Perfect Roast Beef

“NB If the time we have allowed for Roasting appears rather longer than what is stated in former works, we can only say, we have written from actual Experiments, – and that the difference may be accounted for, by common Cooks generally being fond of too fierce a fire, and of putting things too near to it.”

William Kitchiner, The Cook’s Oracle



Kitchiner was right – you don’t want to overdo the roasting process. Once you’ve finished the first twenty minutes of searing-hot roasting reduce the heat and continue cooking – half an hour per kilo for rare meat, forty minutes per kilo for medium rare, and fifty minutes per kilo for medium. Any longer and you will produce shoe leather.

Of course, roast beef is excellent with:

Follow the links to find the best, and most entertaining, ways to cook all the above.


Recipe for making the perfect roast beef


  • 4½lbs/2 kg beef (on the bone) – sirloin is good
  • Thyme, salt and pepper
  • Rapeseed oil


  1. Salt the joint, if you can, the day before.
  2. Take the joint out of the oven
  3. preheat the oven to 240ºC
  4. oil the joint with rapeseed oil, then season with Indonesian long black pepper and chopped thyme
  5. heat the roasting tin on the hob, and brown the meat on all sides
  6. move the meat to the oven, and roast for 20 minutes
  7. either turn the oven down to 180ºC or, if you have an aga, move the joint down to the baking oven and roast it for another hour for rare meat (see guidelines above)
  8. remove it to a carving board and allow it to rest, covered in foil, for half an hour


Ideas for what to do with leftover rare roast beef:

  • The first sandwiches of all probably contained beef. Writing in 1787 in The Ladies’ Assistant for Regulating and Supplying the Table, Charlotte Mason instructed her readers to “put some very thin slices of beef between thin slices of bread and butter; cut the ends off neatly, lay them in a dish.”  The most delicious roast beef sandwich I have ever eaten was on Skye, at Kinloch Lodge. The secret is super-fresh thin-as-you-can white bread, creamy horseradish sauce, and the best quality beef. Some people will do a lot for a roast beef sandwich:

“A helicopter pilot has been accused of flouting lockdown rules by making an 80-mile round trip to pick up a beef sandwich. The unnamed man bought the snack from Chipping Farm Shop near Preston, which later posted footage of him landing the chopper, along with the promotional caption: “When your customers are literally flying in for your roast beef in caramelised onion gravy barms”. It was spotted by a local resident, who tracked the flight online to Salford. Police are investigating.”

The Week, March 2021


  • an intriguing thing to do for a picnic is to chop up some grilled aubergines, and smash together with cream cheese, some peas, chopped mint and a teaspoon or two of pomegranate molasses and roll the larger slices of meat around this, making a kind of cigar. The aubergine and the peas can also be leftovers.


What to drink with roast beef

Mike Turner (of the series, Please Bring Me My Wine) interviewed in Bordeaux Magazine, and asked for tips on pairing Bordeaux wines to roast beef offers this advice:

“Oh yeah!  Abso-bloody-lutely! Although depends on how you like to cook it, rare or well-done. If medium-rare then head up the Haut Medoc for the Cru Bourgeois value here, something like Barreyres from Sainsburys; fruity and smooth, but enough tannin to cope. If you like it well-done then head up to Bourg or Blaye and check out the Malbec blends, like Haut Prieur from Laithwaites or La Croix Davids from 20h33.”


Roast beef as a patriotic symbol of England


For Katherine Mansfield, writing in her journal in 1916, roast beef was synonymous with England:

“I’m so hungry, simply empty, and seeing in my mind’s eye just now a sirloin of beef, well browned with plenty of gravy and horseradish sauce and baked potatoes, I nearly sobbed. There’s nothing here to eat except omelettes and oranges and onions. …I feel sentimental about England now – English food, decent English waste! How much better than these thrifty French, whose flower gardens are nothing but potential salad bowls….”


Nearly two hundreds years earlier, in 1735,  Henry Fielding penned the words of the song, The Roast Beef of Old England – a terrific dig at the French which became immensely  popular and was sung by theatre audiences with much gusto before and after a play.

“When mighty roast beef was the Englishman’s food,”

goes the ditty

“It ennobled our hearts and enriched our blood, 
Our soldiers were brave and our courtiers were good”

then onto the next verse…

“But since we have learned from all vapouring France
To eat their ragouts, as well as to dance
We are fed up with nothing but vain Complaisance”

and so on….

Some ten years later Hogarth was arrested by the French as a spy while sketching in Calais. He was so infuriated by this that he painted O, The Roast Beef of Old England – which depicts English tourists taking a side of beef over to consume in Calais while hungry-looking French look on enviously. See the painting, and listen to the song in the clip below.


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