Talking turkey: Christmas dinner made easy
Preparing for the big Christmas Day meal can be stressful but it needn't knock the stuffing out of you, writes Katy McGuinness
Cooking your first turkey is a daunting prospect, and getting Christmas dinner on the table for a gang is an organisational challenge that will cause even the most experienced of Irish mammies a touch of stress. The good news, though, is that apart from the timing, there's nothing very complicated about any of the cooking involved, and that with careful planning even a beginner cook will be able to manage the task. So a written timetable that works backwards from when you plan to serve the meal, even though it might sound OTT, is essential.
The key is to keep things simple. When it comes to Christmas dinner, less is more. There is no need to have half a dozen different vegetable dishes, just pick the two or three that you like best, and that will work with the oven and hob space that you have available.
Prepare ahead as much as possible, and accept whatever help is offered. That means getting everyone to help with the peeling and chopping (picking the leaves off the thyme is one of the most tedious kitchen jobs ever), and if someone offers to bring the ham, or the pudding, or make the cranberry sauce, say 'yes' immediately.
Likewise, there's no shame in buying in some of the meal and absolutely no need to pile the stress on by insisting on making everything from scratch. The most important thing about Christmas dinner is that you are sharing it with friends and family, and the food has to be secondary to the joy of that.
Here are recipes for roast turkey with a very simple but utterly delicious herb stuffing, perfect crunchy roast potatoes, and Brussels sprouts with bacon. Those are my favourite parts of the meal - along with Delia Smith's bread sauce (you'll find the recipe online) and, of course, my mother-in- law's Christmas pudding.
I've included salt and pepper on the shopping list this time, because I always run out of those at Christmas. Do pick up a digital meat thermometer too. Most of the supermarkets have them and they are incredibly handy all year round (not just at Christmas) and will save you from the awful experience of undercooked turkey, which is not the kind of Christmas memory that you want to create.
Roast Turkey And Simple Herb Stuffing
Serves 8-10 with leftovers for sandwiches
5 medium onions, finely chopped
160g fresh flat leaf parsley, leaves finely chopped
50g fresh thyme, leaves picked and finely chopped
3 unwaxed lemons, juice and zest
First make the stuffing - you can do this the day ahead and keep it, covered, in the fridge overnight.
Melt the butter over a gentle heat, add the onions and cook very slowly with the lid on until soft. Remove from the heat and add the breadcrumbs, chopped herbs, lemon juice and zest.
Stir to combine. Season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Taste and add more lemon juice or seasoning if you like.
1 whole turkey 12-14lb/5.4-6.5kg
500g streaky bacon (smoked or unsmoked, your choice)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 220OC/Fan 200OC. Stuff the bird at both ends, but don't pack the stuffing too tightly. Tuck the flaps of skin under and secure with cocktail sticks if you have them to hand.
In a large roasting tray, tear large sheets of tin foil at least three times the width/length of the tray and position them one going width-ways and the other lengthways. Melt the butter in a saucepan over a gentle heat and brush all over the bird. Then season the bird with plenty of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Put the bird in the roasting tray and cover the breast and legs with strips of streaky bacon. Pull the foil together to form a tent over the bird and make sure there are no gaps.
Place the bird in the pre-heated oven and cook for 40 minutes, then reduce the heat to 170OC/Fan 150OC. Cook for another three to three-and-a-half hours, then increase the heat to 200OC /Fan 180OC, remove the foil, push the streaky bacon off the breast and tuck it under the bird, and cook until brown, basting frequently.
The internal temperature should be 75-80OC and the juices should run clear and not pink when a skewer is inserted into the thickest part of the leg. Remove the bird from the oven, cover with foil and leave to rest in a warm place for about half an hour before removing the stuffing and carving the bird ready to serve.
While the bird is resting, pour the juices from the pan into a clear jug and allow the fat to rise to the top. Skim off as much of the fat as you can.
Pour some boiling water from the kettle over the tin foil still in the roasting tin to dislodge any sticky bits, remove and discard the foil and place the roasting tin over a medium heat on the hob. Add the de-fatted juices and a glass of either red or white wine, and simmer, stirring for about five minutes until reduced. Strain and serve in a gravy boat.
Crunchy Roast Potatoes
2 - 2.5kg potatoes
Olive oil, duck fat, goose fat, or beef dripping
Fine sea salt
Peel the potatoes and cut into roughly equal pieces. Par-boil the potatoes in a large pan of salted water for about 7 minutes, or until there starts to be a little 'give' on the surface when scraped with the tines of a fork.
Drain and return to the saucepan, put the lid on and give it a good shake to roughen the potatoes' surfaces a little.
Put a few tablespoons of olive oil, fat or dripping into a roasting tin and place in the oven for about ten minutes with the turkey, about 45 minutes before it is due to come out.
Add the potatoes to the tin, turning to ensure that they are basted in the fat. Sprinkle with fine sea salt.
Cook for about an hour until crisp and golden, turning up the heat when the turkey comes out of the oven if you think they need it.
Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta and Shallots
1 kg Brussels sprouts, trimmed
4 shallots, finely chopped
25g thyme, leaves picked
freshly ground pepper
2 teaspoons lemon juice (optional)
Cut the sprouts into halves if small, and quarters if large. Par-boil in a large pan of salted boiling water for 3-4 minutes until just tender.
Drain and refresh in cold water if not using immediately. Cook the pancetta in a heavy pan over medium heat until brown and remove with a slotted spoon.
Add the chopped shallots to the fat in the pan and cook until soft, then add the sprouts and cook until tender and warmed through. Stir in the thyme leaves and pancetta, season with black pepper and add a little sea salt and lemon juice if you like.