Until you have tasted a proper joint of roast beef – none of this carvery nonsense – you haven’t lived. And, as a proper joint consists of five ribs, costs about £80 and will feed some 18 people, it might be an idea to have this for Christmas instead of that hoary old feathered turkey (why is a show that flops called a turkey, I wonder?). Clarissa Dickson Wright, the meaty expert, says a forerib of beef would be her last meal ‘when they finally hang me’, but it must be properly hung for three to four weeks and have good marbling, fine veins of fat running through the meat.
This will keep it moist. She says it should be roasted at 230˚C for 15 minutes (or 20 minutes if more than 6lb), then the oven turned down to 160˚C and the joint roasted for 12 minutes per pound for very rare, 15 minutes for rare, and 20 for well done. Then it should rest for at least 15 minutes. With this, you must have all the trimmings: roast potatoes cooked in beef or goose fat, sprouts or cabbage, perhaps a few carrots stewed in butter, horseradish sauce and, of course, Yorkshire pudding, which must be poured in under the joint and not cooked in silly little cup things.
PERFECT YORKSHIRE PUDDING
12 pint milk
Pinch of salt
A big roasting dish
Double up if there are a lot of you. Mix the flour, salt and egg in a blender, gradually adding the milk until the whole is like whipping cream. Do this an hour in advance, then whizz it again just before you pour it into the pan. You must have a really hot oven and it will take about 30?40 minutes to rise and cook. This means you have to heat the oven to 220˚C 15 minutes before the joint comes out to rest, but it shouldn’t matter at this stage.
Originally, of course, the Yorkshire pudding was eaten separately to fill stomachs and save the meat for another day (other families actually had their Yorkshires with condensed milk for pud). And the beef itself was roasted on a spit, which made the outside more cooked and the inside rarer than many people (not me, I like it rare) will eat. It would also have a smoky, barbecued flavour. Although people decry oven roasting as mere baking, the chances of anyone having a working spit (and a working varlet to turn it) are remote, so oven roasting will have to do but never in one of those strange, closed roasting tins with dimples on the lid. Always roast uncovered.
PERFECT HORSERADISH SAUCE
If possible, make the horseradish sauce from fresh or bought ground horse-radish. You will need ½cup grated horseradish, 1tsp mustard, 3tbsps double cream, 1tsp vinegar and salt and pepper. Mix them all together to double-cream consistency. Of course, unless you’re feeding dozens of relatives over Christmas, you will be left with plenty of beef for other meals and how much better cold roast beef tastes than cold turkey. Wrap the cooked joint loosely in foil or greaseproof paper, keep it refrigerated, and don’t cut it until you need to.
It is delicious on its own with good mustard or horseradish plus oven drippings if you have them. With country bread, it’s luxurious; try it cold with mayonnaise and chips in the European manner; make rare beef sandwiches with horseradish or mustard; have it with pickles or cornichons. Marika Hanbury-Tenison, in her splendid but out of print Left Over for Tomorrow (Penguin, 1971), says beef is the ‘most moist and juicy’ of all meats for leftovers, especially when rare, and has lots of recipes for it, such as beef olives, cottage pie and lasagne. Finally, beef dripping is delicious scraped on toast with a touch of Bovril evoking memories of childhood.
Favourite five rib roast
My favourite five-rib roast comes from Donald Russell (www.donaldrussell.co.uk), via mail order, and it does a stately five-rib roast for between £73 (4.5kg, 12?14 helpings) and £86 (5.5kg, 16?18 helpings). The head chef, Stefan Kolsch (firstname.lastname@example.org), will answer your queries. Otherwise, go to butchers in the Q Guild (01738 450443; www.guildofqbutchers.com). Clarissa Dickson Wright and Johnny Scott’s book Sunday Roast (Headline, 2002) has a useful list of butchers, and tells you how to cook and carve your joint.