Great Christmas Dinners
The secret to making a great Christmas dinner lies in the timing. Get that right and you’re more than halfway there. Doing your planning in advance may make it sound as if cooking a Christmas dinner is an army field operation but it really helps. Take that from someone who only discovered it after she’d spent too many Christmases too stressed to enjoy dinner!
Ideally try and grab a quiet moment a day or two before the big day to sit down and write out the timetable. Decide what time you want to eat Christmas dinner and work backwards from there. Lots of people will overcook the turkey simply because they’re not used to cooking such a large bird and they’re anxious about the dangers of under-cooking, but there’s nothing worse than a dry, tasteless bird, especially when you have to eat the leftovers for several days! If you follow recipe instructions carefully, there shouldn’t be a problem.
The TurkeyCheck the weight of the turkey and calculate the cooking time. A 10lb turkey will need to cook for about 3 hours; add an extra 30 minutes for every 2 lbs above that. Allow 30 – 45 minutes at the end of cooking for the turkey to rest.
So if you have a 12 lb turkey and you want to eat dinner at 1.30 pm, you will need to put the turkey in the oven at 9.30 (or a little earlier for extra resting time). Remember to give the oven time to pre-heat to 200 degrees C, gas mark 6, before putting the bird in.
Place the turkey in a large roasting tin, season with freshly ground salt and pepper, and brush all over with melted butter. Cook for 30 minutes and then baste. Cover and completely enclose with foil and return to the oven. Lower the temperature to 180 degrees C, gas mark 4 and continue to cook for the required time, remembering to baste every so often.
The turkey is cooked when the juices run clear. If you’re not sure, give a little tug on the leg: it will give easily if cooked. Remove the turkey from the oven, place on a serving dish and cover completely with foil to retain its heat.
The VegetablesPrepare the vegetables the night before and leave in iced water. After you’ve put the bird in the oven you can pre-cook carrots, Brussels sprouts, broccoli or green beans. As soon as they’re just tender, dunk in iced water and placed in microwave dishes with butter and seasoning, ready to be re-heated. Alternatively plunge into boiling water for about 1 minute before buttering, seasoning and serving.
For perfect roasties, peel and boil potatoes for 10 minutes. Drain well and shake in the saucepan so the edges of the potatoes get slightly smashed. About 30 minutes before the turkey is cooked, pre-heat some olive oil or goose fat (said to make the very best roast potatoes!), or use some of the turkey fat, in a tin. When the fat is very hot, quickly add the potatoes and shake to coat. Place near the top of the oven.
For roast parsnips, peel and quarter and cook in the turkey tin after the turkey has been removed. They only take about 20 – 30 minutes to cook.
The StuffingFor a very simple stuffing, combine 2 lbs sausage meat with 2 onions, peeled and finely chopped. To this you can add, sage, some chopped apple, chopped roast chestnuts, breadcrumbs, celery or cranberries. Use some stuffing to fill the neck cavity. Roll the remainder in foil and cook separately in the oven.
The SaucesPrepare cranberry sauce in advance. Make bread sauce while the turkey is cooking. Peel a medium onion and stick 2 cloves into it. Pour about three-quarters pint milk into a saucepan. Add the onion and a bay leaf. Bring to the boil, remove from the heat and leave, covered for at least 10 minutes so the milk takes on the flavour. Remove the onion and bay leaf and add 3 oz breadcrumbs and some freshly ground salt and pepper. Return to the heat and simmer very gently for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in ½ oz butter and 2 tablespoons single cream.
When the parsnips are cooked, drain most of the fat out of the roasting tin, leaving about 2 tablespoons. Sprinkle on 1 - 2 tablespoons flour and mix to a paste. Gradually add up to a pint of turkey stock (made from the giblets or a cube), and bring to the boil, stirring continuously until the gravy is smooth and glossy.