- The Washington Times - Monday, December 15, 2003

Few December dinner sights are more awe inspiring than a majestic beef roast presiding over a holiday table. In England, where it is more commonly served at midday on Sunday, roast beef is the traditional choice for Christmas dinner. Surrounding the roast is usually a circle of roasted potatoes, a boat of brown gravy and the classic accompaniments, horseradish sauce and Yorkshire pudding.

The first Yorkshire pudding dates to the Middle Ages. Then it was considered a great delicacy called “dripping pudding.” The pudding batter was prepared and placed underneath the meat being roasted on a spit and served as a first course. In lean days when there was not enough meat, the pudding was served along with gravy as the main meal itself.

It was a famous 18th-century cook, Hannah Glasse, who was responsible for making the Yorkshire version of the dripping pudding. It was her legendary Yorkshire pudding that ousted plum pudding as the official accompaniment to roast beef.

The standard recipe today resembles the recipe for popovers, except that Yorkshire pudding batter is baked with beef drippings in the roasting pan and served with beef, while popovers are purely American, baked in individual custard or muffin cups and usually served at breakfast.

Roast beef and Yorkshire pudding

The following recipe is from “The Cooking of the British Isles” (Time-Life Books, out of print).

1 6-pound standing beef rib roast

1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons oil

Yorkshire pudding (recipe follows)

Gravy and horseradish sauce

Creamed spinach and mashed potatoes

Remove meat from refrigerator and allow to come to room temperature, about 1½ to 2 hours before cooking.

Rub 1 teaspoon salt into fat of meat. Insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the meat. Do not let the thermometer touch the bone. Place the beef, fat side up, in a roasting pan and coat it with oil. It is not necessary to use a rack, since the ribs of the roast form a natural rack.

If you like rare beef, it should roast in 450-degree oven for about 1¼ hours and meat thermometer should read between 130 to 140 degrees. If you like it medium to well done, cook 1½ hours and meat thermometer should read 150 to 160 degrees. Baste meat frequently while it is cooking.

When meat is cooked, remove it from pan and place it on a warm platter. (If you plan to make Yorkshire pudding, reserve drippings and increase oven heat to 400 degrees as soon as the beef is cooked and out of the oven.) Cover beef with aluminum foil and let stand for 25 minutes before carving.

Make the Yorkshire pudding (recipe follows).

To carve, first remove a thin slice of beef from the large end of the roast so that it will stand firmly on this end.

Insert a large fork below the top rib and carve slices of beef from the top, separating each slice from the bone as you proceed. Traditionally, roast beef is served with a gravy of its own juices and with horseradish sauce. It is also good served with creamed spinach and mashed potatoes. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

YORKSHIRE PUDDING:

2 eggs

½ teaspoon salt

1 cup flour

1 cup milk

2 tablespoons roast beef drippings

To make batter in a blender, combine eggs, salt, flour and milk in the blender jar and blend at high speed for 2 or 3 seconds.

Turn off the machine, scrape down the sides of the jar and blend again for 40 seconds.

To make the batter by hand, beat eggs and salt with a whisk or electric beater until frothy.

Slowly add flour, beating constantly. Then pour in the milk in a thin stream and beat until mixture is smooth and creamy. Refrigerate batter for at least 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. In an 11-by-7-inch roasting pan, heat roast beef drippings over moderate heat until it splutters. Briefly beat the batter again and pour it into the pan. (Or, if desired, divide drippings among 8 custard cups that have been placed on a baking sheet.) As it bakes, pudding will be flavored with drippings from the roast.

Bake in the middle of the oven for 10 minutes, reduce the heat to 350 degrees and bake for 15 minutes longer, or until pudding has risen over the top of pan or cups and is crisp and brown. (If cooking pudding in custard cups, poke a knife into the side of each finished pudding to allow some steam to escape.)

With a sharp knife, divide whole pudding into portions and serve immediately. Yorkshire pudding is always served with roast beef.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

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