The Sunday roast was a childhood fixture. Let me qualify that. It was a fixture until I was about ten years of age, then it slowly disappeared, like the Latin Mass at about the same time. Perhaps there were too many children to feed. Maybe my mother went through a vegetarian phase, or just couldn’t be bothered doing it any more. I don’t remember. The era passed.
While the tradition lasted, the roast was usually ovine. That is to say, sheep. But not lamb. This concept is completely foreign to modern sensibilities: Not lamb? What other kind of edible sheep is there? The same kind actually; just older. The roast we were served was often leg of two-tooth, two-tooth being a farmers’ reference (my grandmother was raised in southern NSW) to a sheep of more than 12 months, otherwise known as hogget; or sometimes leg of mutton, from a sheep older than two years. Lamb is generally considered more tender … but two-tooth, or mutton, cooked properly, had more flavour. And was larger. We were still eating cold roast meat sandwiches three days later.
The Sunday roast in those days was served at lunchtime, but it was called dinner, because it was the main meal of the day. You could throw the roast in the oven in the morning, go off to church and return home to an aroma-filled house. We could smell it a block away during the mile walk on the way home, but you could never be sure it was your own as everyone did a Sunday roast then. Once you arrived home, pre-lunch entertainment might have been the first half-hour of World of Sport, which started at midday (due to the prohibition of general programming before noon on Sundays); then the rising hum of a motor engine in the driveway signalled the arrival of my grandparents. Everyone was summoned to the table and the television turned off. Not that there was anything formal about these occasions. Everyone talked and my father smoked afterwards. Yes! He smoked at the table!
The tradition continues, but mutton, despite making a comeback in Britain, remains an oddity here.
Girello is inexpensive, quick to roast and easy to carve. Otherwise known as eye of round, it is the ‘eye’ strip cut from silverside. It is also lean and tasty. But it can dry out if you roast it too long. So don’t roast it too long.
This was last Sunday night, about five o’clock. It had been a bleak day, and it was still raining and the wind was blowing the rain onto the glass of the south windows and it sounded like Buddy Rich playing the brushes in an old slow song. I opened a bottle of red. Mt Alexander Shiraz 2008.
Then I got a roasting pan out from underneath about twenty others and reminded myself to throw several away. How many roasting pans do you need when you only have a roast a few times a year?
I rubbed olive oil, cracked pepper and salt into the meat and set it on a rack in the roasting tray. Then I peeled eight small potatoes and six onions about the same size and threaded these onto two metal skewers – potato, onion, potato, onion, potato, onion, potato - and laid each skewer on either side of the girello, with a few unpeeled cloves of garlic tossed around. A splash or two of water in the tray to keep it moist, and into the oven at 170 celsius, a figure which is meaningless because every oven is different.
You are supposed to bake girello at a lower heat to avoid drying it out. You’ll only haven a problem if you want well-done meat. To solve the problem, and to accommodate both rare and well-done preferences, I cooked the meat to rare, removed it from the oven, sliced a number of thin rounds to be further cooked, and returned these to the oven in the juices of the pan for another fifteen minutes, which in any case is the time you are supposed to ‘rest’ the joint. The slices came out well done and everyone was happy. I slid the potatoes and onions off the skewers directly onto serving plates. (You can serve them still on the skewers for a little presentational artifice, having earlier added strips of red capsicum or sections of fennel or slices of Lebanese eggplant or whatever you like.)
I made a quick gravy from the juices: a dash of Mt Alexander, a little cornflour and the pan juices. Add some English mustard if you wish.
I served the roast with buttered white bread. Hint: the garlic roasts to a paste. You simply squeeze it out of its skin onto the bread, and dredge the bread through the gravy. Now that’s a taste sensation to make you forget winter, and call to mind all those roasts you had as a child. Especially the mutton ones, if you were so lucky.
We finished the wine, the rest of the roast went into the fridge for a week of sandwiches, and the clock struck ten. Buddy Rich was still playing on the windows.