pie which is already filled with the stuff, most things just taste better when they’re swamped in gravy.
Of course, you might complain about things going soggy when gravy is involved. That’s only because there’s an adroitness in gravy distribution which amateurs lack: an aptness in ensuring the meat is moistened but not drowned, the Yorkshires are well-filled yet still crispy on the brim, and the potatoes and parsnips retain the necessary crunch while still bathing in enough liquid in which their fluffy insides can soak.
Because it wouldn’t be a roast without an obnoxious abundance of textures and flavours, each one complimenting the other in it’s own way. There’s the meat, whether it be beef or pork or lamb or turkey, the tough-yet-tender lynchpin paired with lashings of the appropriate second sauce for the occasion (horseradish, apple, mint and cranberry, respectively – but you already knew that.)
Then there’s the roasties, crisped with goose fat on their exterior, yet fleecy as a cloud on the inside. The Yorkshire pudding; either one enormous one ready to be torn into chunks, or a few small golden ones just like Aunt Bessie makes them. Then the veg, which is admittedly just sort of there because you spent your childhood being forced to force down the carrots and the sprouts, but is an important cog in the roast machine nonetheless.
Beyond that, there’s a whole universe of possible extras. A roast is what you make it, and if you can’t put together a roast you like out of the options you have then the roast isn’t the problem. Take your pick: stuffing, cauliflower cheese, pigs in blankets, peas, mash, leeks, crackling and so on, all mingling and melting until you’re left with a perfect puddle of slurry which you’d damn well slurp down with a straw if you hadn’t been taught good old British table manners.
That’s because the roast really is about the performance as much as the meal itself. The first dinner you cooked together as a flat at uni; the first time you invited your girlfriend back to meet the parents; the first time you all sat down together again after you and your siblings had flown the nest.
A roast is a demonstration of closeness, something to be shared only with your nearest and dearest. The Italians have rambling pasta lunches, the Spanish labour over prodigious paellas and the Americans gorge themselves on Thanksgiving once a year – but for us, once a year isn’t enough.
Thus, we give thanks every Sunday to the cows and chickens who’ve sacrificed themselves to give us their delicious flesh, the bountiful earth which spewed forth our potatoes and veg, and the long-gone genius who first sloshed gravy over meat and changed Britain for the better.
Featured picture: @bec_doyle