I’m married to an Englishman. (Never a better way to start a blog post than by laying down a dry fact.) This is relevant because he has memories and cultural food favorites that are not readily available here, or are not a part of our cultural collective. I’ve always tried to incorporate his favorites into my repertoire (with the exception of Supernoodles mixed with baked beans and tuna), but I spent many years afraid to tackle the full roast dinner because the bar is set quite high. I’m not entirely sure it’s possible to compete with years of skill and nostalgia, but every once and a while, I’ll be brave and give it a go.
Brisket is my favorite meat to use when I make a roast dinner. Mainly because it takes so long to cook that it makes it hard to mess up. It’s also economical. We spend about $35 on a 4lb brisket that will feed us 4 or more times. The recipe I use is from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Everyday. It’s so simple, and the outcome is AMAZING. I’ve made this recipe 5 or 6 times now, and it’s been consistently great, which is about the best you can ask for in a recipe.
The brisket should always be well marbled and I like to try to find pieces that are fairly even in size. The best thing you can do for a brisket (or any large hunk of meat like this) is to rinse it, pat it dry, and salt the ever-loving-hell out of it. I do this with mine, then put it back in the fridge uncovered for as long as I can (overnight is ideal, but often impractical). Then I pull the brisket out about an hour before cooking so it can rest a bit and come to room temp.
I also truss mine so that the meat is as even as possible, and the pressure the strings put on the meat help the temperature and cooking to be more evenly distributed. (Or so I tell myself. If any of you have ‘science’ that refutes this, don’t tell me!).
One of the best parts of this recipe is that the meat is flavored with four things: salt, pepper, garlic and thyme. That’s it. It’s incredibly simple, but the outcome is unimaginably delicious.
I go nuts with this and rub the garlic, thyme, pepper, and a bit more salt all over the beef and let it sit. I try to rub it with the mixture as soon as it comes out of the fridge from salting, so the flavors sit on the meat during the hour rest before cooking.
This recipe calls for a short roast at high heat, then a foil cover and oven turn down. I use different temps than prescribed in the recipe. I roast mine for 30 min at 350, then foil it and check it every hour (to baste) for an additional 3-4 hours at 275, depending on how I think it looks. Brisket always does well with the low and slow method. The transformation goes something like this:
After 30 minutes:
After 1 hour:
After 3 hours (I skipped checking it at the two hour mark)
Every time I checked the meat I basted it with the fat and liquid in the bottom of the pan. This helps the top crust from drying out, and it keeps that flavor coating the meat.
After 4 hours:
At this point, I baste again, and pop it in the oven for another 15 minutes or so to brown up a bit more as the oven comes up to a higher temp (350) for veggie roasting.
Here it is before it gets wrapped in foil to rest for about an hour:
You can see how brown the crust has become. YOU CANNOT BEGIN TO IMAGINE THE SMELL. Oh my god. Imagine smelling this for almost 5 hours straight. It’s torture by smell.
Once I wrap the meat in foil, I load the bottom of the hot roasting pan with my veggies. I like potatoes and shallots (peel the shallots but leave them whole), and any other root veg that’s taken our fancy. On this particular day it was carrots, parsnips, and sprouts. I chuck them all in the pan and toss them in the fat (which I should say, I remove any excess from the bottom, you want enough to liberally coat the bottom of the tray, but not so much that your veggies sit in a pool of it). Keep that excess fat! Spoiler alert- I’m using some of it below, but it freezes great, and when you need something to use for a quick roasted veggie side, nothing works better. Back to the veggies- I do not salt. At all. All the salt on your brisket from earlier? It’s flavored that fat. That beefy garlic fat is soooo salty. Makes it perfect for veggies, and I didn’t have to add any in the end.
I roast the veggies for about an hour, stirring every 15 minutes or so to pull up all that caramelized goodness on the bottom of the pan, and to make sure everything is evenly roasted.
They are SO GOOD when they are done. The sprouts get so caramelized, and everything tastes of beef and garlic.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a full roast dinner without two additional parts- yorkshire puddings and gravy.
I use Delia Smith’s yorkshire pudding recipe. I only deviate from it in one way- I use a muffin tin to make individual portions. This helps the leftovers keep better (freeze, again!).
In each little tin cup, I put a dollop of the beef drippings fat so the dough fries in it as it cooks. Then I heat the muffin pan in the oven during the last 15 minutes my veggies cook, then I crank the oven up to 425 the second the veggies come out, and I give the muffin in another 5 minutes in the oven to get very very hot. You can use canola oil, or another oil or fat with a high smoke point (not butter!), but if you have excess beef fat (and you will) use it. It’s divine.
Sifting the flour is one of those steps I do, even if I think it’s complete nonsense. The pan below doesn’t look it, but it is SCREAMING hot.
I pop them in the oven to cook while I make the gravy, and when they come out, they are complete puffy balls of magic. (Want to see an Englishman in a rage? Call them popovers. I dare you.)
When the veggies come out of the oven, I put them in a serving bowl to wait so I can use all the goodness in the bottom of the pan for a gravy.
Because all the flavor is there, the only aromatic I use to amp it up is a sliced yellow onion. I throw that in the hot pan with another spoonful of extra fat (if needed) and saute those until they are soft.
The onions pull up all that brown goodness and give the gravy a great flavor. I do add a pinch of salt to the onions because the roasted veggies absorbed most of the leftover brisket salt, and I want to pull the moisture out of the onions.
I throw in a few stalks of thyme, and sprinkle the onion mixture with two tablespoons of flour, stirring constantly for a minute or two to cook the flour a bit.
I deglaze everything with water, about 4 cups, and let that cook for a while, thickening and reducing.
When I think the gravy has a good enough consistency (which to be honest is always a crap shoot because I’m the WORST at making gravy) I taste it. It’s almost always very bland. I add a pinch more salt, and a splash of Worcestershire sauce, and taste again. I keep tasting until I think it’s perfect. No use in making gravy only to serve it under seasoned.
Then I strain the gravy into a bowl to get all the onion bits out. If you don’t want to faff with straining, you’ll have to cook the onions a bit longer than I did to make sure they are soft and starting to caramelize. I did mine as a flash saute for flavor, but if I was keeping them in the gravy, I would have cooked them for longer to make sure they weren’t crunchy when served!
By this time, your yorkshires are ready, your gravy is done, veggies are in a bowl waiting, and all you have to do is carve the brisket.
The best part is all the crispy bits that fall off when you carve. They make perfect pre-snacks.
All that’s left now is to serve and enjoy!
When we finish eating, we slice the brisket, and freeze them in bundles of 3 or 4 slices wrapped in butcher paper, then dropped in a ziploc bag. The slices make amazing sandwiches and quick breakfast-hash additions.
The only downside to this meal is that it makes my house smell like beef for about 5 hours before I can eat it. Before I eat it, it smells magical. The second I’m done eating, I’m OVER IT. I DO NOT WANT TO SMELL BEEF EVER AGAIN IN MY LIFE. And it lingers. Small price to pay for deliciousness.