Got your presents sorted? Decorations just about holding up? That’s the easy bit done then – now you need to get lunch right. This meal could make or break Christmas, for EVERYONE. Nail it and you can spend the rest of the day in an air of smug contentment; get it wrong and you will spend the rest of the year being reminded of your failings as a cook and a parent. But no pressure.
Fear ye not, we are here to ensure your lunch is a belter with this Christmas dinner survival guide. There’s no fancy equipment or Heston-style creativity needed. Just think of Nigella’s Christmas crackers and follow these wise words.
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A successful Christmas lunch all comes down to forward planning. Get your shopping done in good time and be sure to have everything you need before the day arrives. Realising you are missing a key ingredient on the day is fatal. Make a list, and check it twice. Have all the right pans, trays, serving dishes and oven space ready, too.
This isn’t a military mission, sadly, but know what you are doing and when you’re doing it. Christmas lunch is just a big roast, and like any roast it is all about timing. Getting your cooking times and temperatures spot on will keep everything running smoothly.
Planning doesn’t take long, but it will pay off on the day.
Keep it simple
There is temptation to pull out all the stops and cook a medieval banquet – but don’t give in. Get the staples covered and you’re laughing. You’ve got your turkey, goose, or nut roast centrepiece (maybe ask yourself some serious questions if it’s the latter) with stuffing and pigs in blankets. They’re a given, as are roast potatoes. Keep vegetables to a minimum but sprouts and red cabbage should make an appearance and maybe one other. Leeks with bacon is good. But that is it.
Steer well clear of your dauphinoise and parsnips, and anyone who has Yorkshire puddings on their table at Christmas needs their head examining. Unless you have a commercial kitchen you won’t have the oven space or the dishes to cook everything in. Simplicity is beautiful.
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Start things chilled
A cold starter is your best friend that allows you to focus on the main event. The last thing you want to be doing is pan-frying scallops – cold starters only require assembly and a little chopping. They are also the ideal way to kick things off. By the time lunch is served everyone will already be filling up on Twiglets and Mini Cheddars.
A burst of fresh and zesty flavours will wash away those sickly notes, so give a spot of smoked salmon with avocado and lemon a shot. Keeping it light will also mean that people have more room for the main. You don’t want to fill everyone before you’ve started carving. Trust me, start the meal chilled and you will be cool as a cucumber throughout.
Don’t be a hero
There may be glory to be had in making every single element of the meal yourself but there is nothing wrong with going pre-made. Supermarkets have invested thousands in bread sauce, cranberry sauce and custard – all of which are acceptable to buy ready-made. Get your pigs in blankets from the butcher, and ask for some quality sausage meat stuffing and stock while you’re at it. Even going pre-made with your dessert is acceptable. Just.
You must put the effort in elsewhere though. Home-made gravy is non-negotiable. It is not difficult – just get the meat pan on the hob, throw in a drop of wine or port to deglaze and thicken with a bit of flour. Roast potatoes must be made by the chef, as should all other veg.
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Take your time
Whether you are a seasoned culinary veteran or you’re popping your Christmas cherry, it always pays to relax. Pour yourself a drink and take a moment – you’ve planned it all to the letter. Get the bird in early, red cabbage can go on first thing and bubble away for hours. Par-boiling the spuds is another early-morning task. Not rushing and getting things done early will ensure your survival.
Nothing needs to go in the oven with the bird. Once removed and covered with foil and a tea towel, she can rest and retain her temperature for a good 30-40 minutes – plenty of time for potatoes and pigs in blankets to cook.
So glug a little more wine, tidy up and nab a few chocolates from the living room. Life is good.
Master the perfect roast potatoes
I have a sure-fire way to make perfect roasters every time. They need to be crisp on the outside and lovely and fluffy inside. Peel and chop them first thing, keeping them a good size. Smaller ones I keep whole and the larger I cut in half or no more than thirds. Par boil them in salted water – you want the edges to be softened but the potatoes to be firm. This should take about 10 minutes. Drain them and spread evenly on a wire rack or tray to cool until needed.
Once the bird is in the oven, cover the base of a separate baking tray with a generous amount of oil or goose fat. Place this into the oven to heat up while the bird is cooking. Hot fat is key. Once the bird is resting, crank up the oven to 200C and add the potatoes to the fat-drenched tray. Roll them around so they are coated and then roast for up to 30 minutes turning once. You will have some stonking roasters every time.
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Keep dessert light
Christmas pudding is an abomination. There, I’ve said it. By the time you get to dessert the last thing you want to eat is a heavy, rich sponge laden with dried fruit and booze. So score some serious Christmas points by choosing a dessert that is light and refreshing. Fruit-based puds can still be festive. A light mousse, posset or cakes such as a delice are bang-on for Christmas day. You can also make these a day or two ahead. It’s win-win.
Accept Christmas Day is rarely perfect
Even the most perfect Christmas memory from your childhood is false. I will put money on there being plenty of things that didn’t go to plan. And that is OK. Take a moment to reflect on what is important. Provided you get a passable meal on the table that doesn’t result in a complete meltdown, everyone will appreciate the effort that you have put in and the magic of Christmas will do the rest. Having everyone around the table together and happy that is the main thing.
If it doesn’t quite go to plan, another bonus of being the chef is that you can sneak in a few extra drinks in the kitchen while bogling to Boney M. By the time you get the meal on the table you will be full of enough Christmas cheer to laugh off any mishaps.
Now get to it…