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Top tips for a stress-free Christmas dinner
10:22am Friday 20th December 2013 in News
CHRISTMAS dinner can be one of the most stressful meals of the year, but it does not have to be, says Robert Stacey, head chef at The Castle Dairy restaurant. Here he shares his top tips to make sure the cooking is a bit less of a headache.
The number one tip I have for Christmas Lunch is preparation. It is one of the few times in the year where people cook for larger numbers than they would normally cater for. This alone makes it a very busy day. On top of that the whole day starts off with presents and paper everywhere and of course cleaning up the soot from Santa Claus.
These would be my other tips for a stress free Christmas Day lunch.
1. As soon as you put this paper down, make a list, write a menu and stick to it. Make sure you have bought in nibbles. These can be anything from beautiful olives and fancy crisps, nuts and even some bought in canapés. If lunch is taking longer than you thought, it allows you some spare time.
2. The shopping is one of the biggest jobs at Christmas, so buy all non-perishable items along with wine as soon as you can. Perishable goods don’t need to be bought on Christmas Eve. Buy them a day or two before, they do keep.
3. Don’t be too overambitious. That recipe you read from Heston Blumenthal - don’t try it out on Christmas Day for the first time. It will only end in tears. Leave it to the professionals.
4. If you want to be a domestic God/dess, delegate. All great chefs are good at getting others to peel the spuds.
5. Prepare all the vegetables two days before. Blanch and refresh the vegetables. You can even boil the potatoes for the roast. As long as they are cold before they go into the fridge they will be fine. If you put the vegetables in a dish with a bit of butter, a splash of water and season them and cover with clingfilm, they will be ready to go into a microwave and be served on the day.
6. Cook the turkey an hour before you think you want to serve it. When it is ready take it out of the oven and cover with fresh tin foil for about five minutes. This process of resting it will allow meat to relax and result in a much better carved joint.
7. Never put the stuffing inside the turkey. It alters the cooking times and doesn’t allow for an even cooking temperature.
8. The Gravy - The Crowning Glory of the Meal. Basically there are two ways to make gravy – the first is by 'de-glazing', which involves spooning off most of the fat from the juices of the turkey, then scraping the sides and base of the roasting tin to release all the lovely caramelised bits. Wine or stock (or both) is added, and the whole thing is allowed to bubble and reduce to produce a small amount of concentrated but thin gravy.
Or, for a slightly thicker gravy for a larger number like on Christmas Day, again most of the fat is spooned off, but then flour is stirred into the juices before the liquid. It is best to use a stock that matches the meat, that is a beef stock to make gravy for beef, and so on. We would recommend a ready-made stock from the supermarket.
It is essential to use a good solid-based roasting tin, so that it can be placed over a direct heat. Remove the turkey from the roasting tin and have a bowl ready. Tilt the roasting tin and you will see the fat separating from the darker juices. Spoon off the fat into the bowl using a large tablespoon – you need to leave about 1½ tablespoons of fat in the tin.
Then use a wooden spoon to scrape the sides and base of the tin to release any crusty bits, which are very important. Next, place the tin over a direct heat (turned fairly low) and when the fat and juices begin to sizzle, add one tablespoon of flour then quickly dive in with your whisk (a wire balloon whisk is essential to do the job quickly and smoothly).
Only plain flour should be used for thickening, as self-raising flour tends to form lumps. Cornflour is not suitable as it produces a rather gelatinous, gluey texture. Blend the flour into the juices with very fast circular movements. Speed is of the essence – gentle, faint-hearted stirring is not what's needed here. You should be mixing in the manner of a speeded up film. Soon you will have a smooth paste, so now begin to add the hot stock, a little at a time, whisking briskly and blending after each addition.
Now turn the heat up top medium and you will find that, as the stock is added and it reaches simmering point, the gravy will have thickened. If the gravy is too thin, let it bubble and reduce a little; if it’s too thick, add a little more liquid. Finally, taste and season with salt and freshly milled black pepper, then pour the gravy into a warmed jug ready for the table.
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