England - Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding.

I travelled among unknown men,
 In lands beyond the sea:
Nor England! Did I know till then
What Love I bore to thee.

William Wordsworth

I quoted this in the final section of my book 'A Tale of Nine Cities', and I meant it at the time. This was how I felt when I returned to England, my homeland. 

The rugged North Devon coastline at Hartland
copyright: Deborah Cater
England is a green and pleasant land partly because it rains so much but also because there are places of such diverse beauty to be found there. The rugged coastline of North Devon is glorious in the summer when a cream tea taken in the garden of a quaint cottage that truly has roses growing round the door and hollyhocks and lupins in the garden is still a real possibility.  It is also rather a good spot in the winter for a Kathy and Heathcliff moment on the windy clifftops though the best setting is that as chosen by Emily Brontë - the Yorkshire moors on a stormy night. On my last trip back to England I drove from North Devon to Yorkshire, via several places inbetween, and fell in love with the city of York. A university town, York retains it quaintness with cobbled streets that tangle their way to York Minster and the old city walls and gates still in evidence. 

York Minster
copyright: Deborah Cater
Yorkshire is of course home to the eponymnous Yorkshire Pudding which has become a requisite part of the English Roast Beef meal that is ususally enjoyed on a Sunday lunchtime (though quite frankly any time or day will do). Nothing reminds me more of England than one of my Sunday lunches of beef, potatoes, seasonal vegetables and a flavoursome thick gravy. At Christmas time I always aim to have a goose for the main celebratory meal with roast beef usually present on Boxing Day (St. Sephen's). A roasted goose produces enough fat for me to create tasty roast potatoes that are crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside, for a whole year.

My roast beef dinner consists of a flavoursome and tender joint of beef, potatoes roasted in goose fat, a well-risen Yorkshire pudding (I read somewhere recently that in order to be classed as a Yorkshire pudding the batter needs to have risen at least 4 inches) and steamed seasonal vegetables. Wherever possible I would advocate the use of seasonal vegetables and free-range or organic produce. Firstly because it is only fair to give our food a good life before it becomes our dinner; secondly because seasonal vegetables means reduced transport times, costs and damage to the environment and thirdly becuase if the first two are followed you are far more likely to experience tasty and fresh food.


Timing is the key when making a roast dinner in order that everything comes together at the same time. Remember, the meat needs to rest  for at least 30 minutes before it is served so that the juices settle in the meat and the cooking finishes, so just before you take it out of the oven prepare for the Yorkshire Pudding and Potatoes to go in. 


Roast Beef

1.5kg joint of beef. Topside is the most widely available but it can be tough, if you can afford it go for sirloin or rib of beef.
Couple of onions, cut in half
One bulb of garlic broken into cloves, no need to peel them
A few sprigs of rosemary or thyme
Olive oil

Yorkshire Pudding 

 Vegetable oil or dripping from the beef tin
2 large eggs
180 ml of milk
120 ml of water
150g plain flour - sieved

Roast Potatoes
1.5kg of potatoes

The juices, onion and garlic from the beef tin
Beef Stock (the amount you use depends on how thick you like your gravy)
Splash of red wine (optional)


Roast Beef

Pre-heat the oven to 220C.

Make sure the meat is at room temperature, not straight from the fridge. Place the onions and garlic in the roasting tin and rest the meat on top of it. This has two effects, the meat is flavoured and some of the juices are absorbed by the onion and garlic which makes them a) tasty and b) good for the gravy.

Pour some olive oil over the beef.

Turn the oven down to 200C and cook for 20 mins. Then turn the oven down to 180C and cook for 20 mins per 500kg (in this case 1 hour) . This will give a medium cooked joint.

At the end of the cooking time, remove the meat from the roasting tin, cover and leave to rest for at least 30 minutes. The juices soak into the meat and the fibres relax making into a tender joint to carve and eat.

If you are going to serve the garlic and onions remove those from the tin as well and keep warm under some foil. Keep the juices and any burnt bits in the tin (and the onions and garlic if they are not being served) and set aside for the making of the gravy later.

Roast Potatoes

Peel and cut the potatoes and parboil.

Put enough goose fat to prevent the potatoes sticking to the tin and to give them a very light coating into a roasting tin. Do not put too much fat in or you will have greasy potatoes not crispy ones! Put the tin in the oven to heat the goose fat.

When the potatoes have been parboiled, remove the tin from the oven and gently put the potatoes in the tin being careful not to splash hot fat on yourself. Turn the potatoes in the fat so that they have a light coating. Put back into the oven for about 45 minutes. Turn the potatoes when they are golden on one side so that each side has time away from the bottom of the tin.

Remove when the potatoes are a golden colour and crispy.

Yorkshire Pudding

The choice is yours as to whether you make individual puddings or one large one to share. Use a 9"x11" roasting tin for a single pudding or a 6 part muffin tray for individual puds.

The batter mix can be prepared in advance to make things a little less hectic!

Sieve the flour into a mixing bowl, make a well in the middle and add the eggs, flour and water. Whisk well until there are no lumps.

When the beef comes out the oven put the pudding tin into the oven with enough dripping from the tin to cover the bottom of the tin (or each muffin section). Hit the oil for 5 minutes until it is hot.

Remove the tin from the oven, pour the batter mix into the tin and return to the oven. Cook for about 20 minutes until the pudding is risen and golden in colour.


When everything is coming to fruition you can start the gravy. It only takes a couple of minutes to prepare.

Place the beef tin over a low heat and add a small amount of beef stock. Gently agitate the beef dripping and any burned on onion adn garlic from the bottom of the tin with a wooden spoon and stir. The gravy will start to take on a darker hue as the dripping and stock mix together.

Add a splash of red wine. Keep stirring.

Add a tablespoon of cornflour, more if required, and stir until the gravy is very thick and then gradually add more beef stock until you have the consistency you like.

Remove the herb sprigs. If you are refined, then sieve the gravy into a gravy boat and serve with the rest of the meal. If like me you like to find a yummy piece of roasted onion in your gravy then just put it straight into the gravy boat.

Serve all of the above with some steamed seasonal vegetables and you will have a roast dinner worthy to grace any table.


Hints and Tips

There seems to be a lot to do but really it is quite simple, there is no need to panic. If you are concerned about it all coming together at the right time just write your timings out before hand and everything will be fine.

When draining the potatoes, give them a little shake in the pan or colander so that the edges are fluffy. This will give an extra crispness to the potatoes.

For a little piquancy to the Yorkshire Pudding add some horseradish to the batter mix.

Horseradish sauce or mustard are excellent condiments to go with the beef.

Visit York - Tourist Information http://www.visityork.org/
North Devon & Exmoor Visitor Site http://www.northdevon.com/
Slow Food Movement http://www.slowfood.com/


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