I’ve been writing about cooking Christmas dinner on this blog for ten years, can you believe that? When you’re thinking about cooking Christmas dinner (or indeed lunch) for everyone, it can seem a bit daunting, but I always say that it’s basically just a big roast dinner, and if you think about it like that, and make sure you’re really well prepared, it’s a piece of cake. The lovely team at Crisp ‘n Dry (remember I worked with them when they sponsored RNLI Fish Suppers?) have asked me to share my top tips and cook a little practice Christmas dinner – a ‘Crisp ‘n Dry run’ if you will – geddit?!), to show you that with a little love (and Crisp ‘n Dry), your ordinary Christmas dinner can really become the ultimate festive feast. Here are my top five tips for planning the perfect Christmas dinner.
So where to start? Well, I thought I’d break this down into my five most important bits of advice for planning your best Christmas dinner yet, so in no particular order…
It’s all in the planning
One of my favourite bits of Christmas, once I’ve done all the shopping and the pressie wrapping, is to curl up with my notebook (and maybe a lovely glass of sloe gin or Bailey’s) and work out my timings for Christmas day. Once you’ve weighed your turkey (I don’t stuff my turkey, but if you do, remember it has to be weighed after stuffing), you can work out the cooking time (this will depend on the type of turkey you buy – check on the packaging or with your supplier). Start with the time you want to sit down to eat, and work backwards, adding in times for the turkey, roast potatoes, veg, stuffing, sausages and bacon (keep it simple, you don’t need ten different accompaniments) and steaming the pudding. Add on little bits that you might forget, like cranberry sauce or brandy cream for the pud, then on Christmas Day, you can just tick off the items as you do them and you always know exactly where you are.
Use a decent cooking oil
I’ve written about why I prefer rapeseed oil before, and I use it for everything, whether it’s baking, frying eggs, or roasting potatoes. It’s healthy (with low levels of saturated fats and very high levels of essential fatty acids), and I just find it doesn’t fill the house with that hideous smell of smoking oil (this is purely because you can heat it to a really high temperature before it starts smoking). The flavour is mild so it doesn’t overpower or undermine the flavour of your food, and lastly, Crisp ‘n Dry uses rapeseed oil supplied by British farmers, which, seeing as I live in a village surrounded by rapeseed fields, is pretty important to me.
Prepare everything the day before
You really can do most of the prep work on Christmas Eve. Peel, chop and parboil the potatoes, then drain, leave to cool and pop them in a big freezer bag ready to use on Christmas Day (see my recipe below). Carrots and parsnips can be peeled and chopped (you don’t need to parboil parsnips before roasting, just drizzle with oil and honey and sprinkle with fresh herbs before roasting), and sprouts can be prepped and blanched until just tender (remember if you can smell them, you’ve cooked them too long), ready to be pan fried with pancetta and chestnuts on the big day.
Cook the turkey first
It really is easiest to concentrate completely on cooking your turkey first (it also gives you lots more time to do the important things like opening presents and drinking fizz rather than standing chained to the stove). Once cooked, the turkey will stay warm, covered in foil and then a couple of tea towels, for at least an hour, meaning you can free up the oven to cook all your lovely additions, like delicious stuffing, roast potatoes and parsnips, sausages wrapped in bacon and whatever else you like.
For your best roasties ever…
Forget drowning your potatoes in pools of oil, you really don’t need much oil to create the crunchiest, crispiest, softest-in-the-middle roast potatoes. I like to use large baking potatoes (they’re easiest to peel too), and cut each one into four (as I said, you can do all this a couple of days in advance). Pop them into plenty of cold, salted water and bring to the boil, then simmer until they’re as tender as you dare, but not falling apart (I measured it and it’s around 8 minutes). Drain the potatoes and cool, if you’re making them in advance.
On the big day, take a large baking tin and cover the bottom with a layer of Crisp ‘n Dry. Pop that tin into the oven to heat up the oil. In a large bowl, add a couple of spoonfuls of plain flour with some lovely herbs like chopped sage or rosemary (not too much or your potatoes will taste like soap), and lots of salt and pepper, then toss the potatoes in the mixture, making sure each one gets a floury coating. Once the oil is hot, just tumble your coated potatoes in and roast them in the oven, turning occasionally, until they’re golden brown and deliciously crisp (oven temps will depend on what else you’re cooking, but anything around 180C/gas 4 and above will do the trick) – this should take around an hour.