How to cook: Christmas Dinner

Worried about cooking your Christmas roast? Never fear, The Skinny has assembled an amateur guide to help you create a dazzling feast with a minimum of stress

Feature by Tom Farrington & Rosamund West | 13 Dec 2010
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Plan to leave yourself two hours to relax before folk arrive for dinner. No matter your imagined efficiency, this will turn into about half an hour on the day. Most of the trimmings won’t suffer from being cooked the day before and reheated while the turkey rests, though potatoes do make the place smell good. Don’t do everything yourself either – get the scavengers to bring the later courses: decent cheeses (great with good honey, seriously), Christmas pudding and expensive ice cream.

Make some flavoured vodka by leaving crushed fruit (whatever’s on sale – cranberries work well), a few cloves, a cinnamon stick, a few spoons of sugar and some citrus zest in an airtight jar in the fridge for a couple of days, before adding to a bottle of vodka and steeping until Christmas. Strain out the bits before use. Fire those same flavourings into a large pot full of cider or wine, add the citrus juice, the spent fruit, and a few decent measures of whisky, warm it gently, and lo, a drink is mulled. Even the cheapest booze satisfies after a good, stern mulling.

Smoked salmon is often best served simply on fresh bread, with a heavy showering of lemon juice and black pepper, but for something less visibly ordinary, try chopping and mixing with chives, grated horseradish and cucumber, before dressing with plenty of extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice and serving on toast. Don’t overdo the starters – they’ll be happy with this and a similarly dressed salad of rocket and halved cherry tomatoes. 

Preheat the oven to maximum. Half a couple of onions, and throw them in a roasting pan along with a few unpeeled carrots and about ten unpeeled cloves of garlic. Lay the turkey on top. Chop fresh sage, mix with butter and squish this between the turkey’s skin and the breast, retaining some of the sage butter for basting. Season all over. As soon as you put the turkey in the oven, turn the temperature down to 180ºC, and roast for 40mins per kg, cooking the stuffing separately. Turkey’s a dry bird, so it’s best to baste whenever you re-booze. If you don’t drink, then that means about once every three quarters of an hour, and quickly, so the oven loses little heat. Once it’s done, transfer to the carving altar, cover with foil and rest for 30mins. Serve a haggis too, or boil and bake a small ham, studded with cloves and dusted first with mustard powder, then with icing sugar for its last fifteen minutes. If you’re vegetarian then a fine substitute for the main event is something you’ve made yourself.

Perfect roast tatties are a highly prized foodstuff, and the ability to conjure them up from just potato, oil and a little salt is as close as mere mortals can come to magic. You’ll need sunflower oil (half a tablespoon per tattie) and potatoes, as many as your guests require, peeled and chopped to taste. Don’t be tempted to go for a fancier oil or fat option, you’ll be wasting your money. Also avoid vegetable oil, as it tastes rubbish. Place your roasting tray in the oven (metal works best) and heat to 200ºC. Put your spuds in a pan and cover with boiling water. Bring to the boil, and leave to cook for 12 minutes. Meanwhile, gently heat the oil in a saucepan, being careful not to set it on fire. When the time’s up on the tatties, drain, then put back in the pan over the heat for thirty seconds, shaking continuously to fluff them up. Spread them evenly over the pre-heated roasting tray, and spoon the heated oil over one at a time so each is coated but not drenched. Season to aid crispiness, and shove them in the oven for approximately 50minutes, turning once or twice.

Incorporate finely chopped elements from the other dishes into your stuffing, like apples, nuts, and sage. Apricots are good too. Throw it all in a bowl and use breadcrumbs and an egg for binding, then wrap it all in bacon and cook at 190ºC until the bacon’s done (about 20mins).

Trimmings and sauces
After boiling and before roasting, carrots benefit from orange zest, honey and a little cumin. At the same time, try adding some cinnamon and apple pieces to your parsnips, and cover everything in butter. Jesus loves butter.

Make a simple cranberry sauce by boiling down cranberries, brown sugar and orange juice for about 5mins, and add a spoonful of this to your gravy.

There can never be too much gravy, and you can make it whilst the turkey’s resting. Sit the roasting pan on the hob (still containing the vegetables), and deglaze with a little cider or red wine, scraping up the good stuff with a spoon. Add hot chicken stock, sage, a bay leaf and the cranberry sauce. Boil rapidly in the roasting pan for five to ten minutes, mashing everything down until it hits the right consistency, then pour it through a sieve. If it’s still a little thin then whisk in an equal mixture of butter and flour (a roux). If it’s lumpy then sieve it again.