This is a BEAST of a post for something that truly feels like a BEAST of a task.
Don’t dismay; it is not.
This is a Sunday Dinner broke down to avoid a breakdown. Not because cooking a Sunday Dinner is difficult and breakdown inducing, but because the concept of it may seem difficult, and breakdown inducing.
And as someone who has cooked his fair share of Sunday Dinners, I want to dispel that myth.
I think I’ve approached a Sunday Dinner from every which way possible. I’ve done mini ones, elaborate ones, vegetarian ones, vegan ones, beef, chicken, lamb, turkey, sausage one – you name it, I’ve cooked it. I’ve even broken down a Christmas Dinner in my ebook Get Stuffed. But I wanted to capture what I think is just a very good, very reliable, very decent example of what a normal Sunday Dinner would look like if you came to my house for the experience.
Basically, this would be my autopilot Sunday Dinner.
Alongside the menu, there would be beer, there would be music, there would be talking, there would be spilling on the linen, and there would be foul language. Things would probably not be served on time, things would probably be overcooked slightly somewhere/undercooked slightly somewhere else, and some things would be missing from the table that you’d expect, and some things present that you never knew needed..
And like many seemingly chaotic things in life, it will be personal and perfect in its own weird way.
I think any experienced home cook, at some point in their life, would have endured some form of a roast dinner – Sunday or not, and for that reason the shape and form of a roast absolutely varies from household to household.
I already know that some of you will only recognise elements of your dinner, in this dinner, and that’s okay. I have no doubt that this is not your Sunday Dinner. It might not even be your mothers. Hell, it’s not even my mothers, or her mothers. It’s mine, and for that reason, I of course have some opinions on what constitutes a Sunday Dinner for me.
If some of you leave at this point, I understand. For those that stay, I hope you’re hungry. So let’s go there.
- First of all, mint sauce on everything. Everything. I don’t care what meat we’re having, it’s getting slathered in mint sauce.
- Same goes for Yorkshire Puddings. I know they are traditionally only served with a beef dinner, but beef be damned. I want a pudding with everything.
- An average Sunday Dinner for me means chicken. There are huge arguments for beef and lamb and whatnot, but a chicken for me is not only the easiest, but the cooking time corresponds to everything else I need in the oven. Plus… leftover chicken carcass means I have a banging broth on the horizon, and I get to pick out all the gross, fleshy bits for my dog, and that makes both he and I, very happy.
- There will never be cauliflower cheese on my plate. I have enough to do as it is without pissing about with a cauliflower and a cheese sauce. Plus cheese on gravy is just… well… it’s just not for me.
- There is also no space for sweetcorn on my plate, not now and not ever.
- In fact, I only play around with two vegetables on the plate – one long, rusty vegetable (like carrots or parsnips) and then one green vegetable (like peas or broccoli). The variations on these vegetables is dependent on my mood but anything more than this feels like superfluous additions to me. The more restrained the offering, the more I can concentrate on flavour.
- Peas. Not everybody’s favourite on the plate, but I like the sweet little pops of flavour. Plus after all the pan handling in the oven, knowing that the peas are just going to sort themselves out in minutes on the hob makes me feel very reassured under pressure.
- Stuffing goes in it’s own pan, and not in the bird. I feel quite passionately about stuffing and I want it to have it’s own moment, not snuck in somewhere to fly under the radar. Plus, I cut my stuffing up into squares, like a brownie… which I enjoy eating like a savoury brownie, cold the next day. I’m disgusting.
- I don’t put the roast potatoes in hot oil. I know this is like… blasphemous as that feels like the golden rule for crunchy potatoes, but I’ve managed very crunchy potatoes without the hot oil, so if I can dispense with a step, I will. I will, however, roast potatoes in very hot goose fat at Christmas, but for a regular schmegular Sunday dinner, I’ve found a method that works for me, that doesn’t include heating the oil first. Except for Yorkshire puddings, which do go into hot oil, because I need that instant heat for a perfect rise.
- My potatoes and carrots go in the oven for what appears to be an extraordinarily long time when you see it written down, but the oven door is opening a lot, so heat is escaping, new cold things are being added, so it needs the extra time for a full cooking process.
- Food is served when it’s served. If that means we eat at 2, we eat at 2. But if I’m running late and we end up eating much later – oh well. Eat some bread and butter in the meantime.
- For that reason, my food will mostly be at room temperature except for my potatoes, and gravy. It’s that simple. It feels impossible to have everything out of the oven and piping hot at the same time, so what can afford to stand, let it stand. As long as your potatoes are hot, and the gravy covering everything is hot, then you’ll be fine.
- I don’t strain the gravy. I like a thick, oniony gravy with chicken juices in it.
- Dessert is a threat, not a promise, but I will prepare one anyway – one that can go messily into a Tupperware box and you can take it home if we’re too stuffed to eat it on the day. Hence a crumble, which is designed to look like a mess, even when it’s tidy.
There. All done, you still here? Good.
Having said all that, this is the menu we’re working with. I feel this summarises exactly what my normal Sunday Dinner would look like:
Sounds like a chef’s kiss to me.
Everything here is fairly traditional, right? I’ve not included anything that is dramatically strange. Except, I see you eyeing that brined chicken, and I want to explain, that the yogurt and olive brine marinade is literally just a marinade, and what you’re left with is a chicken that is perfectly tenderised by the yogurt, and seasoned perfectly by the salty, spiky brine of the olives. It’s not an olive or yogurt tasting chicken – don’t panic.
It’s important to me with this kind of dinner, to focus on pockets of flavour and texture. Don’t get me wrong, strike me down should I ever criticise gravy, but when you cover the meal with it, you’re often at risk of blanketing flavours and having everything be one-note. So for that reason, this menu is designed to have unique little bursts of flavour and texture to off-set any monotone notes of a Sunday Dinner.
The stuffing provides sharp, but fruity herbal morsels on the plate due to the pairing of lemon and thyme, while the carrots have a honeyed tang to balance out the richness of the gravy. The potatoes are crisped to within an inch of their life, which gives dense little bites of crunch through what could otherwise be a fairly soft and spongy meal. I also don’t strain my gravy, allowing the onions to provide extra hits of caramelised richness, again, offset by the elements of sweet in the meal, but you can strain if you feel so inclined.
And of course, there’s dessert. I settle on a crumble after with a Sunday Dinner because I’m so British and can’t help myself, and mostly because there’s a lot here that you can do advance. In fact, all of it is done in advance. This particular crumble, spiked with the alluring, floral kiss of rosewater feels like a perfectly round and gentle way to finish the meal. Even if you are proper stuffed and can’t fathom the thought, you will want to find room for it, based on the aroma it pushes around your home while it bakes, alone.
Now I have split the task of this Sunday Dinner across two-days, not because I feel this is specifically a two-day task, but I like to get as much done in advance as I can, and mostly because it allows a full day of brining for the chicken. This does mean that with the amount of prep I specify below, it’s important you make space in your fridge to accommodate all the bits that need to be kept to one side until the day you are cooking your roast. Not a hard task, but something I wanted to clarify beforehand!
Also worth noting that this recipe will serve 4 comfortably or 5 – 6 decently. However I use the exact same measurements below even when it’s 2 of us, because leftovers the next day in a sandwich, when eaten in silence, feels like a prayer.
So are we ready? Good. Me too. Let’s get started.
This is a day of light prep. The day where I like to take my time, listen to some music, and pull the early parts of this menu together at a leisurely pace, which means tomorrow, when I’m cooking for a crowd, I am not so crowded, both mentally and physically. This includes the prep I do for the food, but also just some logistics work. For instance:
- I make sure that I have all the ingredients I need for the meal – nothing worse than thinking you have butter when all you have is the foil packet and a few measly morsels.
- I make sure all the equipment I need is washed and ready to use – again, nothing worse than twatting about the kitchen looking for a tool when you need it the most
- As you’ll see in the method, there’s a time when there are a lot of things in the oven at once, so ahead of time, I make sure that all the equipment can fit into the oven at the same time. Take a photo in advance if you need to, just to remember where each tray can fit at the same time. Once again – nothing worse than needing to move your oven shelves around at the same time you’re trying to squeeze a tray of potatoes in. Do it all in advance and remember where everything can fit so that you can do it on autopilot when the time comes.
