Winter warmth

Whether it's a classic leg of lamb, or a slow-roasted breast of veal, there's nothing quite like a roast for keeping the cold at bay, says Mark Hix
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Indy Lifestyle Online

One of my first jobs in London was on the roast and grill section at the Dorchester Hotel. The Grill Room restaurant still had a silver carving trolley boasting a different roast every day, as well as the à la carte menu of old classics like Irish stew and braised oxtail.

One of my first jobs in London was on the roast and grill section at the Dorchester Hotel. The Grill Room restaurant still had a silver carving trolley boasting a different roast every day, as well as the à la carte menu of old classics like Irish stew and braised oxtail.

Working in the rôtissier section of the kitchen (as the really trad places called roast and grill) didn't mean standing in front of a hot oven all day, because as a young commis all I got to do was the bits that go with a roast. I especially remember the pommes soufflé - those deep-fried potato slices that puff up into little cushions - because making them often caused minor burns on the arms from vigorously shaking the big cast-iron pan.

But I did learn how to get a roast right. Everything from ribs of beef on the bone to ducks, joints of veal, game birds and barons of lamb went into those ovens and was supposed to come out cooked to perfection. If not, we'd get a full-on roasting from Ernie the carver, who'd previously been the roast chef, or Chef Rôtissier as it had been known in his time. Roasting the baron - the loin and rump in one piece - was an art, let me tell you, as if you weren't careful the loin would cook before the rump. The trick was to wrap wet greaseproof paper and foil around the loin for the first part of the cooking to prevent too much heat getting to it.

As was usual back then, I stayed on that section a full year before I moved on to the sauce section. Young chefs these days tend to move around too quickly without learning enough about the different departments. There's so much to learn even about something as straightforward-sounding as roasting. Timing, seasoning, temperature all count. But first you should start with really good-quality meat. Meat from organically fed and rare breeds, like Gloucester Old Spot pigs and Manx Loughton sheep, is much easier to come by now thanks to farmers' markets and food fairs, like Henrietta Green's Food Lovers fairs (www.foodlovers britain.com), and there are some great mail-order meat suppliers like Donald Russell (www.donaldrussell direct.com) who can send you the meat you need for the roast with the most taste.

Slow-roasted breast of veal with roasted onions

Serves 4-6

Unusual cuts like breasts and hocks are back. And so they should be. We need to give the butchers a bit of a chance with the less popular cuts and allow the prime cuts a bit of a break. High demand for the prime cuts also pushes up prices, as they don't get much for the rest of the animal. Many of these overlooked cuts, which are often minced and diced instead of being appreciated whole, are delicious if they're slowly cooked as a pot roast, and need hardly any supervision while they're cooking.

1 piece of boneless breast of veal, weighing about 1.5-2kg
2tbsp vegetable oil
A few sprigs of thyme
A few sprigs of rosemary
6 cloves of garlic, peeled
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 large red onions, peeled and quartered, or 20-30 button or flat Italian onions, peeled
60ml white wine
250ml chicken stock
A good knob of butter

Pre-heat the oven to 160ºC/gas mark 3. Remove any excess fat from the veal, leaving about 1-2cm on as this will melt and keep the joint moist during cooking.

Heat the vegetable oil in a roasting tray on the stove, season the veal and seal it on all sides, giving it a golden colour. Add the herbs and garlic to the pan and roast for 11/2 hours with a lid on, or covered in foil, basting occasionally. Add the onions to the pan and cook for another hour covered, basting and turning the onions.

Remove the veal from the roasting tray and keep warm. Add the wine to the tray on a medium heat on the stove top and stir in the onions. Add the stock and simmer rapidly for a few minutes until it has reduced and thickened, then add the butter and stir well. The onions should be just coated and glazed in the liquid.

Slice the veal into generous chunks on to a serving platter and spoon the onions around. Serve with mashed root vegetables and sprout tops.

Roast leg of lamb with Welsh onion cake

Serves 4-6

A few months ago I went up to Scotland with Ben Weatherall who supplies our restaurants with game. He also sells Scottish Blackface lamb, one of the oldest breeds of sheep in the hills. They lead a privileged life, eating nothing but moorland vegetation and mosses.

You can buy all sorts of fresh, butchered meat from Ben by mail order (01387 730326/ www.blackface.co.uk).

