If you like meat, Sunday roast is a must while you are in the UK. Centuries of perfecting roasted meats and accompanying sides mean that this is one delicious meal to look forward to every week.
What is Sunday Roast?
Country of origin: England
Sunday roast is a meal in the UK, served, well, on Sundays. Originally, it’s the meal served after church on Sunday. What better way to break your fast after church than a sumptuous meaty meal!
Some calls it Sunday lunch (if you have it for lunch) or Sunday dinner (dinner used to be the midday meal, the biggest meal of the day), or simply roast lunch/dinner. Whatever it is called, the basic composition is the same.
What’s in a Sunday Lunch?
The full roster of any roast varies depends on who is cooking. But it usually includes a meat (beef, pork, chicken, even lamb), some potatoes and other root vegetables, roasted or blanched, and buttery Yorkshire pudding. All play nicely in a pool of brown gravy.
Meat is an essential part of this spread. The most traditional choice is beef. Before the invention of kitchen stoves and ovens, housewives would cook this (and every) meal in front or over the fire. Just imagine, all the dishes of this meal arranged around the open hearth. The aroma must have filled people’s homes, as the anticipation of the meal builds.
In 1822, William Kitchener suggested a horseradish garnish to go with his sirloin roast beef. Nowadays, each meat is accompanied by its own condiment: horseradish for beef, apple sauce for pork, mint sauce for lamb. I am not sure if there is a sauce that always goes with chicken.
A brief history
Like so many traditions, the origin of how/why something comes about is lost. Roast, especially roast beef, is an old English dish dating back more than 600 years. In the late 1400s, Henry VII’s royal guards would roast beef before going to church. This could be the reason that these royal bodyguards, Yeoman Warders, acquired the nickname “beefeaters.”
This idea of slow cooking a roast while attending church quickly caught on. By the early 18th century, roast beef had become a source of pride, and even identity.
In 1731, Henry Fielding wrote a popular patriotic ballad “The Roast Beef of Old England.”
When mighty Roast Beef was the Englishman’s food,
It ennobled our veins and enriched our blood.
Our soldiers were brave and our courtiers were good
Oh! the Roast Beef of old England,
And old English Roast Beef!
But since we have learnt from all-vapouring France
To eat their ragouts as well as to dance,
We’re fed up with nothing but vain complaisance
Oh! the Roast Beef of Old England,
And old English Roast Beef!
In a 1748 painting, the artist,William Hogarth, brought the ballad to life in his painting “The Gate of Calais”.
The painting depicts a scene at the Gate of Calais, showing a cook carrying a large piece of beef, while a French man longingly eyes the beef over the bowl of soup in his hand.
With this meat being such a big part of popular cultural identity, it is no wonder that as early as the 1800s, the French nicknamed its neighbors across the channel, “les Rosebifs.”
Interesting facts about Sunday roast
Before ovens became ubiquitous, every community had a local bakery. Families would drop off their roasts at the bakery on their way to church service as they took advantage of the fact that bakers did not bake bread on Sundays.
Roasts were originally cooked on a spit in front of the open fire. To prevent precious fat being lost during the cooking process, excess fat was cut off first. The cook then would place a pan underneath the roast to catch fat drippings and to cook Yorkshire pudding.
If there is any left over from Sunday roast, they are used for meaty sandwiches for the work week or bubble & squeak for breakfast.
Is Sunday roast worth trying?
There are two parts to my answer to this question.
The food- well, if you are not a vegetarian, I think it’s worth trying the food at least once. When the meat is roasted tender and the Yorkshire is done right, it is a sublime combination. But if you are not into meat or heavy meals, then it’s ok to pass.
The experience- To me, the whole Sunday roast represents more than the food, but rather the experience of gathering with your loved ones on Sunday. I, myself, am not a big meat eater. But I like the idea of family and friends getting together to go down to the local pub on Sundays to catch up on life.
Where to experience it?
If you happen to travel in England on a Sunday, definitely find yourself a roast and enjoy this weekly tradition. It shouldn’t be hard to find. Chances are, most pubs in town will offer some kind of roast on Sunday.
If you are in it for the food, I suggest checking out this guy’s hilarious blog. Every Sunday, he goes around London checking out different Sunday roasts, and then rate the meal. A lot can go wrong with a roast dinner.
If you are in for the experience, grab a few friends, and check yourselves into a pub.