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Top Hertfordshire chefs share their food tips for Christmas

Cooking Christmas dinner is a monumental task
Cooking Christmas dinner is a monumental task

Want to prepare the roast with the most this Christmas? Read on to make life that little bit easier in the kitchen this festive season…

Whether you love it, loathe it or do everything in your power to get out of it, cooking Christmas dinner is a monumental task that befalls many of us all every December 25.

No matter how well you prepare, how much enthusiasm you put into the job, it’s a given there are going to be moments you’ll want to chuck the turkey in the bin, throw the pots and pans out of the window and order a takeout (not that any would be open).

So why do we put ourselves through this culinary purgatory every year, slaving away for hours to prepare a traditional turkey with all the trimmings?

At least the bird we baste, stuff and roast today is less faffing about than how the Tudors used to do it. Back then they used to tuck into ‘Christmas Pie’ which was made of a pigeon placed inside a partridge, which was placed inside a chicken, stuffed inside a goose, put inside a turkey and all shoved inside a pastry case called a ‘coffin’. It was served with hare and other game birds on the side. Sounds like lot of expense and even more work.

While some of our Christmas traditions can be traced backed to pagan times, it was the Victorians who really gave birth to the traditional Christmas as we know it. Charles Dickens especially was the one who spread the idea of a Christmas feast with a roast bird, mince pies and a pudding on the table.

Most Victorian families had roast goose for their Christmas lunch while the wealthiest families ate beef, venison and turkey, often served with a chestnut or veal forcemeat stuffing. Queen Victoria was known to have enjoyed roast swan at Christmas!

If you are one of those people who just love to be in the kitchen whipping up a festive feast that your guests will be talking about until New Year’s Day then you’re going to need to top tips to get it right.

Great British Life: Robert Pearce (c) Down Hall Hotel and SpaRobert Pearce (c) Down Hall Hotel and Spa

Robert Pearce, the Executive Chef at Down Hall Hotel and Spa in Bishop’s Stortford, knows all the secrets to festive cooking success. So what’s a big no no when it comes to perfecting Christmas dinner?

'One of the most common mistakes is buying too much food and having a mountain of leftovers,' he says.

'But when it comes to leftovers, I love having them for breakfast – sounds strange I know. Who doesn’t love a good breakfast over Christmas?

'Boxing Day for me has to be one of the best days for it, you’ve eaten well on Christmas Day why not carry it on?

'I am great at using things up over Christmas and having them for breakfast doesn’t stop me…I absolutely love combining Brussels, pigs in blankets (if there’s any left of course) and yesterday’s roasties together. Chop it all up, mush it together and shape into patties. “Shallow fry the patties getting colour on both sides, and you’ve got yourself some festive hash browns!

'Another way to use up some leftovers would be a classic turkey curry, pulling all the meat from the turkey and combining it with your favourite spices. This way the flavours over the Christmas period aren’t the same old roasted stuff and adds a different dimension of flavour to the festive palate.”

It’s no secret that planning ahead is key to making sure your stress levels don’t hit the roof when it comes to the festive feast.

Rob says, 'We’re all guilty of getting stressed in the kitchen over Christmas Day preparation. It’s always best to get ahead in planning and get some things ready the day before. Why not peel the potatoes and steam them off ready to be roasted on the big day?

'I make my own gravy at home and freeze it ready for Christmas, better still if there’s only a few of you why not freeze it in an ice cube tray making it easier to know how much is needed for a smaller group of people.

'There’s no reason you can’t cook your vegetables off the day before either – just simply refresh them in ice cold water and store in the fridge until they need heating up. You can even microwave them if you’re worried about space when you have all the pots on the stove.”

On the subject of Yorkshire Puddings - a staple of the yuletide spread- Rob advises not to cut corners and use shop-bought but make the effort to whisk up your own.

