There is something about a roast that demands an occasion. It also happens to be nice and simple. For what ultimately is it other than a lump of meat (or veg for that matter) whacked in a hot oven for some time? So with a little dressing up, a roast makes an impressive, but manageable dinner party main course. A topside of beef provides a sizeable cut of meat that is not too pricey, around which you can plan whatever veg is to hand, on sale or in season.
The majority of these things can be prepped in advance so all that needs doing when it comes to cooking, is placing the different elements into the oven at the appropriate times. For starter and/or pudding it is best to stick to simple things, or things done in advance so you can relax and enjoy yourself – it is a dinner party after all not dinner service in a restaurant. It’s also an idea to have nibbles like crisps around in case the main food needs to be delayed.
Topside of beef (1 kg will happily serve 5 people)
Potatoes (about 3 decent-sized potatoes per person, but any extra are sure to be eaten)
2 medium onions (I use red, but any work really)
1 large swede
1 large celeriac
500g cavolo nero or kale
80g lard or 100ml rapeseed oil
Butter or olive oil (added to veg to taste)
Stuffing (follow packet guide for servings)
Dried herbs, salt and pepper to taste.
1 tbsp plain flour
1/2 bottle red wide (if wanted for gravy/to go under the meat)
1 tbsp redcurrant jelly
Place the beef on a roasting tray, on a bed of a few roughly diced onions and carrots – just enough so the meat is sitting a centimetre or so off the base. Rub the meat with salt, pepper and herbs. I went for dried rosemary and fresh thyme. Add a splash of water and/or wine to the base of the tray and cook in a preheated oven at 200˚C for about 40 minutes. Remember that the meat is best if rested for 30 mins or so once cooked, so you can aim to have the meat resting half an hour before eating – perfect time for a quick tidy and drinks with your guests.
As the meat cooks, peel, chop and parboil the potatoes (ideally something floury like Maris Pipers) for about 10 minutes. You can even parboil the potatoes in advance and keep them in the fridge. Once parboiled and drained, add to a tray with plenty of hot fat – let the tray and the fat heat up in the 200˚C oven as you get the potatoes ready. Lard works brilliantly but so does rapeseed oil (which most standard veg oil is), and indeed other than the meat and gravy everything in a roast can be easily made vegan. Cook the potatoes at 200˚C for about 50 mins, or until browned to satisfaction, these can be served straight from the oven so are no hassle once cooking.
For the gravy place the roasting tray, with the liquid, onions and carrots, and heat on a medium hob until bubbling. Then add a tablespoon of flour, mixing to get any burnt bits off the base of the tray, a generous pour of wine (if you don’t want to use wine, a dash of wine vinegar works, or even tart fruit juice) and some jelly or jam – redcurrant jelly works brilliantly. Then strain, add water if too thick and season. This can be done as soon as the meat comes out the oven, and then left to stay warm – giving you at least 20 mins undisturbed before eating.
Veg wise, most root veg works well simply roasted with a touch of oil, salt and pepper (most things will roast nicely in 30 mins at 180-200˚C). Things like swede and celeriac are also lovely mashed with plenty of pepper and butter (or olive oil). Green veg can just be boiled or steamed, but for a decadent touch, sauté until soft with plenty of oil or butter, and a touch of herbs – e.g. sautéed cavolo nero with lots of butter, pepper, oregano and sage. I must say roasted veg has the advantage that it can be left in the oven – turned down if necessary – right up until eating so does not impinge on socialising while cooking.
For other sides, stuffing is always easy – just follow the packet’s instructions – and whilst home-made Yorkshire puddings are delicious, I doubt most student kitchens have enough oven space to make it practical – and most shop-bought ones are perfectly decent.
– Ed Bedford
All images are original photography
Featured Image: Original Photography