10 top tips to cook the perfect Christmas Day lunch
- Credit: Archant
Leading Devon chef reveals quick and easy ways to make the biggest meal of the year a success
Much like flying a plane or rewiring a house, cooking Christmas dinner is something I leave to people who know what they’re doing.
I can cook. Sort of. But that meal on that day? There’s so much pressure to get it right, to have everything come together at once, to show off, but not too much because certain family members like it traditional. So what usually happens is that my husband, mum, dad, mother-in-law, granny, passing neighbour – basically anyone but me – takes care of that all-important meal and I do the washing-up.
This Christmas is going to be different, not only because we’re in the middle of a pandemic, but also because I might cook. First, I need some help and who better than Darrin Hosegrove, chef director at the multi award-winning Ashburton Cookery School.
“The key message to get across to you is organisation,” says Darrin, who has very kindly offered to show me how to prepare the perfect Christmas dinner, here in the school’s delightful Garden Kitchen. “I’m going to show you all the things you can do before Christmas Day. You don’t want to spend the whole day next to the oven, not interacting with anyone.” (Although for a second, that does sound quite appealing).
“What you need to remember is that the microwave is your friend,” he continues. “I know that’s a swear word for most chefs but on Christmas Day, it’s a must.
“Don’t have too much on the go at any one time, try not to overcook things and try to free up your oven as much as possible.”
Luckily, my facemask is hiding my open-mouthed expression. It’s a lot to take in but I’m in safe hands. “Anyone can do it,” says Darrin, reassuringly. “But you do need to put a little bit of a chef’s head on for one day, in terms of organisation.”
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With that, he fires up a Christmas playlist on his phone and it’s time for me to watch and learn:
Darrin has taken the legs off the turkey and placed them in the tray next to the crown, which has a thyme and onion butter under the skin. The crown has then been covered with flattened strips of bacon to keep the meat moist (we’re going to snip up the bacon and fry it with the sprouts later).
Darrin’s prepared a rolled, boned-out leg joint with a ricotta and cranberry stuffing. He cooks this in a separate tray.
“With the legs off, the turkey only needs an hour, hour-and-a-half,” he says, as we laugh about childhood memories of mums and grannies getting up at dawn to put the bird in the oven for 12 hours or so.
Darrin checks whether the meat’s cooked by gently pressing his thumbs into the thick end of the turkey breast. “That skin should have tightened up nicely,” he says. ‘It should feel like your chin. If it’s like your cheek, it’s too rare.”
We’re good and chin-like here, so Darrin takes the turkey out, wraps it in foil and turns it upside down in a tray to let the juices run through while it rests. “For at least 45 minutes,” he says. “Now you can put your potatoes in the oven.”
“I’m going to show you a brilliant way of doing roasties,” says Darrin. “You can actually prepare them the week before.” What?! No way.
“Peel and cut your potatoes until they’re all the same size,” he says. “Cover them with cold water and a hearty pinch of salt. Boil them until they’re cooked through and they just start to break down around the edges, see? Drain and steam them and place them on a tray covered with cling film. Then put them in the freezer, when cool. You can decant them into a freezer bag until you need them.”
Darrin then explains how you can cook your spuds from frozen by tipping them into a tray of hot fat (preferably duck fat) when the time comes.
“Leave them in the tray in a hot oven (200-220C) for ten minutes before you turn them,” he says. “Let them roast for about 20 minutes, then baste and turn them every 15 minutes until they’re golden and crispy on the outside and fluffy in the middle.”
Carrots, parsnips, Brussels sprouts and braised red cabbage. “Don’t go mad,” says Darrin. “You don’t need loads of different types on the go.”
All the veg is neatly laid out in plastic takeaway tubs, blanched and ready to be reheated while the turkey’s resting and your spuds are cooling.
Darrin has kept the carrot and parsnip cooking water (or cooking liquor, if you’re a chef) in a separate tub, which he pours into a saucepan with the root veg, along with a glug of honey and some butter. “This will give them a nice glaze,” he says.
The sprouts get the full festive five-star treatment, fried in butter with the turkey’s bacon covering, a handful of chestnuts and a drizzle of maple syrup.