I also, maybe, perhaps, if I can be bothered, set the table, so that it’s done and ready, and waiting
Let’s prep food.
So first, get started on brining our bird. Simple fact – the longer it brines, the more fantastic it will be. It’s math, or chemistry, or something like that. So place a chicken (roughly 1.5kg) in an extra-large (say 4 litre) Ziplock, or thick plastic bag that comes with a cable tie. You could also use a big pot with a lid that fits in the fridge, if you’re struggling to find the bags.
Into the bag or pot, pour in 500g of full-fat yogurt, and the brine from a 350g jar of green olives (so that should be roughly 200ml of brine) reserving the olives in the fridge for general foraging or make this focaccia. Spoon 1 ½ tablespoons of sea salt into the bag, and then take the blunt side of a knife and press down on 2 cloves of garlic so that they crush, and drop them in the bag too.
Close the bag or pot, and rustle the chicken around gently to make sure it’s fully coated and submerged, and then pop it in the fridge. Try and keep it breast side down if you can, so that it’s the breast portion of the bird (notoriously known as the driest) that gets to lie in any buttermilk that pools on the underside of the bag.
While the bird brines, I like to make a start on the crumble, because once both filling and topping are assembled separately, it’s a case of layering one on top of t’other and then baking on the day.
In a deep, round dish (mine measured 20cm in diameters) tip in 500g of frozen strawberries with 25g caster sugar, 25g soft brown sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, 1 teaspoon rosewater and 1 tablespoon of cornflour.
Give the dish a shake so that the ingredients disperse a little, and then pop in the fridge until tomorrow, which will give the strawberries time to thaw, their juices amalgamating with the sugars and cornflour.
For the crumble topping, put 150g plain flour and 1 teaspoon baking powder in a large mixing bowl and using your fingertips, rub in 80g of cold butter, sliced into small squares, until your mix resembles scruffy porridge oats. Now fork through 80g of bashed up pecans, a pinch of salt, and 50g caster sugar until evenly combined. Tip this mix into a Ziplock bag or a bowl (and cover) and leave in the fridge until tomorrow.
As I said, I like to get as much done the day before as possible, so I also like to get started on the Yorkshire pudding batter.
In a jug and using an enthusiastic forearm, combine 350ml of full fat milk with 4 eggs and beat until combined. Now add in 250g of plain flour, ½ teaspoon of baking powder, and beat again. Add in a pinch of salt, some pepper, and a few fresh thyme leaves if you feel so inclined and mix. Cover the jug, and add to the fridge.
Finally, I like to get the majority of the stuffing done beforehand. So for this, first remove the meat from 6 plump sausages – I do this by running a knife down the side of the sausage, slipping the skin off and dropping the meat onto a chopping board.
Peel and finely chop 1 large onion and 2 cloves of garlic. In a wide frying pan with high sides, on a medium heat, melt 1 tablespoon of butter and once foaming, add the onion, garlic, and a little salt and pepper, cooking until the onions have softened (roughly 5 minutes).
To this pan, grate in the zest of 1 large unwaxed lemon and add in 1 tablespoon of fresh thyme leaves and stir through.
Add the sausage meat and cook for 15 – 20 minutes until the meat has lost its rawness. Try to break up the sausage meat as best as you can with a spoon. The thicker the chunks of the meat in the stuffing, the more it will crumble on slicing once it’s baked. Take the pan off the heat, tip the sausagey onion mixture into a large bowl and allow to cool. Once cooled, cover and pop the bowl in the fridge along with the tatty, grated lemon (you’ll use the juice tomorrow).
Last thing, take roughly 140g of white, crusty bread (like a sourdough) and leave it on the countertop until tomorrow, because you want it slightly stale.
Now you’re done.
So to recap: your chicken is brining in the fridge, your dessert is more or less complete, the Yorkshire pudding batter is done and waiting, and your stuffing is almost there.
