Friday 18 October 2019

Ready, steady, cook! Here's your Christmas dinner countdown

It's the biggest meal of the year - but can it be done stress-free? Chrissie Russell gets the low down from celebrity chef Kevin Dundon on how not to get your giblets in a twist

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire: Kevin Dundon says preparing the bulk of your Christmas meal the night before will give the best results
Chestnuts roasting on an open fire: Kevin Dundon says preparing the bulk of your Christmas meal the night before will give the best results
Crispy: Kevin recommends glazing your ham with marmalade before putting it in the oven

It should be the perfect festive feast but for many of us Christmas dinner comes served with a side of stress.Hours of prep, fretting over timings only to end up with rock-hard sprouts and a half-baked bird.

But no more! Thanks to super chef Kevin Dundon, we've rustled up these fool-proof gastro-guidelines to make sure tomorrow's meal is a merry one.

Christmas Eve

5pm: Peel potatoes and prepare your vegetables. "Cut your potatoes (I recommend using roosters for roasties) to the size you like and put into salted cold water," says Kevin.

"Salt is very important because it takes out the moisture from the inside of the potato, important for the fluffiness of the roastie."

Mash can also be made now and then warmed up the next day.

"Before serving, put half a cup of milk and cream in the bottom of a pot and bring up to the boil, then add your mash to that and keep stirring. That will heat them up and they work out perfect - it's how we do it in restaurants," recommends Kevin.

Chop carrots, parsnips and prepare Brussels sprouts by removing outer layers and crossing with a knife. They can either be covered with water or with a spotlessly clean, damp kitchen towel and kept in a cool place. If it's going to make your life easier then use frozen veg, but for all the time it takes to peel and cut a carrot, Kevin reckons it's best to use fresh.

5.30pm: A good time to prepare starters if you're having one. Kevin prefers to have his Christmas dinner without a starter. He explains: "After we get back from Mass, I make eggnog and we drink that opening presents round the tree. Then for lunch I would just do cold cuts, smoked salmon and cheese and bits of salads that we'd just nibble and pick at.

"It means when we sit down to dinner (usually around 4pm) we just go straight into the main course - we find then we actually eat the dessert!"

But for a quick, no-fuss starter, he recommends buckwheat pancakes, with a layer of cream cheese and chive spread and salmon rolled. Wrap the roll in clingfilm then slice into pinwheels and serve with salad the following day (or as a canapé for visitors on Christmas morning).

6pm: Cook your ham. Place it in a large saucepan, cover with water and herbs, bring to the boil and then reduce the heat to minimum and cook for a further 20 minutes per pound. Once cooked, remove from the cooking liquor, take off the outer rind (leaving an even layer of fat) score the fat in a criss-cross pattern and stud with cloves. When it's cooled, cover and place in the fridge.

6.45pm: Prepare stuffing (you can do this when the ham's cooking). Blitz slightly stale bread in a food processor for breadcrumbs, then mix with your favourite stuffing ingredients.

"Our traditional stuffing is a sage and onion one," says Kevin. "I use that in the carcass but I also like to make a more alternative one, using sausage meat, breadcrumbs, dried apricots, pine nuts, walnuts and cranberries for the neck of the turkey".

Don't stuff the bird just yet - place stuffing in fridge for tomorrow.

7.30pm: Bread sauce, gravy and cranberry sauces can all be prepared now then warmed tomorrow.

"For the bread sauce, put milk in a pot, cut an onion in half and stud with cloves.

"Put it in the milk to infuse, bring to simmer, then turn off and let it sit for 5 minutes.

Then take out the onion and add bread crumbs and just stir. It goes into a really thick sauce and its delicious."

8pm: "I like to prepare my table settings," says Kevin. "It saves a lot of searching, looking for knives, forks, napkins and glasses on Christmas Day."

8.30pm: Prepare trifle. "Trifles are like stews, they really benefit from being made before and taste even better the second day." Mulled wine whipped up now will also improve in flavour overnight (and fill the house with a wonderful Christmas spice smell).

Christmas Day

8.30am: Remove the turkey from the fridge and preheat the oven.

8.35am: Get your white wines, beers and champagnes into a cold space. Outside in a bucket of ice if fridge space is getting tight.

8.45am: Stuff the bird. "I cook the stuffing in the turkey," says Kevin. "I take parchment paper, cut it into a square and pinch the centre to make a pocket then fist that into the centre of the carcass. It forms a pocket within the bird which I fill with sage and onion stuffing.

"When cooked you can then pull the whole bag out. You still get the flavour going through the meat, which is important, but you don't have to get a spoon and try to scoop out stuffing leaving half of it behind."

9am: This will depend on the weight of your turkey. You should allow 20 mins per pound and if you've stuffed it you need to include that in the weight. A 14lb turkey will take about 4.5 hours. You need to also allow rest time.

1.30pm: Remove turkey from the oven, cover with foil and clean towels. "This keeps all the juices in and it'll stay warm for an hour, just don't go poking at it!"

1.35pm: Glaze your ham with marmalade and put it in the oven. Kevin says: "I don't recommend serving a hot ham. Cooking it this way means the outside is glazed and crispy and warm then cold inside."

Roasted veg, like carrots and parsnips, seasoned, tossed in oil and sprinkled with rosemary can also go in the oven now for 40-50 mins until they start to catch and caramelise.

1.40pm: Bring the potatoes for your roasties to the boil and simmer for seven minutes. Strain off the water and put back on the heat to get all the moisture out (for about 30 seconds). Give the pan a really good shake (to make them fluffy). Put into a roasting tin with some of the turkey fat or duck or goose fat and put into the oven.

1.45pm: If you're having a starter, now's a good time to sit down and enjoy it.

2.15pm: Clear starter plates and put on vegetables (carrots and parsnips can go on the hob now if not roasting and cooked over a moderate heat in butter, honey and stock for about 12 minutes then tossed in toasted sesame seeds).

Cook Brussels sprouts in boiling salted water for seven minutes then put them in a bowl and add butter.

"If you heat the butter in the pan you get the salt and oil and cream separating," explains Kevin.

"Adding the butter to the sprouts gives a creaminess. Another brilliant thing is to serve them with crushed anchovies and chillis - the taste is incredible."

Heat up the mash as described above. Heat gravy and bread sauce through.

2.25pm: Heat plates. Carve turkey and ham.

2.30pm: Serve and enjoy!

Irish Independent

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