'I will always make my own Yorkshire Puddings,' he says. “I use a simple recipe of equal measures. If you use a cup, just make sure you fill that up with plain flour, milk and eggs. I cook mine on 200’C for 25 minutes, getting the tray and oil smoking hot beforehand. I try and get these ready a week or two before the day when I’m making a standard Sunday roast and then pop them in the freezer ready to be heated up on Christmas Day.

'I also cook my turkey on Christmas Eve and start eating it on the evening, we have the rest on Christmas Day then by Boxing Day it’s pretty much all gone! Basically, eating your leftovers before they become leftovers!.'

Great British Life: Tom Bainbridge head chef The TilburyTom Bainbridge head chef The Tilbury

Tom Bainbridge, is the head chef at The Tilbury in Datchworth. The 40-year-old self-taught chef has worked in the industry for the last 10 years. Previously he worked in the property industry but then he convinced his brother James to buy the pair’s first pub, The Tilbury in Datchworth, together. The rest is history. The Tilbury has been awarded 2 AA Rosettes for nine years running and holds the prestigious AA Notable Wine List award. The brothers also own and run the historic White Hart Hotel Pub and Restaurant in Welwyn.

So that’s all great but big question is, when you are a chef, do you look forward to cooking Christmas dinner or does it get super boring year after year?

Tom says, 'Since the pandemic we have operated an at home Christmas Day offering. The different style of cooking and approach to service has been a refreshing change from our previous Christmas tasting menu served in the pubs themselves. This has also allowed us to spend the big day at home with our family, relishing in the joy of our little ones!'

The at home menu allows customers to collect their scrumptious three course Christmas Day feast with festive extras, lovingly prepared by Tom, from the Tilbury, on Christmas Eve. The meal comes in recyclable packaging with simple cooking instructions. The feast, from £48.50 per adult and £24.50 per child, this year includes turkey and all the trimmings as you’d expect, as well as ham hock and turkey terrine, homemade mustard fruits, sourdough and mustard butter for starters and mouthwatering figgy toffee pudding with brandy Chantilly for dessert.

So, Seeing as Tom’s got a lot of Christmas dinner cooking in front of him this season, what tips can he share?

'Less is more,' he says. 'Concentrate on the perfect cook on your meat, big, tasty gravy, simple selection of vegetables and some crispy roasties! Not forgetting the obligatory pigs in blankets too.'

Is there a Christmas family tradition in the Bainbridge family when it comes to Christmas food? 'Well, my wife also makes a very filthy Tiramisu trifle for pudding,' admits Tom.

With 2024 just around the corner, when food trends does Tom predict will be big?

'More fusion food style with the continuing growth of international cuisine,' he insists.

Great British Life: Harry LumsdenHarry Lumsden

Meanwhile professional chef Harry Lumsden, who grew up in St Albans and won the acclaimed Young Great British MasterChef of the Year award in 2016, has worked in several prestigious restaurants.

Harry says when it comes to Christmas lunch you need to get ahead of yourself. 'It’s all about prep, prep and prep. What us chefs call (mise en place), preparation before service.

'Nobody wants to be working away over the stove on Christmas morning, get all your vegetable prep done the day before and ready in the fridge. Boil your roast potatoes, rough them up between two colanders and leave them to naturally steam out and chill (this will encourage much crispier potato when roasted in fat.

'When It comes to Brussel sprouts families are torn between the love/ hate relationship, try slicing them thin and frying them with some pancetta and chestnuts and of course plenty of butter or goose fat for the whole family to enjoy.

'Rest your turkey for the same time you cooked it for. I like to flip the bird over on a cooling rack and let the juices run back through. Make sure you stuff your turkey with some orange and lemon for that special Christmas smell and taste and rub under the skin with plenty of butter (and a touch of truffle If you fancy splashing out)

'Most important tip of the day is cook to much so there is left over for Boxing Day sandwiches and turkey curry!' and

chefharrylumsdon on Instagram


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