It can feel pretty daunting when you’re tasked with cooking Christmas dinner this year.
It’s a wonderful time of the year, but it’s also expensive, and undeniably this year in particular, very stressful.
The festive meal is often the focal part of the day, but it can require a lot of hard work – while others around you get merrily drunk and eat lots of chocolate.
Meanwhile, you’re sweating a hot kitchen trying to juggle keeping the turkey moist and not burning the stuffing.
If you’re panicking at the thought of burnt pigs in blankets and raw roasties, fear not, help is at hand.
Jeff Baker, Executive Development Chef at Farmison & Co , has revealed 7 foolproof tips on how best to master the Christmas dinner.
First things first, let’s take on the main event: the turkey. The centrepiece of any festive table, Jeff has some pointers on how to cook your turkey just right. He says:
“When it comes to stuffing your bird, I’d recommend doing this on the day of roasting. Try not to pack the stuffing into the neck cavity too tight, as this will prevent it from cooking evenly. Simply add the weight of the stuffing to the weight of the bird to make sure you calculate the correct cooking time.”
“A simple and delicious way to keep your turkey moist, and enhance its flavour, is to gently push a generous amount of softened butter under the skin. The butter will add flavour to the meat and baste it at the same time.”
“When it comes to roasting, I’d recommend using a meat thermometer, so as to make sure the bird is fully cooked. Ensure that you pierce the thickest part of the turkey meat and hold the thermometer for 10 seconds to acquire a true temperature reading – 68°C should be the core temperature.”
One of the most popular parts of the meal – but extremely easy to mess up, with chef Jeff revealing what we’re doing wrong.
“It’s important not to burn the bacon – no one wants a charred blanket! Start by gently heating a heavy-based, non-stick frying pan and begin the cooking process by rendering some base fat – giving a light caramelisation.
“Try not to overcrowd the base of your pan as the sausages need to sit fully flat, with enough room to be turned over. If you turn them regularly and cook them evenly over medium heat for around 3-4 minutes, your sausages should be a light golden colour. You can then pop them into roast for a further 6-8 minutes.”
“To ensure that you don’t overcook your sausages, gently press them with your thumb to check how they spring back – the more buoyancy you get back the more well-done your sausages will be.”
Crispy roast potatoes
No one wants soggy roasties, and there are some key things to look for when choosing your potatoes.
Jeff says: “When it comes to choosing which potatoes to roast, I always recommend King Edwards or Maris Piper potatoes. They’re the best potatoes for the job and, when cooked properly, leave you with gorgeous crispy-edged spuds with fluffy middles.”
“Though we all love a crispy roast potato, it can be really easy to mess them up. If you drown them in too much oil, they’ll burn on the outside and be undercooked on the inside. In order to avoid such a disaster, it’s important to fluff up your potatoes before roasting them – my preferred method is steaming.”
“If you’re unsure on how long to cook your spuds for, I would recommend at least 30 minutes at 200 degrees whilst checking them every now and again. Give them a shake every now and then to increase the crispiness. If you are still unsure after 40 minutes, take a potato out and give it a try. Not only can you check whether they are ready but you get first dibs on the crispiest roasties!”
The best Christmas dinners are served with a delicious gravy – and Jeff recommends following a traditional recipe.
He says: “In my opinion, traditional giblet gravy is unbeatable – so be sure not to throw them away once you’ve removed them from your turkey.
“Not only can you achieve a delicious, thick gravy with your turkey giblets, it also means that you aren’t wasting any of the bird either.
“Once you’ve added some stock to your browned giblets, the gravy can be thickened using a little cornflour mixed with some cold water.
“To make the gravy even meatier, you can simply deglaze the roasting tin you used to cook your turkey and scrape up any of the remaining sediment juices to achieve a rich, satisfying flavour.”
Full-flavoured root vegetables
Root vegetables, such as carrots and parsnips, are an important part of the meal, amongst all the stodge and carbs.
Jeff says: “There are a number of ways you can put together your root vegetables, but I like poaching with a butter emulsion scented with anise. Once the vegetables are just tender, remove from the liquid and boil this to a syrup.
Add the vegetables back to the syrup then simply give the pan a gentle shake until they turn a golden caramel. Then, season with sea salt and black pepper. The sweet and salty flavours will work wonders!”
Love them or hate them, you might be cooking them wrong, with Jeff advising: “Though many people like to keep it simple and sprinkle their sprouts with just some salt, I like to add some additional flavours. For me, sprouts work exceptionally well with a nut crumb and some fresh, juicy pomegranate seeds.
“Start by dropping your sprouts into salted, boiling water for 5 to 6 minutes, drain and slice them into even halves. To make the nut crumb, put breadcrumbs, lemon zest and chopped walnuts into a blender and blitz them. Then, toast them gently until golden brown.
“Once you’ve sautéed your sprouts in salted butter and spooned them into a serving dish, scatter the nut crumb over the sprouts and finish with a few fresh pomegranate seeds.”
It may not be something many Brits opt for but a punchy cranberry sauce can really bring your whole Christmas dinner together.
Jeff recommends: “You can really elevate your cranberry sauce and give it an edge by simply adding the odd ingredient – such as a splash of rich port, a little spiced ginger, hot chilli flakes, or even some candied orange zest.
“Though you can use frozen cranberries, I’d suggest using fresh ones so as to max out on flavour – these should take around 8-10 minutes to simmer until tender.
“Cranberry sauce thickens naturally as it cools, so be sure to leave your sauce in your fridge for around a week before serving. On Christmas day, take it out in the morning to bring to room temperature before serving.”