WOW THEM WITH YOUR CRANBERRIES
Frozen cranberries, orange juice, zest and caster sugar – so easy, yet so much more delicious than the stuff you buy in jars. I watch as it all simmers away before thickening up into a shiny, beautiful sauce. This will revolutionise turkey accompaniments in my house.
“How easy is that?” says Darrin. “That there is how to dispel the myth that you’ve got to be a chef to do Christmas dinner. You can easily do that.”
MAKE YOUR GRAVY WORK FOR YOU
Now, some members of my family (me included) like some Christmas dinner with their gravy. There’s no such thing as too much – and especially this version. It’s chicken stock, red wine and some of the turkey juices, chopped onion and garlic, plus a few sprigs of thyme and a touch of cornflour.
The photographer and I take a teaspoonful to taste and are rendered temporarily speechless.
“Keep your gravy red hot and that will help keep your turkey and vegetables hot when you come to serve,” says Darrin, bringing us back to reality.
This Christmas dinner tasted incredible. Thanks to Darrin’s patience and skills, I feel I’m ready to be a proper grown up and take on the turkey this year. I might need a teeny bit of help. I wonder if I could set up some sort of video link to Darrin’s house…
“Just don’t panic,” he says, laughing, slightly nervously. “Remember; it’s only cooking.”
(Thanks to local suppliers M&J Gibbins Butchers, Pinhoe, Exeter for the turkey and Challices, Totnes, for the vegetables)
Ashburton’s PR and events manager Anicca O’Nions shows us how to make the ideal accompaniment to your festive feast: a Devon 75, using Teignmouth’s Thunderbird Gin and Chudleigh-based Huxbear Vineyards sparkling wine.
40ml Thunderflower Gin
20ml Lemon juice
20ml Simple Syrup
60ml of Huxbear Vineyards Classic Sparkling wine
Lemon peel twist for garnish
Shake together all ingredients (aside from the sparkling wine)
Pour into a flute glass
Top with the sparkling wine
Garnish with a lemon peel twist.
THYME & ONION BUTTER
100g unsalted butter
5g fresh thyme
1 medium sized onion
1 cloves garlic
Cracked black pepper
Soften the butter by leaving it out of the fridge for 30 minutes then mixing with your fingertips until smooth.
Finely chop the onions and garlic.
Remove the thyme leaves from the woody stalk and roughly chop.
Gently cook the onions and garlic in a little of the butter over a low heat until softened, add the chopped thyme then allow to cool.
Add the cooled onions, garlic and thyme to the remaining butter along with a good pinch of salt and pepper; mix the butter well until it is well incorporated
The butter is now ready to push between the flesh and the skin of the turkey, to keep the meat tender and moist while cooking
(enough to stuff 2 x turkey legs from a 9lb turkey)
125g best quality mince pork (pork shoulder with a little fat works well)
2 medium sized shallots
1 clove garlic
30g dried or fresh chopped cranberries
½ tsp. crushed fennel seeds
50g ricotta cheese
½ lemon zest
1 tbsp. chopped parsley
1 tbsp. fresh or dried breadcrumbs
Sea salt & cracked black pepper
Finely chop the shallots and garlic.
Gently cook the shallots and garlic in a little oil over a low heat until softened then allow to cool.
In a large bowl mix together the minced pork, crushed fennel seeds, ricotta cheese, dried cranberries, lemon zest, chopped parsley and the egg.
Add the cooled shallots and garlic and plenty of salt and pepper and mix well.
Test the flavour by frying a little mixture and tasting to see if more seasoning is necessary.
Place the stuffing into the boned turkey legs, then roll and tie with string
2 litres chicken stock
150ml red wine
1 chopped onion
1 chopped clove garlic
5 sprigs thyme
Fry the onion and garlic in a little oil until golden, add the sprigs of thyme and continue to cook.
Add the red wine, bring to the boil and reduce until almost evaporated.
Add in the chicken stock and reduce until you have approx 1 litre remaining.
Pour this into your roasted turkey tray, bring to the boil and remove all the meat juices from the tray. Pour back into a saucepan.
As a starting point mix 2 tbsp cornflour with a little water to dissolve, pour a little at a time into the gravy and allow to boil. Add more dissolved cornflour depending on how thick you like your gravy to be.
Taste and season with a little salt if required.
Pour through a fine sieve and your gravy is ready to serve.
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