THE RITUAL: SUNDAY ROAST
A roast dinner is to a Sunday what breathing is to living any other day of the week. Actually, I remain convinced that, for almost an hour each Sunday, people stop breathing. Just as they finish the last bite of their roast. Most would call this a food coma. I call it the weekly death. As mentioned, it lasts about 45 minutes, during which time you lie on the floor motionless and stop breathing. There is food in your mouth that can’t go down. You’ve clogged up the entire length of your digestive system. You are dead. If doctors or scientists actually studied people post-roast closely, they would see that it is possible for people to deprive their brain of oxygen once a week and come back from the dead. You can roast pretty much anything, but let’s just say that beef, pork, lamb and chicken are the more traditional animals. The appeal of this meal lies in the perfect paring of crisp and soft – everything on the plate must be crisp on the outside and soft within. And coated in a meaty sauce. However, it takes black magic to achieve the perfect crisp-to-soft ratio. You could turn to Delia, or Jamie, or even Nigella, but they won’t be able to help you. There is only one man who has dedicated a surprisingly large amount of time to roasting: Jeffrey Steingarten. As he declares in his book It Must’ve Been Something I Ate, “The great Brillat-Savarin declared, ‘We can learn to be cooks, but we must be born knowing how to roast.’ I often lie awake nights worrying about whether I was born to roast.’” The chapter entitled As the Spit Turns is dedicated in its entirety to roasting chickens, but really, is there any difference between a chicken and a pig when it’s trussed up in an oven? What you want to end up with, after your day of roasting chicken is, “dark and crispy skin, intensely savoury, covering every square millimetre of the bird, with no unsightly white patches”. You achieve it by spit roasting. Please suspend your disbelief and shock-horror faces for a second. Steingarten is a man who roasts chickens just for the hell of it. It’s his hobby. It has nothing to do with hunger or feeding. He just likes roasting birds, so if he says spit roast, you spit roast. The reason spit roasting is so much more effective is because the meat self-bastes. Which is basically the beauty of a rotating oven. You also can’t burn it, because it’s never still long enough, and cooking in this way is apparently speedier, as the inner juices are forced through the meat. Or something like that. Obviously, in the long version, it’s all more scientific sounding and there are things like meat thermometers involved. But the basic conclusion is: spit roast good, oven bad. And there’s no reason for you not to experiment and spear a different meat, or even a fish, on to your rotating stick. It’s the key to a perfect roast anything. Even a potato.
by Natalie Dembinska