Thursday 23 January 2020

Rachel Allen's top tips for getting through the Christmas cooking unscathed

The big day is getting closer and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, especially if you are in charge of the dinner, so Rachel Allen has some top tips to help you get through the preparation and the cooking unscathed

Rachel's hair and make-up: Make-up by Rosin Derrane on behalf of Lancome, see Hair by Lynsey O'Leary, styling with L'Oreal Paris Elnett, see Assistant to Rachel: Jane Bolger
Rachel's hair and make-up: Make-up by Rosin Derrane on behalf of Lancome, see Hair by Lynsey O'Leary, styling with L'Oreal Paris Elnett, see Assistant to Rachel: Jane Bolger
Roasted sprouts, artichokes, cauliflower and beetroot
Rachel Allen with some sprouts, which she has included in a medley. Photo: Kip Carroll

We are now well and truly in the throes of all things Christmas. Everywhere you look is a reminder of the big day coming up, and what you will 'need' to make it all the more fabulous and sparkly. It can be very easy to feel a bit panicked about the whole thing, especially if you're the one in charge of the big meal. If you're feeling a bit stressed about the cooking, then my advice is to compile an order of work.

Sit down in the next day or two and write out the order in which everything should be prepared and cooked, and for how long, and at what temperature. This will be an incredibly helpful reference guide to keep next to you all the time while you're cooking - especially if you'll be partaking in a celebratory glass or two of festive fizz!

Don't forget, all the things that can be made in advance will be worth their weight in gold, frankincense and myrrh on the big day, such as the stuffing, the red cabbage, the bread sauce, the cranberry sauce, and even the prepping of the vegetables.

The timing of the turkey is all-important. As I suggest in the recipe below, weigh the turkey (including the stuffing) and calculate the cooking time. Allow an extra half-an-hour for the turkey to rest somewhere warm after it's cooked - this will give you time to make the gravy while the turkey gets more succulent and juicy. Just work backwards from the time that you want to be eating to calculate the time to put the turkey in the oven.

Please log in or register with for free access to this article.

Log In

Spiced beef, traditionally enjoyed at Christmas, is eaten all year round in Cork, and many of the butchers down here have their own delicious and unique recipes. Some people like to cook it in stout, or others use water. Feel free to replace the water with stout in the recipe below.

The glazed ham, right, is a favourite of mine, probably because the leftovers are just so good, and can be used in everything from pies to soups for days afterwards, but if you are cooking for a smaller crowd, cook a loin of bacon rather than a whole ham. Either way, make sure the meat has the rind and a good layer of fat on it so you get a lovely shiny glaze.

When it comes to the veggies, this year I've decided to do a roasted medley. The sprouts, the cauliflower, the beetroot and the Jerusalem artichokes (also below) will all cook at the same speed in the oven. You could also add parsnips, red onion wedges and cloves of garlic if you fancy.

And when it comes to the spuds, far right, there's only one type that works for me, and that is crunchy on the outside and fluffy on the inside, just like my granny used to make her roast potatoes.

Boil them for a few minutes before roasting them to get the outside crunch, and use the best fat that you can, such as duck fat, goose fat, beef dripping - or olive oil for vegetarians.

Happy Christmas.

Rachel recommends

Now is the time to get some prep done in advance.

You can prepare the sprouts and cauliflower the night before. Don't cover them in water, just cover them with a double layer of wet kitchen paper and pop them in the fridge. The artichokes will go brown if they are prepared in advance.

The red cabbage can be cooked a few days in advance and kept in the fridge. It also freezes very well.

The bread sauce can be made a day or two in advance and reheated to serve.

The cranberry sauce can be made a few days in advance and stored in the fridge. It can also be frozen.

Rachel's top tip

It's always a good idea to baste meat, such as the ham and turkey, while it's roasting, for extra moisture. Just open the door of the oven, pull the tray out slightly and use a large tablespoon to scoop up the juices and pour them over the top of the meat.

