We’ve all been seen it before, in some cases since the age of about five: that standard Christmas dinner with the relatives. Slightly dry turkey? Check. Disarmingly soggy sprouts? Check. Throw in some burnt Christmas pudding, a glass of port and a few repeats and it’s a wrap. Thank goodness.
The real pity with Christmas dinner is that it could so often be so much more. The meat can be succulent; the vegetables can be savoured rather than tackled like a social obligation; a range of little twists can spice things up to your own tastes and keep your guests interested.
Our own team at Park House are well versed in keeping things fresh each Christmas (our menu here has some fresh ideas along with traditional favourites), but what can you do at home to make the experience a little tastier not to mention smoother? Here are our top cooking tips for Christmas:
1. A Juicy Roast: The thing that so often kills Christmas dinner is that the slow process of roasting your turkey or chicken leaves the meat dry and tasteless. How is this situation avoided? Defrosting is the first essential: bearing in mind that a bird of 10lbs could take 48 hours to fully defrost, you’ll want to be well ahead on this score.
Next, ample fat will help prevent the meat from drying out during cooking: rubbing generously with butter will help here. Covering in bacon is another favourite method, but the salt can actually cause the meat to dry. A loose tent of foil covering the bird but with just a little space will help keep the meat succulent, which can be opened out at the top for the final 40 minutes to make the skin crispy. If you must use that bacon, adding late is best!
When it comes to cooking, time is obviously of the essence. Overcooked means dry, undercooked could be dicey. The BBC food site has a useful tool to gauge how long your chosen joint of meat will take: BBC Roast Timing Calculator
2. Edible Sprouts: Contrary to the fears of children across the nation, sprouts can be perfectly tasty. This is provided they aren’t boiled to a soggy, sorry state. Hardly surprising they get a bad press, because boiling is the quickest way to destroy the texture and release an unholy smell into the house.
Why not try sautéing your sprouts instead this year? With butter or oil in a saucepan, they are less likely to be overcooked and will caramelise slightly without stinking the house out. Even more delicious is to add some roast chestnuts in the pan as you do so, which is a great way to bribe reluctant family members to take a spoonful or two. Much better!
3. Naturally Delicious Additives: Similar to sprouts, Christmas vegetables are not done justice by being boiled or steamed to death. Sautéing or baking is much tastier and you can also spice things up a little with a few natural additives.
Lemon juice is a great additive to carrots in a sauce pan, but you could also try a little orange juice and even a touch of cinnamon. Honey adds a lovely extra sweetness to parsnips. Shredded bacon is a time honoured way to spice up cabbage and other vegetables, but you could also try little cuts of smoked ham or even chorizo to pep things up. Side dishes such as broccoli or cauliflower can be transformed with a little grated cheese such as Parmesan or Gruyere on the top.
4. Plan Well and Delegate: The biggest stress of all is missing a key ingredient on Christmas day, hence it pays to be really well organised. You could even sort two lists: one set of ingredients that can be bought well in advance (drinks, Christmas pudding etc) and another list of things that must be fresher (cream, vegetables etc).
Don’t forget to enlist some help on the big day too. You can call in a favour or two from the kids for those big gifts- and so much the better if you can inject a bit of responsibility and fun into the bargain for kids who have been hanging around all day. You might even get the shock that some family members enjoy helping out!
5. Enjoy the Aftermath: With a little thought, the days after Christmas needn’t be all drudgery at the dinner table either. Add a touch of inspiration and it needn’t be turkey sandwiches all the way: a good hot curry works with any meat and is an ideal way to blow away the doldrums. Fajitas are another great dish to banish any comments along the lines of “not more turkey!” Bubble and squeak is an underrated and versatile dish to use up all manner of leftover vegetables.
If it all seems like too much however, you could always plan a festive escape or New Year’s break and let us take care of everything. For seasonal escapes and special offers including New Year’s Eve celebrations, see our selection of current offers.