Christmas dinner can be a minefield when you want to pull out all the stops and truly impress everyone from children to in-laws. A roast turkey with all the trimmings sounds simple enough, but it can be a little daunting for first-timers.
Not a fan of turkey? Try goose! Chef Jeff Galvin says you should “start roasting the bird at a fairly low temperature, say 165 degrees. Lots of fat will render from the bird. Keep this in the freezer for roasting potatoes in the coming months”. When it comes to sprouts, Salt Yard Group‘s Ben Tish says he likes to “cut them into three slices and sauté in butter and olive oil with mustard seeds with some diced cured ham,” as it leaves them still crunchy but caramelised. For the perfect roast potatoes, Frederick Forster (head chef at Le Pont de la Tour) likes to “pre-boil them for a few minutes and then drain. Season with a touch of cinnamon and roast with duck fat or garlic and thyme and finished with beef dripping butter”.
Here we speak to Mike Reid, group executive chef at M Restaurants, and Robert Stephens, head chef at South Place Chop House, about their tips for creating the perfect Christmas dinner, what they’ll be serving on Christmas Day, and their secret to curing a New Year’s hangover. While they take different culinary approaches to the big day, they both agree on one thing: it’s all about preparation when it comes to cooking at Christmas.
Do you have any tips for amateur cooks tackling Christmas dinner for the first time?
MR: It’s all about preparation when cooking for large numbers – do as much as you can the day/night before to take the pressure off on the day. Peel potatoes and leave them in water, same with your root veggies, get your gravy ready the day before. These are all the little things which will help out on the day. Oh and most importantly – do it all with a glass of wine in hand.
RS: Preparation is key – it’s always important to brine your turkey and leave overnight, as this allows the turkey to absorb moisture, and avoids the common problem of drying out. Have a cheat-sheet of timings on hand on the day, as there are lots of components for the meal, and often distractions from friends and family. I always cook my Brussels sprouts in chicken stock, with a good quality bacon and chestnuts, to make it more exciting.
What will you be serving on Christmas Day?
MR: I’m actually a traditionalist when it comes to Christmas and look forward to my turkey with all the trimmings. I just cheffy it up with a few touches like homemade stuffing, which I make with blue cheese, deep fried and covered in breadcrumbs.
RS: I’m working on Christmas Day this year, and our homemade Christmas pudding is one of the best I’ve tasted – we’ve certainly not scrimped on the brandy custard – always a winner! For the family at home I usually opt for a Beef Wellington as a turkey alternative.
Which festive dish or drink couldn’t you live without?
MR: My grandmother’s Christmas pudding recipe, a traditional recipe from the Caribbean. It’s so light and tasty you could eat a whole one and still want more.
RS: The classic Bucks Fizz kick-starts Christmas day for me, normally early in the morning when I start food preparations at home. A good quality mince pie and a brandy at the end of a long day is good too.
What’s your favourite celebratory tipple to serve on New Year’s Eve?
MR: Guinness Punch. Its a family recipe made from rum, Nourishment chocolate milk and a touch more rum.
RS: Espresso Martini is always a good option when you’ve got a long night of celebrations ahead.
And what’s the best thing to eat to cure a New Year’s Eve hangover?
MR: Steak of course, best served at M.
RS: I think I’m similar to most, and always crave a full cooked breakfast. Our breakfast menu in Chop House includes haggis with duck egg, which may seem slightly unusual, but it goes down a treat.
We hope you can put some of these tips to good use on Christmas Day but if you’d rather leave the cooking to the experts, visit OpenTable to find the perfect restaurant for a festive feast.
This is a guest post from London-based journalist, Loulla-Mae Eleftheriou-Smith, who has written for The Independent and the Evening Standard, as well as our Open for Business blog.