Granny's roast potatoes

Serves 4-6

You will need:

8 large potatoes, peeled and cut in half or in thirds

Duck fat or goose fat or beef dripping, or extra-virgin olive oil


2 teaspoons ground cumin seeds (optional)

2 teaspoons ground coriander seeds (optional)

1 Preheat the oven to 200°C, 400°F, Gas 6.

2 Drop the potatoes into boiling salted water and par-boil them for 10 minutes. Drain off the water and shake the potatoes in the dry saucepan with the lid on; this will make the edges of the potatoes a bit rough, and help to achieve a crisp crust.

3 Heat a few tablespoons of the duck fat, goose fat, beef dripping or extra-virgin olive oil, whichever you are using, in a roasting tray, and toss the potatoes in it, making sure they are well coated with the fat; add more of your chosen fat if they aren't. Sprinkle the potatoes with some salt and the ground cumin seeds, if you are using them, and the ground coriander seeds, if you are using them. Put the tin of potatoes in the preheated oven for 35-55 minutes, spooning the hot fat over them every now and then. Take them out when they're golden brown and crusty.

Note: If you are keeping the potatoes warm in the oven for any amount of time, don't cover them. If you do, they will go soggy.

Glazed ham

Serves 12-15

You will need:

1 x fresh or lightly smoked ham, approximately 5kg in weight, with the rind still on

30-40 whole cloves

450g demerara sugar

Freshly squeezed juice of 1 orange

1 Put the ham in a large pot, cover it with cold water and bring it slowly to the boil. If the meat is salty, a white froth will appear on the water. In this case, discard this water, then cover the ham with fresh cold water, and repeat the process.

2 Once the water comes up to the boil, turn the heat down slightly so that it's at a nice active simmer, and cook the ham until it is completely cooked. Allow approximately 20 minutes cooking time for every 450g of meat. When the ham is nearly cooked, preheat the oven to 250°C, 500°F, Gas 9.

3 To test to see if the meat is cooked, stick a metal skewer into the centre of the meat and pull it out. It the skewer comes out quite easily, then the meat is cooked. If not, continue cooking it for a bit longer and test again.

4 Once the ham is cooked, drain off any water and place the ham on a board. Allow it to cool for five minutes so that you can then peel off the rind using your hands, rather than using a knife, which doesn't work so well. Discard the rind.

5 Place the ham on a roasting tray and score the fat with a knife in a grid pattern to make squares or diamonds; the score lines should be roughly 2cm apart. Stick a clove into the centre of each square or diamond, pushing it right into the fat with your thumb.

6 In a bowl, blend the demerara sugar with enough orange juice to make a stiff, fairly dry paste. Be careful not to make it too liquid or it'll just run off the ham while it is cooking.

7 Spread the paste over the ham. Roast the ham in the preheated oven for 20-30 minutes, or until the top has caramelised and it's all a gorgeously deep golden brown, see photo, left. While it is glazing, baste it regularly (see my Top Tip, above left) with the syrup and juices that fall off naturally. It's really worth doing it four or five times. When the ham is roasted, remove it from the oven and allow it to rest for at least 20 minutes before carving it. You can also cook the ham in advance to eat cold. Once cooked, it will keep in the fridge, well wrapped, for up to seven days.

Roast Turkey with fresh herb stuffing

Serves 10-12

For the fresh herb stuffing, you will need:

175g butter

350g chopped onions

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

450g soft white breadcrumbs (can be gluten-free)

4 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs (such as a mixture of parsley, thyme, chives, marjoram, lemon balm)

You will need:

A whole turkey, approximately 5kg in weight

75g soft butter for spreading over the turkey

For the gravy, you will need:

750ml turkey stock or chicken stock

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons flour

1 Preheat the oven to 180°C, 350°F, Gas 4. First, make the fresh herb stuffing. Put the 175g of butter in a saucepan and allow it to melt. Tip in the chopped onions, and season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Cover with a lid, then cook the onions gently until they are soft - this will take about 10-15 minutes.

2 Stir in the soft white breadcrumbs and the chopped fresh herbs, and season again to taste with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Allow the stuffing to cool.

3 While the stuffing is cooling, wash and dry the cavity of the bird. