How to cook the perfect Christmas dinner

Professional chefs share their tips on ensuring success in the kitchen on Christmas Day

Copyright Rex

The turkey
For succulent, moist turkey you’ll need to do more than wrap it in foil and bung it in the oven for a few hours.

Turkey meat is lean and can turn dry once cooked, so renowned cookery school Leiths recommend wrapping it in buttered muslin, which bastes the bird as it cooks, keeping it moist.

But what if you don’t want to spend all day in the kitchen? Peter McBurnie, creative chef at Elveden Estate, who has also cooked for two royal weddings, suggests having your butcher de-bone and joint the turkey for quicker cooking.

“I use a 5-6kg bronze turkey for Christmas Day, but I remove the main bones and cook the joints in around one and a quarter hours, rather than the four or five hours it would take.”

And for one last tip: always remember to let your turkey rest before carving: the juices will absorb back into the fibres of the meat, rather than end up on your board.

The stuffing
Damian Clarkson at The London Kitchen let us in on a few tips to achieve the perfect Christmas stuffing. He recommends using minced pork, as “the fatty juice from the pork helps keep the flesh of the turkey moist.”

He also suggests using fresh herbs rather than dried, and for a special touch, “try adding orange zest and a touch of grated nutmeg”.

And you can also control the texture of your stuffing: “If you like your stuffing firm, so that you can serve it in slices, add a beaten egg to bind it. Those who prefer a crumbly stuffing, leave the egg out.”

The roast potatoes
Edinburgh-based chef Paul Wedgwood of Wedgwood the Restaurant gave us his advice. “My tip for the perfect roast potato is to use King Edwards, cut them into roughly two-inch cubes but with rough edges, then cook them the day before or in the morning in a light chicken stock with fresh rosemary, thyme sprigs and a bulb of garlic sliced in half horizontally.” 

Once they’re tender, just pan-roast them on the stove in a mixture of 70 per cent goose fat and 30 per cent vegetable oil ‘until golden and crispy.’

Paul suggests then sprinkling your spuds with Maldon sea salt and ground white pepper before serving.

Experts generally agree that King Edwards are the best potatoes for roasting, although look out for other floury varieties too.
 
The gravy
It’s easy to make your own Christmas gravy, according to Oliver Gladwin, head chef and joint owner of The Shed Restaurant.

He says the caramelised fat from the roasting dish is ‘full of flavour’ and shouldn’t be wasted. First, stir in some flour on a medium heat.

“Then add the booze,” Oliver says. “I like to use a big slosh of sherry, brandy, red wine or anything I can get my hands on before my family drink it”

Add in the stock made from the turkey’s giblets and you’ve got a great home-made gravy.

Oliver also says it’s important to taste the gravy before serving. “Think of it going well with the joint. Ask yourself questions like: is it rich enough? If not, add a spoon of mustard and sugar. This will increase the depth of flavour on your palate.”
 
The Brussels sprouts
Love them or loathe them, sprouts have become an inescapable part of the Christmas dinner. And Simon Bolsover, head chef at Great Fosters Hotel in Egham has an original idea for serving them.

“Cook them until just tender in salted boiling water,” he says. “Cut them in half then pan roast with almonds and nutmeg and finish with some cream – guaranteed everyone will eat these sprouts!”

The cranberry sauce
The secret to a good cranberry sauce is to add flavour with ingredients such as orange juice and port.

According to Sean Kelly, head chef at The Lovat Hotel in Fort Augustus near Loch Ness, “Cranberry sauce is something that can really make a difference to the meal. Make your own with 100ml orange juice, 100ml port and 70g sugar. Bring all the ingredients to the boil then add 500g cranberries and cook in the liquid. Thicken with Xanthan gum and leave until cool to serve. Perfect.”

Do you have any tips for cooking the perfect Christmas dinner with all the trimmings? What will you be having for Christmas dinner this year?

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