Of the few die-hard traditions of a typical Italian family Sunday, there is one that has survived since the 60’s: the custom of serving up a dish of roast meat and potatoes as a main course. To reinforce this concept, many old recipe books refer to this dish as the “Sunday roast recipe”.
Almost exclusively cooked at home or served by the humble trattoria, it has always been slightly snubbed by celebrity chefs. Usually made from beef or veal, because of its cost and the amount of time involved in its preparation, it is generally considered in many parts of the world as a dish for special occasions or feast days. It is highly probable that no grandmother or mother engaged in turning out a Sunday roast recipe, had ever heard of the Maillard reaction. Nonetheless, the initial searing of the meat at a high temperature was a ritual and mandatory step passed down from one generation to another to become an authentic and everlasting myth. Even when it was discovered that the initial searing of the meat is totally ineffective in closing the pores to seal in the juices but does however perform the function of producing a tasty gravy.
the secret of a sunday roast recipe? the maillard reaction
It must be remembered that the Maillard reaction is possibly the most important in cooking. It is explained by a simple example: if you cook a food at a high temperature, that is to say, between 140°C and 180 °C, and it turns brown, the reaction has taken place. It depends on the presence of amino acids, proteins and sugar in the food and since meat contains all of these substances, this is why we start the cooking process by searing it. Those meat particles that stick to the pan, duly dissolved in water and reduced on a high flame, form the basis for marvellous French-style sauces and are actually the tastiest part of any roast.
Our last consideration regards the choice of meat which, as mentioned earlier, may be of beef or veal: no matter which you prefer, it is necessary to use cuts that are rich in connective tissue and not too lean, so that the meat will not become tough and dry but will remain very tender and juicy.
Legend has it that the first person to have broached the subject of roast meat was Justus von Liebig, in the mid 1800s: even though this was later to be disproved, it continues to be taught in hotel and restaurant management schools. The great fame enjoyed by Liebig assured the immediate acceptance of this theory, even by starred chefs such as Auguste Escoffier, who mentions it in his book Cookbook and Guide to the Fine Art of Cookery first printed in 1903.
Useful tips to make Sunday roast recipe
Now that you are familiar with the story, you must be wondering how to make a perfect Italian-style roast. Here are some useful tips for preparing a roast fit for a king:
- First sear the piece of meat on all sides in a hot frying pan with olive oil, then place it in an oven preheated to 200°C and cook it for 20 minutes per kilo. Check with an instant-read meat thermometer: when the inside of the meat reaches 55 degrees, it is ready.
- The meat should not be cooked straight from the fridge, but should have a temperature of around 15 degrees centigrade. - Do not salt the meat surface. - Massage the meat with a mixture of garlic, finely chopped rosemary and oil.
- Baste the meat frequently with its cooking juices.
- Potatoes or any other vegetables should be added when the meat is almost cooked.
- If you have no qualms about fat or excess calories, wrap lard or bacon slices around the roast (before cooking).
- Once cooked, wrap the piece of meat in aluminium foil and leave it to rest for five minutes to facilitate a redistribution of the meat juices. But take care not to ruin this marvellous work of art by cutting the roast the wrong way: it must be carved on the diagonal and against the grain, using a very sharp knife.