The Great British Sunday Roast

British Sunday Roast

The traditional British Sunday roast has been part of the British national identity for hundreds of years, and almost every Brit on the planet has their own childhood memories of the end of the week ritual. Counter to popular belief, not all of us insist upon having a roast dinner every Sunday, but there are certainly families that do uphold the tradition. Additionally, every Brit will also claim that their Mum makes the best roast dinner they’ve ever had. In my case, it is in fact my father that makes the best Sunday lunch, and I am fairly certain that I will think that until my dying day. Tender, quality meat, fluffy on the inside crispy on the outside roast potatoes, divine Yorkshire puddings, and veggies cooked to perfection – those words make every Brit drool.

The origins of the Sunday roast are disputed, but they date back to somewhere in between the medieval and Industrial ages. It is most widely thought that families would put a joint of meat in the oven, go to their Sunday church service, and by the time they returned their meat would be ready to eat. The grander families would roast an entire animal above their fires on a Sunday, devouring some of it for a roast dinner that day, and using the rest of the meat throughout the week in sandwiches, pies and anything else they can throw it in.

Roast beef dates back the furthest, but nowadays pork, chicken and lamb are also found on British dining tables. It’s quite rare that a family would cook a turkey, as it is normally saved for the grandest roast dinner of them all, Christmas day. Anyone can cook a joint of meat, but I believe that it is an art form to cook it well.

Slow-roasting the meat for hours, to let all the flavour and juices stay intact, seems to be the best way to approach it. It’s far too easy to dry out a joint, and as a Brit myself, I can safely say that dry meat on a Sunday lunch plate is serious let-down.

Carrots and broccoli are the most popular choices of vegetables to have with a Sunday lunch, but I’m sure plenty of Brits out there will think otherwise. Each family has their own variations on what vegetables go with a roast dinner, and if you raise the subject of what should go on a Sunday lunch plate in the pub, you could be sat there for hours. The vegetables are usually seasonal, and it is not uncommon to find swede, parsnips, peas, cauliflower and much more. Roast potatoes are, of course, a given, and a favourite element with a huge amount of Brits, some of which will even have both roasted and mashed potatoes on one plate.

The accompaniments are key to any good Sunday roast, and each meat has its own traditional elements. Beef with Yorkshire puddings and horseradish, pork with crackling, stuffing and apple sauce, chicken with pigs in blankets and stuffing, and lamb with mint sauce or jelly. Up until about 50 years ago, it was relatively unheard of to hear of a mixture of any of these, but in modern times those rules have been thrown out the window, and families will often take their favourite components and eat them all together. For example, we will have both stuffing and Yorkshire puddings with any meat, because they are just too good to miss out. There are boundaries, however, as mint sauce can only ever go with lamb, and horseradish will only ever be eaten with beef. For me, gravy is the single most important part of a Sunday lunch, and I have to have it as thick as possible. My mother makes a great roast dinner, but I insist upon taking over on gravy duty, I’m that particular.

Just about every pub and restaurant in the UK will serve a roast on a Sunday, and almost all of them are filled with people tucking into plates piled high with grub, each with a glazed look of nostalgia in their eyes as the smells take them back to their childhood days. Nobody ever quite shakes loose the feeling of pure excitement you had as a kid when you’d wake up on a Sunday and hear your parents rattling around the kitchen, getting everything ready for the main event. It is almost compulsory to be so completely stuffed with food that you cannot walk, utterly content in your gluttony. The often chilly climate of Britain goes perfectly with being tucked up on your couch on a Sunday afternoon, in front of the TV with your family, warmed by the hearty food in your belly.

Photo credit: British Sunday Roast


Emma Higgins has been writing and traveling on and off since 2009. Her blog, Gotta Keep Movin’ is full of stories and advice from her trips, which include Europe, India, Morocco, South America, the USA and Canada. Her main focuses are budget travel and volunteering, and she has been involved in sustainable farming in Argentina, animal shelters in Peru, and even tried her hand at making goats cheese in British Columbia. Follow her travels on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.
Categories: Food

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