So allow top chef Jeff Baker to give you his top tips on making Christmas Day go as smoothly as possible. That way, you can actually enjoy yourself too. It's meant to be fun, after all...
In 1995, 26-year-old Jeff became the youngest chef in Yorkshire to receive a Michelin Star for his culinary skills. He has cooked for the Queen, and worked alongside some of the world’s top chefs, such as Pierre Koffman at the Tante Claire, Christian Germain at Chateau Montreuil, and Brian Turner and Nigel Davis at Greenhouse, Mayfair. He is currently the Executive Development Chef at Farmison & Co. So, yeah, he knows what he's talking about.
1. Get your drinks in the fridge ASAP
Amongst the carnage of cooking times and counting plates, it's easy to forget about the drinks. To avoid any upset once your guests have arrived, get your fizz, white wine or beer in the fridge as soon as you can. And with red wine, ensure that it’s been opened a few hours before dinner to let it breathe, which will intensify the flavour.
2. Simple canapés to keep hungry guests at bay
Don’t faff around with fancy canapés. Instead, just pull together some super-speedy nibbles, like smoked meats and fish served with sourdough and some nice condiments.
3. A showstopping starter
If you're looking to impress your friends and family with an indulgent starter, baked figs with fresh goat's curd and truffle honey will go down a treat.
- Bake 12 black figs in the oven at about 140ºC (120°C Fan) with four teaspoons of truffle honey until tender (around 15-20 minutes).
- Mix together four teaspoons walnut oil and one teaspoon sherry vinegar. Toss this through some rocket leaves.
- Add the figs and 200g goat's curd, then scatter over some broken walnuts.
4. Getting the most out of your gravy
There’s no need to cut corners and reach for the instant gravy this Christmas. After roasting your Christmas bird, simply add some stock into the fat left in your roasting tray after your turkey is cooked. With the stock in the tray, scrape any leftover meat sediment into the stock and boil to reduce the volume.
Add herbs of your choice, then pass the liquid through a fine sieve into your gravy boat. And if you want to make it even richer, simply reduce the gravy to a syrup-type texture and whisk in a large knob of cold unsalted butter.
5. Roasties for dummies
Often the most overwhelming element of the Christmas spread is the roast potatoes. My top tip is to peel, wash, and steam your potatoes until they are just about cooked. This will usually take around 16 minutes. Once cooked, melt duck fat and toss through the potatoes, and season with sea salt. Place on a non-stick tray in a preheated oven set at 220ºC (200ºC Fan), and roast until golden. It’s best to turn them every 15 minutes to ensure this (they usually take around 45 minutes to cook).
6. It's turkey time
To get the best flavour, as well as using up as much of the meat as you can, remove the giblets after roasting and keeping them for the gravy later. On the day of roasting, sit the turkey in your kitchen and slowly bring it up to room temperature, this ensures an even roast. Oh, and don’t forget to weigh your turkey so you know how long to cook it for.
Soften 150g of butter with the zest of a lemon, some sea salt, thyme leaves, and a splash of olive oil (about 25ml). Gently lift the skin away from the breast meat - starting at the cavity - and carefully push the softened butter between the skin and flesh. To stuff the bird, cut an onion in two and place it into the cavity with the rindless lemon, a carrot and some fresh sage.
Now put the turkey on a wire trivet and place in a preheated oven at 245ºC (225°C Fan) for 20 minutes. Then pour 500ml of water onto the base of the tray and cover the turkey with tin foil. Reduce the heat to 185ºC (165°C Fan) and roast for 40 minutes per kilo, removing the tin foil for the last 30 minutes or so to colour the skin. To check the turkey is cooked, pierce the skin between the thigh and breast and push the skewer into the flesh, close to the bone. If all has gone to plan, the juices should run clear.
7. Pimp your vegetables
To add extra flavour to carrots, turnips, parsnips and shallots, simply place them together in a tin foil bag with a sprig of thyme or rosemary, a whole garlic clove, sea salt, and a teaspoon of duck fat. Bake in the oven for a minimum of 1 hour, or until the vegetables are sweet and lightly caramelised. For green vegetables and brassica, boil them in salted water until just cooked. To finish, gently toss in a little butter and cracked pepper, sometimes with toasted almonds, caraway seeds or crispy smoked bacon and a few diced shallots.
8. An alternative to roast potatoes
Yes, believe it or not, there are some people who don’t like the classic roastie. Luckily, parsnip and potato gratin is simple to make and acts as a delicious substitute to the royal roast potato.
- Mix equal amounts of warm whole milk and warm cream (500ml in total) with a couple of crushed garlic cloves, salt and ground white pepper.
- Once the mixture is nicely infused, pour it over 500g of thinly sliced potatoes mixed with 200g of thinly sliced parsnips.
- Layer in a gratin dish and bake at 240ºC (220°C Fan) for 15 minutes, then lower the heat to 195ºC (175°C Fan) and cook for a further 40 minutes until the potatoes are tender. To ensure a cake-like texture, press the gratin down now and again.
9. Mix up your pigs in blankets
Pigs in blankets are a staple at the Christmas table - but there’s no harm in mixing it up a little every once in a while. Try wrapping a pitted prune in some Lancashire pancetta, insert a little sage leaf between the two items, and simply grill. These Devils On Horseback go particularly well with goose and duck as well as other roasting birds.
10. The best bread sauce
The most underrated of all the festive sauces, but a must at any Christmas dinner table.
- Make 6 crustless slices of brioche into breadcrumbs.
- Heat 350ml of whole milk with 1/2 diced onion and a bouquet garni. Season with salt, pepper, and a little nutmeg.
- Pour the infused milk onto the breadcrumbs and cook on a gentle heat until slightly thickened.
- Whisk in 50g of cold diced butter and keep at a warm temperature until ready to serve.
11. Master your cheeseboard
Serve cheeses made with different types of milk. So, think ewe’s, cow’s, goat’s, even buffalo's milk, or those made from a blend of milks. Each type of milk has a different flavour profile and this will make your selection more varied. Also think about varying textures. Serve alongside semi-dried fruits, some quality butter, and a biscuit or two. If you really want to push the boat out, you could opt for some fruit cheese or truffle honey.
Before serving, remove cheeses from their packaging and leave uncovered at room temperature for at least an hour, or even longer. This way, the cheese can breathe and you’ll be able to taste the full spectrum of flavours in each. Be careful not to let the cheeses touch each other too much as this can alter the flavour.
12. Almighty leftovers
Create another quick and delicious Boxing Day meal by using up any leftover turkey.
- Dice 2 onions, and fry until softened with a crushed clove of garlic.
- Add a glass of dry white wine and boil into a syrup.
- Add 200ml of poultry stock and 200ml of cream, and bring to the boil. Season with salt and pepper.
- Roughly slice a selection of mixed mushrooms (about 150g) and add to the sauce, along with your shredded turkey and a dozen or so chestnuts, walnuts or almonds. Simmer for 20 minutes on a low heat.
- To finish, add a handful of chopped parsley and serve with some rice, potatoes or make into a wonderful pie. To do that, simply cool the mixture down, and cover with a good quality puff pastry. Bake for 20 minutes at 190c until golden brown.
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