Do the dishes. Go have a drink. Relax. Watch TV. Walk the dog. Sleep easy knowing tomorrow will be a breeze.
First things first, take the chicken, stuffing, and crumble filling out of the fridge to get to room temperature, and preheat your oven to 220°C.
In this time, peel and slice 1 large onion (or 2 small ones) into rings and laying them flat into the vessel you will cook your chicken. You want something that can go from hob to oven, so I use a 27cm diameter skillet, but a metal roasting tray with high sides will also do.
Sprinkle the onions with a little salt and drizzle with olive oil. Take the chicken out of the bag and shake off as much of the marinade as you can, before laying it on the bed of onions. Sprinkle the bird generously with salt and pepper, and allow to sit on the countertop while the oven preheats.
In this time, prep your potatoes. Get yourself a big pan of cold water and peel 2kg of floury potatoes (such as Maris Piper). Now with your naked potato, cut it in half on the diagonal so you have a large flat bottom. Each time you peel and slice a potato, fling each piece into the cold water.
Once all potatoes are peeled and cut, rustle the potatoes around in the pan until the water gets all cloudy and starchy. Carefully empty out this water, and then cover the potatoes again with fresh cold water.
Put the pan of potatoes on the heat and bring it to a simmer. You have time here, because a big pot of cold water takes a while to heat up, so go have a drink, listen to music, do any dishes lying around. Once it’s simmering though, keep the potatoes going gently for about 10 minutes – but no longer otherwise they’ll fall apart later. Drain the potatoes in a colander and allow them to sit in it, to get as dry as possible.
While they dry, spoon 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil into a large, shallow roasting tray and leave to one side until the potatoes are dry.
Now, slide the chicken in the hot oven and turn the temperature down immediately to 200°C, and leave to cook for a full hour.
In this time, you can finish your stuffing and prepare your carrots while your potatoes continue to dry.
To your bowl of onions and sausage, squeeze in the juice of half the lemon you reserved (watch the pips) and then using a knife, cut up your stale bread as best as you can – you want a mix of chunks and crumbs – and then add to the bowl. Crack in 2 eggs, stirring everything to combine, and then spoon this mixture into a square tin, compacting everything in tightly with the back of a spoon. Leave to one side, ready for the oven.
Now, slice the tops off of 1kg of carrots, peel, and quarter them lengthways. Put them in a shallow roasting tin, and drizzle with a tablespoon of olive oil, a teaspoon of sea salt, and a pinch of black pepper, rustling them with your hands so that they are evenly coated. They will go into the oven as plain as this, because we will dress them half way through cooking.
Turn to your potatoes, which in this time should have dried in the colander and scatter over 3 tablespoons of self-raising flour and a teaspoon of baking powder. Place a lid over the colander and gently, but firmly, bash the potatoes around the colander so the edges become grainy and fluffy. One by one, place each potato on the shallow roasting tray you oiled earlier.
Once the chicken has had its full hour, take it out of the oven and baste the chicken with any juices it’s released into the pans.
Put the chicken back in the oven along with the potatoes and the carrots. I find that I can fit the potatoes in the oven on the top shelf, and the chicken and carrots (side-by-side) but see my note at the beginning of the post on doing a trial with your trays and pans to see where they can fit.
Leave everything in the oven for 30 minutes (so that would be 1 hour 30 minutes for the chicken, 30 minutes for the potatoes and carrots) in which time we can prep the dressing for the carrots and oil our muffin tin for the Yorkshire puddings.
But first, put a full kettle of water on to boil for the gravy (you’ll also need it for the peas later)
For the dressing for the carrots, all you need to do is combine 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard, 1 tablespoon honey, 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar, and 4 tablespoons of olive oil together in a jug and fork together to combine.
Now for the puddings, add a teaspoon of vegetable oil into the holes of a 12-hole muffin tray (or two 6-hole tins, as I do) and leave to one side.
Once the 30 minutes is up on everything in the oven, remove the chicken tray and put safely to one side for a second. Carefully move the bird to a wooden chopping board, and cover with a clean tea towel or some foil to rest. The resting period is so important, as it allows your chicken to continue cooking in residual heat, as well as allowing it to be much easier to carve.
