Chefs’ tips for the perfect Christmas dinner

Chef Paul Wedgwood has some top tips for the perfect turke. Picture: Jane Barlow
Chef Paul Wedgwood has some top tips for the perfect turke. Picture: Jane Barlow
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THE carefully-wrapped presents have been well and truly obliterated, the sherry has been cracked open and the family is just about to settle down in front of the Queen’s Speech.

While everyone else seems to be having a fabulous time, the designated Christmas dinner chef is in and out of the kitchen every two minutes with a face as red as beetroot and stress levels hitting the roof.

In a bid to help ease the pressure of cooking for the whole family, some top city chefs share their words of wisdom and advice for a stress-free Christmas dinner.

Jane Walker, owner and front of house manager at The Stockbridge Restaurant (and Christmas dinner cook)

Prepare your veg

To save time on the big day, prepare the veg the day before. If roasting carrots and parsnips, blanch them first in boiling water for a few minutes then cool them down quickly in a bowl of iced water to stop them cooking. Once cool, pop them into freezer bags, and they are ready to roast on the 25th.

Don’t forget your potatoes

To save even more time, your roast potatoes can be parboiled the day before as well. Boil in salted water and once drained put back into the pot with the lid on and give the pot a good shake to rough up the outer layer of the tatties. Then place in a tray, cool, pop in the fridge ready to cook the next day. To cook on the 25th I recommend you heat up oil or duck fat in a pot then coat the potatoes, cook in the hot oven occasionally basting them. Always remember to season with sea salt first.

Oven space is crucial

Oven space is always a problem in our house! To free space for a bit remember the bird can rest for an hour or so, just cover with foil and a warm tea towel so it doesn’t cool down too much. This frees up space in the hot oven to roast veg and tatties.

Save on dishes

I always serve finger food as a starter with some fizz so that it’s more relaxed and saves you some extra washing up at the end of the day. Keep it simple but present it well and in advance so you can enjoy it too!

Remember to enjoy it

Christmas Day is for everyone, even you! So don’t forget to enjoy the day with your family as well and relax. And remember if the host is relaxed, everyone else will be too.

Leftovers . . what to do with them

I think leftover turkey is great in a pie, especially with any veg leftovers. The best thing about it is you can put whatever leftovers you have into the pie.

David Haetzman, executive chef at Kyloe Restaurant & Grill

Perfect roast potatoes

The best variety to use is King Edward, giving you the crispy outside and a lovely fluffy meal. Peel the potatoes and bring to the boil in cold salted water for ten minutes or so or until you can insert a sharp knife. Drain and shake in the colander to fluff up the outside. There are lots of different fats you can use for roasting – beef dripping, duck fat, vegetable oil – and they will all work well. My preference in the restaurant is duck fat but at home I use vegetable oil. Both produce great roasties. Put your oil in a deep tray – approx 2.5cm – and put in a hot oven at the same time as putting your potatoes on to boil. Hot oil is very important. Add your parboiled potatoes and cook for about an hour or until crispy and golden brown, turning once or twice during cooking.

Be prepared

Get as much done the day before. Make the stuffing and stuff the bird. Have your sauces and accompaniments ready – cranberry sauce can be made days or even weeks before – the only exception to this is bread sauce that needs to be made on the day.

An alternative to the dreaded turkey

Turkey is not the most exciting of meats and it is kind of a shame that it dominates one of the most important meals of the year. Free range birds are available but they can be expensive. Goose is a great alternative but also expensive. I think something a bit different works well – suckling pig or porchetta – which can be bought from a butcher or online. It is easy to cook (no getting up at 5am to put it in the oven!) and can be made more Christmassy with the addition of caramelised apple, brown sugar, orange and lemon rind, dried apricots and mixed spice.

Paul Wedgwood, owner and head chef at Wedgwood the Restaurant

Preparation is key

Oven and stove space is always an issue on Christmas Day so take a little bit of time on Christmas Eve to prepare some menu items in advance. Most of your vegetables can be peeled and prepared the day before.

How to cook your turkey

To avoid over-cooking your turkey and it becoming dry, remove the legs at the joint and give them a head start on the rest of your bird. Also instead of stuffing your turkey try loosely filling the cavity with aromatic herbs and vegetables such as rosemary, garlic, celery and shallots. This will add flavour but also aid the even cooking of the bird as it is not too densely stuffed.

Leftovers

When it’s cold outside and the shops are shut its important to be using all your leftovers. To add those extra touches to your menu and give it the wow factor without any extra preparation, try miniaturising yesterday’s starter and main course to become a couple of little Amuse bouche or yesterday’s dessert to serve today as a mini pre-dessert. Remember you can also make soup out of most of your leftovers . . . be creative.