Today being Easter Sunday, many of us will be sitting down to a mighty meal with our loved ones. Those who are merely guests, spare a thought for the chef today, and any day where they have to cook for more than a couple of hungry folks.
In truth, a roast dinner is not a difficult meal to cook. There are no special techniques that need to be employed- a novice could cook a truly spectacular roast if they followed a few simple steps. I grew up with a fantastic cook (my mum), and feel I learnt from the best, so it’s only fair that I spread the joy on this day of celebration.
The tips herein apply to any big meal really, but particularly roast dinners, and more so the large kind.
This can be done days in advance, as soon as you know what you want to be eating. Firstly, find out how long you need to cook your meat for, at what temperature. On a supermarket joint, this will be on the packet, but consult your butcher, or check online. For example, whole turkeys and/or crowns needs to be cooked in foil for 90 minutes, plus 20 minutes per kilo, with the first 30 minutes at 220c, then the rest at 180c, and the foil removed for the last 30 minutes.
Secondly, work out how long your side dishes take to cook- at least one hour for roast potatoes, plus a ten minute parboil, plus peeling and chopping, for example.
When you know when you intend to be eating, you can literally plan your day like a calendar entry- meat goes in at this time, gets turned down at this time, potatoes on at another time etc etc until finally- food up time! A little while spent being organised, plus a timer, will mean you get to spend more time enjoying your day rather than stressing in the kitchen.
2: Prep Work
One: ensure your meat is going to be defrosted and at roughly room temperature in time for its date with the oven. This will, in the first case, prevent food poisoning, and in the latter, help the meat to cook better, and be more tender.
Two: There is nothing to stop you laying out all your pots and pans or prepping your root veg and boiling water up to twelve hours in advance. Stored in the water in their pots on the hob they won’t brown or dry out. Greens like cabbage or broccoli can be ready chopped and stored airtight in the fridge for the same.
3: Oven sharing and rest time
This comes a little in to the first point on this list, but it important to know that most meat joints can happily rest for at least an hour before eating, and it is actually better to let them do this for overall tenderness. Really large joints or whole big birds will still be warm after several hours. Just pull it out of the oven, wrap it in a clean tea towel or foil and leave it alone before carving.
This also means that if, like me, you only have one oven, you can still prepare big meals with ease. It comes down to the scheduling from the first tip- in that hour or so your meat is resting, you can likely cook all the side dishes in the now vacant oven. A lot of people despair of huge roasts, or try to cram things in to their ovens, affecting cooking time and quality. It isn’t necessary, I promise.
This one is the hard one for me as a) I find it very difficult to ask for help, b) I can be a perfectionist and c) I want my guests to enjoy themselves entirely. This is all also the reason I have an entire kitchen of washing up to do today- learn from my fail.
Even if it just getting someone to lay the table for you, or get the drinks, try to dish out some tasks to lighten the load. It will actually give the meal a more communal, friendly feel, and kids love to be involved in this sort of thing. I have fond memories of me and my brother in our old kitchen with my mum, us prepping the veg while she orchestrated the whole shebang.
You could even ask each of your guests to bring a side dish. Think about it.
5: Try to relax
As afore mentioned, roast dinners aren’t that difficult. It’s a task in organisation and time keeping rather than chef-ing- you just bung stuff in the oven for the correct amount of time and hey presto, an excellent dinner will appear. If you follow the above tips, you should find all sorts of bits of time you can sit down with a glass of something soothing, waiting for the next timer. I think this is vitally important.
Also applicable to this point is to make what you want to make and have done with it. Meat, potatoes an a couple of veg? You’re sorted. If you are like me, and generally cater to adults, remember they are adults, and therefore responsible for their own feeding. If someone doesn’t like something, fine- they don’t have to eat it. You needn’t cook an alternative just for them- you are doing more than enough. That being said, do make a dish for your veggie/vegan/pescatarian pals if the main doesn’t suit them. This can come under delegation- ask them if they wouldn’t mind bringing something they’d like to eat as their main, in place of a bottle of wine or whatever.
If you follow these tips, and failing any natural disasters or power cuts, your big meal will be a breeze.