Today’s column arose from a Facebook conversation with a friend who was hanging out in some of my favorite old stomping grounds in England.
At one point she posted that she’d gone to a pub for a traditional Sunday roast and she intended to try making Yorkshire pudding on her return home. I posted back that perhaps I’d do a column featuring “Yorkshire pud, lamb chops, real English mint sauce (not sickly sweet jelly), with rhubarb and custard for dessert.”
As I thought about it, I realized how many of my travel memories (and perhaps memories in general) contain food as a major component. I’ve been incredibly lucky to have had chances to travel and experience different cultures around the world and a major part of that exploration has been checking out their cuisines.
From the wonderful smells coming from the bakeries and boulangeries venting out onto the streets as I walked to breakfast at my uncle’s hotel in Ostend, Belgium, as a child, to checking out warm spice-marinated kebabs while exploring the souks of Fez, Morocco, in my teens, to a warming traditional Ukranian dinner in Kyiv during a school trip to the Soviet Union in January 1976, fresh seafood (and giant margaritas) at a seaside restaurant while watching the sun set after a day of scuba diving in the Caribbean with my spouse or, indeed, enjoying a Sunday roast in a 200-year-old pub in Britain, I’ve had some wonderful meals over the years.
This particular memory derives from the Sunday dinners we served at the trekking stable I worked at for several summers in Devon, England, in the mid-1970s. Roast leg of lamb with mint sauce, crispy roast potatoes, a vegetable, Yorkshire pudding and something for dessert. I became very proficient at peeling potatoes that summer as we often cooked for 20 to 30 guests and staff members, all of whom were quite hungry after a week of stable duties and riding over the moors.
For this meal I went with lamb chops rather than a full roast (which would have been overwhelming for just the two of us). A simple rub of olive oil, salt, pepper and thyme flavored the chops, which were grilled to perfection by my wife.
I’d already prepared the mint sauce, which was steeping in the refrigerator, soaking up flavors. With only a few ingredients, quick and simple to make, this is the accompaniment to lamb that you’ll find on most British tables. Unlike the cloying sweetness of mint jelly, the bright flavors of mint, complemented by the sweetness of sugar and the tangy sharpness of white vinegar, are perfect for cutting through the richness of the lamb. And feel free to adjust the ingredients to your own taste.
While the chops marinated, I washed and cut up some baby potatoes. While larger russets need to be peeled, baby potatoes and fingerlings can be roasted with the skins on, saving a bit of time and adding a bit of texture and flavor. I tossed them with olive oil, herbs and black pepper and popped them in a preheated oven to roast until crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. Sprinkled with a little salt after roasting, they were ready to serve.
Steamed green beans added crunch and a bit of fiber to the meal.
And then there was the Yorkshire pudding. Traditionalists will tell you that real Yorkshire pudding has to be made in a pan with beef fat, harkening back to an “an era when an English pub might cook a hunk of meat by dangling it from a hook above a roaring fire. The “pudding” emerged from a pan full of runny batter that would have been placed beneath the meat to soak up the juices. “The heat of the fire would make the Yorkshire pudding rise up, and all the fat would seep in,” and that everything else is a popover.
But the British-born chef April Bloomfield says that “making Yorkshire pudding these days is a more domesticated undertaking.” It doesn’t matter to md whether you call them Yorkshire pudding or popovers (or even dinner rolls; yes, British words don’t always mean the same thing as their American equivalents — a “pudding” is not always a pudding). They are crisp on the outside and soft on the inside, infused with the fat they cooked in and ready to soak up a pat of butter or some gravy. The main tricks are not over-mixing the batter, which should resemble a thin pancake batter, and ensuring that the pan, and fat, are piping hot before you pour in the mix. The heat is what makes the pudding rise.
Which fat you use in the pan is a matter of personal taste. Beef fat is traditional, but rendered bacon fat is my go-to choice as it adds flavor and I always have a jar sitting in the fridge. For a vegetarian option, try melted butter mixed with vegetable oil (which will help prevent burning).
Other variations to the recipe also reflect personal tastes. Some recipes call for a full cup of milk and flour, some only three quarters of a cup; using the smaller amount results in an eggier taste. Some cooks swear by refrigerating the batter overnight while other’s say it’s not necessary. You might need to test the possibilities over a few Sunday dinners.
For “afters” I did some exploring and found a traditional Scots dessert that I’d not tried before. Traditionally it’s made with “Crowdie,” a soft Scots cheese, but given that it’s not readily available, the creators have adapted the recipe to use cream instead. The closest American version of “double cream” is heavy whipping cream beaten to stiff peaks, and because our cream tends to have less fat than European cream, I folded in some creme fraiche to add body.