1 leg of lamb, boned and rolled, or on the bone weighing about 1.5kg
A few sprigs of rosemary
1 garlic clove, peeled and thinly sliced
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1tbsp vegetable oil
1 large onion, peeled and quartered
2 large carrots, peeled and cut into 4
A few extra lamb bones from your butcher; get him to chop them for you
1tbsp flour
1 glass of white wine
1 litre lamb or beef stock (a couple of good quality cubes dissolved in that amount of water will do)

To cook the lamb, pre-heat the oven to 220ºC/ gas mark 7. With a small, sharp knife, make 8 to 10 incisions in the fat on the lamb, about 1cm deep. Put a small sprig of rosemary and a slice of garlic in each slit and season the lamb with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Pre-heat a roasting tray with the vegetable oil in the oven for about 5 minutes. Put the lamb on the pre-heated tray, fat side down, and roast for 15 minutes, then put the onion and carrots in the pan and put the lamb on top of them, fat side up. You can finish cooking the lamb on top of the potatoes (see below). Cook for another 40 minutes for pink, or leave it for another 15 minutes for medium.

Remove the lamb and place it on a large plate to catch any juices and set it aside in a warm place while you make the gravy.

Transfer the roasting tray to a low heat on top of the stove, stir the flour into the vegetables until mixed well, then gradually add the wine and hot stock, stirring well to avoid lumps forming. Bring to the boil and simmer on a medium heat until the gravy has reduced to about half the volume and thickened. Simmer a little longer if it's not thick enough.

Strain the gravy through a fine meshed sieve, add any juices from the lamb and return to a low heat. Skim any fat off with a small ladle, check seasoning and keep warm. Carve the lamb and serve immediately with the hot gravy.

Welsh onion cake (Teisen Nionod)

Serves 4-6

This is a bit like the famous French pommes boulanger where the potatoes are cooked in meat stock. If you are roasting a joint I would strongly recommend you finish cooking it on the onion cake so the juices are absorbed into the potatoes and onions.

800g large potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
500g onions, peeled and sliced
100g butter, melted, plus extra for brushing

Pre-heat the oven to 200ºC/gas mark 6. Wash the potatoes briefly in water and dry on a tea towel or kitchen paper. Put them a bowl, season with salt and pepper and mix with the 100g of melted butter. Butter a shallow oven-proof serving dish and layer the potatoes and onions alternately, beginning with the potatoes and finishing with a neat layer of overlapped potatoes on top. Cover with foil or a lid and bake for 1 hour, then remove the foil, brush with a little more butter and cook for another 15-20 minutes to allow them to brown.

Honey-roast ham hock with mustard sauce

Serves 4

Why don't more of us cook ham at home? Just boil the meat, wait for it to cool down and then carve some off to have between slices of bread. You can, of course, make a little more effort and throw in a couple of onions and carrots, a handful of peppercorns and some herbs to add flavour to your stock, which you can then transform into pea and ham soup or a good ham broth. Once you've boiled the ham, you can then roast it to give it a luscious sticky coat and serve it hot or cold. Cooking individual ham hocks for guests gives you and them more of the delicious outside edge.

4 unsmoked ham hocks or knuckles weighing 300-400g each and soaked overnight in water, to remove any excess salt

1 onion, peeled and roughly chopped
2 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
1 bay leaf
5 cloves
1tsp black peppercorns
A few sprigs of thyme for the sauce
3-4 large shallots, peeled and finely chopped
40g butter
1tbsp flour
1/2tsp tomato purée
2tsp Dijon mustard
2tsp grain mustard
60ml white wine
300ml beef stock, or a good stock cube that has been dissolved in that amount of hot water
Salt and freshly ground black pepper for the glaze
200g clear honey
60g grain mustard

Wash the ham hocks in cold water and put them into a large pot with the onions, carrots, bay leaf, cloves and peppercorns. Cover with cold water, bring to the boil and simmer for 21/2 to 3 hours. Remove the hocks from the cooking liquid and leave to cool. You can save the liquid to make soup.

Meanwhile, gently cook the shallots in the butter without colouring for 2-3 minutes, until soft. Add the flour and tomato purée and stir well. Add the mustards and slowly stir in the white wine. Slowly add the beef stock, stirring well to avoid lumps forming, season and simmer for 20 minutes.

Once the ham hocks are cool enough to handle (you can cheat and run them under cold water) remove and discard most of the outer layer of fat with a knife, leaving about 1/2cm of fat to protect the meat when roasting. Carefully remove the smaller bone by twisting and pulling it out, leaving the larger bone attached to the meat. If the hocks are large, you can remove some of the meat and use it for a salad or sandwiches, or as a garnish for a soup.

Pre-heat the oven to 200ºC/gas mark 6. Mix the honey and mustard together to form a paste. Put the ham hocks into a baking tray lined with tin foil to prevent the tray burning and score the fat in a criss-cross fashion, then spread the honey over the ham hocks. Bake for about 30 minutes, basting the hocks every so often until they are golden.

Bring the sauce back to the boil and serve poured around the hock. Serve with a puréed root vegetable, such as celeriac, colcannon or pease pudding.

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