I’m an Irishman and proud of it. I am married to an English lady. These are both good things on a number of levels: She has put up with me for over 20 years. We have two mostly wonderful daughters. Because of her origins, I can get away with stuff others can not. I can talk in slightly derogatory and jocular tones about ‘The Brits’ and excuse myself by admitting to being happily married to one.
My grandfather on my Dad’s side used to lead a Republican Flying Column in the Arigna Mountains in North County Roscommon. What we know of his history tells us he was a committed and very active Irish Republican. There are records and newspaper reports of his leading attacks on police barracks and of his column liberating food from trains to feed his men and the oppressed families of the region.
For many years during the times of the more recent ‘Troubles’, we Irish suffered some irksome treatment, intentional or otherwise, at the hands of our British neighbours. Anybody who had flown to Heathrow Airport from Ireland would be familiar with ‘The Irish Mile’ from the most extreme gates in the airport to the almost inevitable personal search. This treatment made worse for me because of my personal shame at some of the awful behaviour of the then Irish Republican Movement.
Times move on over generations and most of us here in Ireland have managed to put the divide behind us. However, there are a few things that still rankle. Very often, English visitors, in casual conversation, will refer to Britain as ‘The Mainland’. This can be irksome to one with my heritage. To compensate, there is a little game that I love to play. It’s really simple. I get my ‘Mainland’ in first. It is remarkable how satisfying it is to ask “How are things on the Mainland?” and look for any sign of a reaction. I have never had one. The conversation flows on, the visitor to our Island is oblivious and the Irish guy, for once, is in control.
To demonstrate my moving on from our mutual past, I am going to cook the best of British using the finest Irish ingredients. As far as I can see the very pinnacle of British cuisine is Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding. So, that’s what I am doing.
To do the best of British, you really do need the best of Irish. Start with an excellent rib of beef. This one weighed in at just over 2.5 kilos (5 lbs).
It looks great from any angle.
Pop the beef into a 200 degree centigrade oven for 20 minutes per half kilo. (If you like your beef well done, don’t do this, go to a restaurant and ask for it with a fried egg on top.) Then get on with preparing the ‘trimmings’ as some people refer to them.
Make your Yorkshire Pudding mix up to a couple of hours in advance. Get the mixture to room temperature before cooking.
The two measurements you need are 1. A sprinkle of salt. 2. 600mm of milk. I’m using the lactose free stuff because the daughters are both that way inflicted.
Spoon some beef dripping from the roasting tray into the Yorkshire Pudding tin. Others may know it as a ‘muffin tin’. Why, I don’t know. Use enough to clog an artery. Heat it up in the oven until spitting.
Add the batter as shown above. Note the beneficial dripping (fat). This is ‘good fat’. Good in that it adds great flavour. Perhaps not so good to have on your breakfast every morning. Roast these for 15 minutes or so while the beef rests in a tinfoil tent. They are done when they look like in the picture further down.
There are two schools of thought on roast beef. Thin slices and thick slices. My late father was a pathologist who prided himself on his carving skills. I try to emulate him and am a thin slicer. The thick slicers lack finesse and appreciation of the finer things in life, or so I’ve heard.
Making the gravy. This activity goes on while the beef continues to rest. Add a tablespoon of flour to the residual dripping and flavouring bits at the bottom of the roasting pan. Gradually add a pint of beef stock and a glass of the wine. Season to taste. Stir it over a gentle heat until it is silky smooth and delicious. That reminds me: The Wine! This is a far better wine than the photo is a photo. It was the perfect match. We picked it up at the vineyard four or five years ago while lolling in the Dordogne in pre-recession times. What to match the traditional best of British? Something modern and French, of course. At Chateau Charter, they produce wine using modern methods and more science than tradition. We enjoyed the results.
Nothing to do now but to serve the drooling diners. While this is a pretty straightforward dish to prepare, it is murdered in restaurants the length and breadth of both Britain and Ireland. I know, I’ve eaten it.
Yes, I did pour the gravy into the Yorkshire Pudding. You will do it too if you try this British classic. I bet you do.