The whipped cream is lightly sweetened with honey and flavored with whisky (they also recommend some good Scots rum) and swirled with toasted oats. Layered in a glass with crushed raspberries (or a mix of fruits) and garnished with some fresh berries and a bit of the toasted oats, it was a beautiful dessert, creamy, nutty and tangy, with a hit of sweetness, all at once.
So that was our Sunday dinner. And if it allowed me to close my eyes, imagine being back in a cozy pub with a roast on a spit over a the fire, and all the comforting accompaniments, so much the better. Even if it was only for a moment.
Easy Real British Mint Sauce
Source: Adapted from a recipe by Elaine Lemm, The Spruce Eats
1 large bunch fresh mint, about ½ cup lightly packed leaves
1½ tablespoons sugar
5 tablespoons boiling water
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1. Pick over the leaves for blemishes or dirt, pull the leaves from the stems. Chop the stems roughly and the leaves finely.
2. Place the stems into about ½ cup of water and bring to a boil for 2-3 minutes. Allow to steep for 5 minutes, then remove the stems.
3. Place the chopped mint leaves into a heatproof vessel, sprinkle over the sugar. Bring the water back to a boil then pour about 5 tablespoons over the leaves. Stir gently, cover, and place to one side, and leave to cool.
4. Once cool, stir in the vinegar and taste the sauce. If it is too strong, just add a little more water. Too weak, add more mint. Cover again and leave to one side for at least an hour, longer if you have the time. The mint flavor will seep into the sugar-vinegar as it sits. Use the mint sauce or store in the fridge for up to two weeks.
Crispy Roast Potatoes
1 pound mini rainbow, red or fingerling potatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning, oregano or thyme
½ teaspoon garlic powder
¼ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon sea salt
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil and lightly coat with cooking spray.
2. Toss potatoes with olive oil, herbs, garlic powder and pepper in a bowl until potatoes are coated
3. Spread potatoes on the baking sheet in an even layer.
4. Bake on the middle rack in the oven for 25-30 minutes or until potatoes are crisp on the outside and tender inside. Flip the potatoes halfway through the cooking process.
5. Remove from the oven, toss with the salt, and serve.
Yorkshire Pudding (Popovers)
Source: Adapted from a recipe by April Bloomfield, New York Times Cooking
3 large eggs
1 cup whole milk
1 cup all-purpose flour
¾ teaspoon/5 grams kosher salt
About 1/4 cup rendered beef or pork fat, olive oil or melted butter
1. In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, flour and salt. Do not overmix. The batter should be the consistency of a thin pancake batter.
2. Allow the batter to rest 30 minutes at room temperature or refrigerate overnight.
3. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
4. Add a teaspoon of fat to each cup of a 12-cup muffin tin and transfer to the oven to heat, about 5-7 minutes. Once hot, divide batter equally to fill the cups about halfway, and return the muffin tin for 10-12 minutes, or until the puddings are golden brown and crisp. Serve immediately.
Cranachan: A Traditional Scottish Dessert
Source: Adapted from a recipe by Scottish Scran, June 17, 2020
¾ cup oats
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons whisky (or rum)
2 cups raspberries (or a mix of raspberries, strawberries or blueberries)
1-2 teaspoons sugar (optional)
1½ cups heavy whipping cream
½ cup creme fraiche or marscapone
1. First, toast the oats. You can do this in a pan on the stovetop or in the oven. Put the oats in a dry pan or spread them out on a tray to go under the grill. There will be a nutty sort of smell when they’re ready. Keep checking them continuously so they don’t burn. Put in a bowl and set aside to cool.
2. Crush the raspberries in a bowl and set aside, saving a few whole ones for a garnish. Toss with additional fruit if using. If the fruit is very tart, sprinkle with 1-2 teaspoons of sugar if additional sweetness is desired
3. Whip the cream to stiff peaks. Fold in the whisky and honey.(Start with a smaller amount, you can always add more to taste.)
4. Fold in the creme fraiche.
5. Mix the cooled oats through the cream, saving a little for garnish.
6. Take the glasses (or bowl) and start to layer the fruit and cream mixtures, ending with cream on top.
7. Sprinkle the rest of the oats over the top of the last layer of cream and add a few fresh raspberries for garnish.
8. Eat it right away or put it in the fridge for later. The oats will soften a little if left in the fridge.
Recipe notes: This recipe is enough for four smaller glasses or two larger ones. You can also make the layers in a bowl and then serve out individual portions.
This article originally appeared on The Herald-Times: Food Fare: A traditional English meal