Who better to take tips on cooking the best Christmas dinner ever from than world-famous chefs and food writers? Here, we’ve gathered together everything you could ever need
It’s the most wonderful time of the year… unless you’re in charge of the cooking.
Rustling up a meal for a dozen or so hungry guests come Christmas day is a mighty task and it’s no surprise many of us allocated chefs end up weeping into our wine glasses over a burnt tray of spouts come 4pm.
But cooking for Christmas doesn’t have to be stressful. Here, Britain’s top chefs and food writers – from Nigella Lawson to Jamie Oliver and Gizzi Erskine – share their tips on how to plan for and execute the perfect festive feast.
Whatever you’re looking for – whether it’s practical tips such as the best way to roast your potatoes and how to prep your turkey, actual recipes (including veggie options and alternative Christmas puddings) or the logistics of planning ahead and shopping online – we’ve got it covered.
Read on for a comprehensive guide of all aspects of the Christmas meal and raise a toast to the best celebration yet…
Make lists for every meal with ingredients and guest numbers
"Planning really is crucial, just for an easy life. I always make a list two weeks before Christmas, and that makes me sound like a schoolteacher, but it helps so much. It doesn't matter if you've had a few sherries then. Think about the days after too - maybe make extra roast potatoes, so you can make tartiflette (roast potatoes with ham and melted cheeses) on Boxing Day. If you're making a ham, get one big enough so you can make a turkey and ham pie as well, or use other leftovers for a bubble and squeak. Do it all at once."
Shop heavy produce online and leave fresh stuff to the last minute
"Buy heavy stuff online and get it delivered a week before. Leave fresh stuff til the last minute, so shopping really late or early is a good idea - that way you can avoid the hordes of people at the supermarket. You can get so much done online. You can go direct to a farmer for geese or turkeys or even box schemes for fruit and veg."
Start chilling your drinks a few days beforehand
"Don't forget to put white wine and fizz the fridge a couple of days before December 25 so it's lovely and chilled."
Go for fuss-free starters
"You want something to nibble on but when you’re at home you don’t want it to be so formal. What we like to do, which is really simple, is 'Devils On Horseback' - wrap some dates and/or prunes in bacon, alongside smoked cheese wrapped in smoked bacon on platters."
Use lemon, parsley and garlic butter for stuffing
"Before cooking a turkey, mix lemon, parsley and garlic into a block of softened butter. With your hands, loosen the skin on the breast from both ends of the bird so that you'll be able to stuff the flavoured butter underneath it, making sure you keep the skin intact. Repeat with the legs. From the lower side of the breast, feel your way under the skin and out towards the leg, loosening the gap.
Stuff half the butter mix into the opened spaces under the skin. From the outside of the skin, massage the butter around the breasts so that the meat is evenly covered. Place the bird in a large roasting tray, breast side up. Spread the rest of the butter all over the skin. Season well with salt and pepper, drizzle with a little olive oil, then roast."
Stick to a 6 kilo turkey
"I’d rather have two 6-8 kilo than a bigger one. The bigger they get the harder it is to cook them to perfection. Why make your life hard? It’s definitely a big tendency to buy a massive turkey. Also, if you want crisp skin and delicate, moist meat all the way through, you should stick to 6 kilos. It’s not that bigger ones can’t be great, it’s just that the science behind the cooking makes it tougher."
Cook your turkey longer, at a lower temperature
"To get your turkey golden on the outside without it becoming dry, cook it longer than you normally would, at a lower temperature, 60°C or so. Then take it out, put the oven up to 250°C and put it back in. Really keep your eye on it though as the skin will crisp up very quickly. It depends on the size of the bird and the oven, but a 4kg (8.8lbs) turkey will take six to eight hours."
Rest your turkey after cooking to increase tenderness
"Take your turkey out of the fridge the night before you cook it, and keep it in a cool place. The meat will be better if not cooked straight from chilled. Once you have cooked your turkey, don’t be scared to let it rest for a decent amount of time while you cook your potatoes and veg. The birds are large enough that they will retain heat and resting the meat will improve its tenderness."
Don't scrimp on the gravy
For veggies, try pumpkin and goat's cheese lasagne
Parboil your roast potatoes in heavily salted water
"For the ultimate roast potatoes you should get Maris Piper or King Edwards. Peel and cut them to just bigger than a golf ball. Most important is to parboil them ‘til nearly cooked in heavily salted water, til just undercooked. Drain, let them steam for five minutes, then give them a shake so the first layer gets crumbled and scratched up a bit, then get a nice big tray and put them in the oven. Measure your oven and get the biggest roasting trays possible.
"Buy two nice roasting trays as opposed to s**tty ones, which bend and kink and give bad heat. They’re not mega-expensive about 15 quid and you’ll have them for the rest of your life and they will make roasting potatoes better. I just spoon out fat from the turkey. It’s naughty but nice, or use olive oil."
Roast your sprouts, don't boil them
"My top tip is to roast your sprouts. Boiling just makes them lose too much flavour and go all mushy, so I put them in a roasting dish with salt, black pepper and olive oil, nice and simple. Cook them on a high heat for 20-30 minutes until tender but still with a bite. You'll never boil them again, I promise."
... and spice them up with pancetta cubes
"Try undercooking sprouts, and tossing them in crisp pancetta cubes and buttered chestnuts, then splosh with marsala and carpet with parsley."
Keep the trimmings simple
"Simplify things. People always think you have to have all the trimmings. It’s better to have one piece – a roast turkey or roast duck, and then roast potatoes and maybe two vegetables on the side. People always take too much on: less is more."
Cut corners with shop-brought produce
"There is no need to cook everything from scratch... there are some things I buy ready-made with no shame whatsoever - things like pigs in blanket, easy to make at home, but still take up time. I buy cranberry sauce and then just add some orange zest or Cointreau at home. And with stuffing and canapés - if you buy the best ones you can afford and then scatter them with fresh herbs, no one will be any the wiser."
Use top quality ingredients for your Christmas pud
"My top three tips for making the perfect Christmas pudding are: use really good quality ingredients, make it in plenty of time so all the flavours really mature together and use plenty of good quality booze."
... Or think of an alternative dessert
"Replace traditional Christmas pudding with a chocolate steam pudding. I have never met a child who likes Christmas pudding. Don’t be put off by having to steam another pudding. It’s easier than trying to find oven space, and what makes the chocolate pudding Christmassy is that it looks like traditional pud."
Make and freeze mince pies in advance
"Mince pies can be made in advance and frozen, where they will keep for a couple of months. You can then bake them straight from frozen, they'll just take a little extra time to cook but you know then they are done when they're golden and crisp."
Make a salad for Boxing Day
"As well as cold cuts, we make a salad with oranges, pomegranate and mint, and a red wine vinegar, olive oil and mustard dressing. It feels healthy after the indulgence of the day before, and is very tasty. I love oranges at this time of year."
... And use leftovers to make a turkey sandwich
"We all love the turkey sandwich, and for me the perfect post christmas sarnie is a combo of turkey, goat’s cheese, bacon and cranberry sauce all toasted in a pan. Christmas flavours simply ooze out of this sandwich."
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