Christmas dinner is always one of the most popular get togethers of the year when family and friends gather around the table to enjoy a feast fit for a king.
However, if you are playing host this year and are gearing up to tackle the preparation and cooking, you may not be looking forward to it quite as much as your guests.
Preparing any meal for larger numbers than usual is always a little stressful but the great expectations of serving up a perfect Christmas foodie extravaganza can create added pressure on even the most seasoned cook.
Many a chef will agree that preparation, organisation and good timings are key to getting it right on the day. However, before you get to the planning stage, it is important to select the best quality produce available to ensure that your food delivers great taste.
Murray Cheyne, shop manager at JK The Home of Fine Foods on Aberdeen’s Chattan Place, has worked in catering for 30 years and was previously head chef at a city hotel.
He said: “Using the best quality fresh produce can really make a difference to the outcome of a meal, so if you are set to tackle the Christmas cooking then you should source top quality meat. Of course, buying from your local butcher will not only guarantee good quality cuts but they should be able to advise you on sizes and cooking times.
“We source our meat from Millers of Speyside in the Highlands which offers our customers full traceability from field to fork and our free range Barra Bronze turkeys come straight from the farm in Aberdeenshire.”
Preparing Christmas dinner may seem like a daunting task for some but it is really no different to cooking a traditional Sunday roast. There are plenty of things that can be done in advance to make life easier for the chef and ensure that you can relax and enjoy a few tipples while you cook.
In the weeks running up to the big event, decide exactly what you are cooking for each course and write your shopping list, remembering to place an order for collection or delivery from your local butcher.
To really ease the stress of cooking on the day, you could choose a cold starter and dessert which can be prepared on Christmas Eve and popped in the fridge overnight, leaving you to focus on cooking the main event on Christmas Day itself. At JK Fine Foods there is a lovely range of Scottish smoked salmon, classic and infused with gin and tonic, lemon pepper or whisky and honey, that would make a simple, tasty starter, and if you want to really make life easy choose some of the individual desserts which you could definitely be passed off as your own!
The day before, set the dinner table and look out all the pans and roasting tins you will need, as well as the plates and serving dishes so you have everything at hand. Also spend some time on Christmas Eve working out your cooking times based on the weight of your turkey. Once you have a guide of how long your turkey will need to cook, including resting time, you’ll be able to work back from your serving time to create a time schedule of when everything needs to be in the oven.
If you really want to save a bit of time on Christmas morning you can also prepare the vegetables and pop them in an airtight container in the fridge overnight. Even par boiling your potatoes the day before means you can just pop them in a pre heated roasting tin with goose fat ready for cooking.
It’s always best to cook the turkey first to ensure it benefits from the full heat of the oven during the cooking time. Once it’s cooked, you can cover and rest the turkey for a good 45 minutes or so, allowing you time to cook the rest of the trimmings.
Of course, don't let those lovely turkey juices in the bottom of the roasting tin go to waste, strain it into a pan and use it to create a flavoursome turkey gravy to smother over the top.
So, getting yourself prepared early and spreading the workload out over the two days will free up some valuable time to pop open a bottle of champagne to ease your nerves before tackling the festive feast.
Pre heat oven to 220°C/200°C fan/gas 7
- Combine butter, freshly ground salt and pepper and a little olive oil in a small bowl (adding crushed garlic and chopped parsley if you wish). Using your hands, smear the butter mix all over the turkey.
- Place in a large roasting tray, breast side up. Roast in the hot oven for 10-15 minutes.
- Remove from oven and baste with the turkey juices.
- Cover the breast meat with streaky bacon.
- Reduce the oven temperature to 180°C /160°C fan/gas 4, and cook turkey for around 2-3 hours (calculating 30 minutes per kg), basting the bird with the lovely juices every 20 minutes.
- Around 30 minutes before cooking time is over, insert a skewer into the thickest part of the leg. If the juices run pink, cook for another 15 minutes and check again, repeating until juices are clear.
- Leave to rest for 45 minutes before serving with piping hot gravy, stuffing and all the usual trimmings.