Now take out your tray of potatoes, and carefully turn them all over using tongs or two spoons before popping them back in the oven. Then remove the carrots, pour over the honey mustard dressing, rustling them about with the tongs or spoons so that they are evenly coated and pop them back in the oven too. Now, add your stuffing to the oven, and leave the potatoes, carrots and stuffing in the oven for 25 minutes.
Just to recap where we’re at – the carrots and potatoes at this point have had 30 minutes and are now going in for another 25 minutes, in this time you’ll also be putting in your stuffing for the same 25 minutes. We’re all good. Have a super quick, drink, you deserve it.
After 5 of these 25 minutes, pop the muffin trays in the oven for just 5 minutes, so the oils get hot, and then carefully remove them. Take your cold pudding batter from the fridge, give it a quick whisk (it would have settled in the fridge overnight, so just whisk it quickly back to a smooth consistency) and quickly pour it evenly between the holes. This needs to be careful, but quick work.
Put the Yorkshires into the oven and allow to cook with the carrots, potatoes and stuffing for the remaining 15 – 20 minutes of the carrots and potatoes (assuming you can get the batter into the holes in 5 minutes, but don’t stress out. It’ll all be fine)
So basically – you’ve now got the potatoes, carrots, stuffing and puddings all in the oven for a final 15 – 20 minutes.
In this time, we gravy.
Carefully take the skillet (or metal tray) of onions and using a spoon, remove some of the chicken juices until you have a few tablespoons left in the pan along with the onions. Put the tray on a medium heat on the hob, and cook for a few minutes before adding a heaped tablespoon of plain flour and crumble in a chicken stock cube, stirring into the onion and chicken juices to create a thickish paste.
Now slowly whisk in 200ml pale ale and 50ml of the hot water from the kettle, letting it come to a gentle but robust bubble, whisking every now and then, until it begins to thicken for the remainder of the cooking time of the things in the oven, which if you work at the same speed I did, should be just 10 – 15 minutes. If you find your gravy is taking slightly longer to thicken, once the 10-15 minutes are up, just open the oven door to let out any heat, and then it switch off which will keep everything warm while you finish your gravy and cook the peas.
Just to recap where we’re at – the chicken is covered and resting on a board, as it should be. In the oven, the potatoes and carrots have had 55 minutes total, the stuffing has had 25 minutes, and the puddings have had 20 minutes – possibly sitting in a warm but switched off oven, depending on how your gravy is coming together on one hob, and on another, you have space to get your peas done.
In a small saucepan, pour in any hot water leftover from the kettle and put on a high heat on a hob. Once bubbling, add 200g frozen peas, bring the water back to a boil and boil for 3 – 4 minutes. Drain the peas, add a tablespoon of butter and a scattering of salt to the hot peas, and stir through.
Now you can remove your potatoes, carrots, stuffing and puddings from the oven.
Carve up your chicken into whatever cuts you see fit for your friends and family, serve alongside the potatoes, carrots, stuffing (which you can cut into squares, as you would a brownie) and peas, and then generously ladle over the gravy (which I don’t bother to strain because I like the caramelised onions, but do strain through a sieve if you want it silkier)
As I said earlier, mint sauce is non-negotiable.
When you’re ready for dessert, get your oven to 180°C and throw your crumble – without the topping – for 15 minutes, just to thicken the juices. It will look very liquid at this stage, but don’t worry, it will thicken perfectly.
After this time, take your filling from the oven and carefully scatter crumble topping over the bubbling strawberries. Pop the now covered crumble in the oven for 30 minutes – and in this time I gleefully watch everybody else do the dishes – and then let the crumble stand for like 10 or 15 minutes just so the strawberries are not scaling hot, before serving with lashings of double cream.
Custard would also be good, but after the slog of a Sunday roast, I can’t be arsed. If anyone suggests it, I’d suggest suggesting to them that they make it themselves.
There we go.
A Sunday Dinner broken down, and nobody had a break down, right?
All that’s left to do is save that chicken carcass to make a banging stock, draw the blinds, and allow yourself to fall deep into a food coma because Lord knows… you deserve it.