Okay, first things first. Christmas dinner is a subjective, personal experience. Its enjoyment – and ideas of ‘’perfection’ – are rooted in nostalgia, family and a whole load of subconscious things we don’t have time to address. This, then, is simply a rough guide to the necessities; those touches of flair and flourish that every great Christmas dinner needs. Everyone’s festive experience is different, and sure, sometimes we like to go wild and have a rib of beef or a goose. For tradition’s sake though, we’ve kept those urges in check here.
Of course, key to a great meal during the festive period is a well designed, thoughtfully composed menu, replete with trimmings and prepped in good time to avoid fluster and fuss. It’s cooked to perfection, presented with a certain panache, and given a frame by beautiful tableware setting the scene. So, with all that in mind, here is our IDEAL Christmas dinner.
Although there are a host of viable alternatives, a turkey is still the traditional choice and the centrepiece for most tables each Christmas. To create tender meat with a golden colour, you should first place the turkey on a wire rack over your sink and pour a kettle full of scalding hot water over the entire bird. This will tighten the skin and render away some of the excess fat. Pat dry the turkey and repeat the process a couple of times.
Stuff the turkey with your choice of stuffing, then cover the bird with generous amounts of melted butter, season with salt and pepper and then top with good quality streaky bacon. Wrap loosely in foil.
Cook the bird for 40 minutes on a high heat breast side down, then flip the turkey over and turn down the heat and cook for a further 2-3 hours, until the juices run clear, making sure to baste regularly. Once cooked, take off the foil and return to a hot oven until the skin has the desirable golden colour. Remember to let the turkey rest for up to an hour and a half – during this time you can get on with making the gravy and the veg.
A roast bird pairs well with a variety of delicious stuffings, so if you can’t decide on what sort of stuffing to have, make both; one in the bird and one served on the side. We love a sausage meat, onion and sage affair, but equally nice is spiced gingerbread for that festive feel. One key piece of advice; don’t phone this part of meal in. Give it the same care and attention as you do the bird, with proper seasoning and ingredients (no ready made, add water jobbies please!). The stuffing often turns out to be the most popular part of the meal, so be generous.
PIGS IN BLANKETS
Everyone loves these, especially the kids, and they’re great the day after, so don’t hold back. Try a mix of sausage wrapped in bacon and also prunes given the same treatment. If you’re feeling really adventurous – and we always are – then wrap an oyster in bacon for a saline hit.
Wash the starch off post peel. Take the boil to the very edge. Let them steam dry while heating up a generous amount of duck or goose fat and roast. Always allow for more time than you’d bargained for, as they always take longer than expected. Season well at every stage. Done.
These green vegetables are a firm favourite on most tables and at Christmas they are one of the supermarket’s most popular items. The key to great sprouts is to pick the small ones and avoid overcooking. There are some great accompaniments to sprouts, such as toasted almonds or crispy bacon lardons. Chestnuts and sage finished in goose fat is also a great way to jazz up the festive sprout. To cook, first bring some salted water to boiling point and cook the sprouts for around five minutes until they are tender to the touch.
When there’s so much roasting and fat going on, you need a fairly plain foil in veg form or you’re going to get overwhelmed. Cooking carrots in a ‘vichy’ style means they’re beautifully sweet and retain some bite. Heat water, honey and butter in a pan over the hob and cook the carrots in the mixture, on a low heat, for around an hour. Add thyme half way through the process.
For us, red cabbage occupies the same pole position as brussel sprouts on the Christmas table; centre stage and very much in demand. Recipes vary, but we like ours cooked with an apple, providing a sour and sharp element, cider vinegar, rich muscovado sugar to balance the vinegar and spices to give it warmth.
BREAD AND CRANBERRY SAUCE
Bread sauce is undoubtedly a divisive extra, but for us, it’s essential. We like ours heady with cloves and other spices. It wouldn’t be Christmas without it, right? When it comes to cranberry sauce, you can keep things simple with a shop bought sauce, but if you’re going to make your own, why not go all out with a port and cranberry sauce with juniper?
Make it properly and you’ll notice the difference. Enough said.
No Christmas would be complete without mince pies and if you are looking to give your guests a treat, warm, homemade ones are the best. There are some great ready-made mincemeat options available in the supermarket but it is quick and easy to prepare your own filling. You will need sultanas, raisins, dried figs, stem ginger, almonds, muscovado sugar, mixed spice, whisky, grated butter, lemon zest and a cooking apple. Simply mix the ingredients together in the quantities you desire and keep tasting until you get the flavour right. This can be made ahead of time and stored in a jar until the day, which will make your task much easier.
There are many simple pastry recipes available, but shop bought pastry is fine for creating quick pies on the day. Preheat your oven and roll the pastry out until it is around 3mm thick, cut out circular shapes and line your tin. Add your mincemeat until each is about 75% full and then place a pastry lid on top. Brush the tops with a beaten egg and bake for around 20 minutes until golden.
If you’re expecting a lot of guests, a panic about not having a large enough table is part and parcel of the hosting operation. However, even a trestle table can be made to look beautiful. All you need is a great tablecloth and some beautiful accessories. A striking centrepiece such as a festive wreath or candle arrangement can help set a festive scene.
No special meal is complete without beautiful tableware. If your cupboard is full of mismatched items, or perhaps you have fallen out of love with your current dinner set, Christmas is a great time to replace everything. The set will be brand new and help make your meal feel extra special. A Corelle dinner set will add a touch of class and the smash-resistant quality will ensure everything is protected.
A handmade place card can be a really neat, personal touch to your Christmas table. It can also help separate those feuding aunts with minimal fuss or place you next to the amusing uncle who always makes you laugh. Why not turn a cracker or bauble into a place card using matching ribbon? It’s quick and simple to do, and such a little touch goes a long way to making the whole event feel special.