Christmas Tips from Roger Williams
"Sprouts can be prepared on the 24th. Boil them in lots of salted water for 3 minutes then plunge them into iced water to stop the cooking. They can then be chopped in half and fried in butter with chestnuts and streaky bacon on Christmas Day – I prefer this to the more traditional simple boiled sprout, but each to their own."
The Christmas dinner is effectively a glorified Sunday roast with a few extra components thrown in.
Therefore, it really is not too difficult to do it justice. Preparation is the key to achieving a brilliant meal without the stress of doing too much on the day. Start off by picking your dishes – what will your starter be, which bird will you choose and will it be Christmas pudding or trifle?
I always think it is best to start with something cold and fresh tasting. Not only will this cleanse your palate before the main event, but it also means you will have more oven/hob space, and, most importantly, it can be prepared in advance and kept in the fridge.
I like to make a simple watercress roulade filled with smoked salmon, dill and cream cheese. The vibrant green sponge contrasts excellently with the orange salmon and makes a wonderful centrepiece for the table – you can even decorate it to look like a fish with cherry tomatoes for scales and cucumber fins resting on a seabed of watercress. This can all be done the day before and kept in the fridge or larder.
Your desserts are also easy to prepare in advance – a Christmas pudding can be made months in advance and heated through on the day, so this will keep stress to a minimum. You can whip up your brandy butter a week or so before as well. Similarly, if you opt for a trifle, it’s always good to make a day or two beforehand so the sponge has a chance to absorb all the lovely booze!
For the main meal, it is important to order all your meats well in advance. Speak to your butcher at the beginning of the month and he will help you work out how much of everything you will need to order depending on how many mouths you are feeding. You can get your bird, bacon, sausages and sausagemeat from him and then be sure to pick them up a couple of days before Christmas.
I like to brine my turkey, as not only can you enhance its flavour with herbs and spices, but also you can ensure that you are going to have a beautifully juicy bird, as the brining helps the bird retain moisture. You can do this on 23rd December by completely submerging your turkey in an ice cold brine made from onions, carrots, celery, a good mix of herbs and spices like nutmeg, paprika and cinnamon, and 1kg each of rock salt and soft brown sugar. Just combine all your ingredients and simmer for 30 minutes and allow to cool completely. Remove your turkey after 24 hours on the 24th and rinse off any excess brine and pat dry.
You are now ready to stuff your bird – something that can be done on 24th so you can just pop it in the oven on Christmas Day. For me, stuffing is the best part of the Christmas meal as it absorbs all those delicious meat juices and has such a rich and moreish flavour (as well as making great sandwiches the next day). You can make this a few days before if you like and keep it well covered in the fridge. Mix your sausage meat with a couple of large handfuls of breadcrumbs, some finely chopped pistachios and chestnuts, 3 large onions sliced and caramelised, 12 rashers of finely chopped smoked streaky bacon, a few dollops of cranberry sauce (you can make this well in advance too), some finely chopped herbs such as sage and parsley, a grating of nutmeg, the zest and juice of a couple of oranges and some finely chopped chicken livers. Finally, add a good glug of port and season with lots of salt and pepper. Fry up a little pattie to test its flavour and add anything else you think it may need. Roll your stuffing into balls (about the size of a golf ball) and fill the main cavity of the bird as well as the neck end. These balls allow air to circulate during the cooking ensuring that your stuffing and the middle of your bird gets cooked through.
With this done you can almost start to relax – now is the time to get help from all your guests. It’s the least they can do! If you give everyone a small job, the final few components will be easy.
You need to think about the sprouts, pigs in blankets and roast potatoes. Everyone has their own favourite way of doing roast potatoes but we’re all after the same thing: a nice crisp outside with a fluffy centre. Get your little helpers to peel your potatoes (I like to use Maris Pipers) then cut them into the size you like – try to create as many jagged edges as you can so you get extra crispiness. Parboil them in salted water until cooked through and drain. Allow them to cool right down then rough them up a bit in the colander to help again with crispiness. Season well with sea salt. This can be done a day before so all you have to do is put them in the oven on the day.
Sprouts can be prepared on the 24th if you like. Boil them in lots of salted water for 3 minutes then plunge them into iced water to stop the cooking. They can then be chopped in half and fried in butter with chestnuts and streaky bacon on Christmas Day – I prefer this to the more traditional simple boiled sprout, but each to their own.
The final and extremely important part of the meal that you need to think about is the gravy. I like to make a rich chicken stock from the carcass of a roast chicken from earlier in the month. I reduce this stock down until I have about a pint left then stick it in the freezer ready to take out on Christmas Eve and boil up with your turkey giblets. This gives you a great head start and can then be added to your pan juices on the day to ensure you have lots of fantastic gravy. Combine 3tbsp of plain flour with 5tbsp of white wine, adding the wine slowly to avoid lumps. Gradually stir in the hot stock then pour this into the pan juices and allow to reduce and thicken until you have the consistency you like.
Hopefully this will help take some stress out of Christmas and mean you don’t feel rushed on the big day, and instead enjoy all the festivities safe in the knowledge that your guests have been fed well!
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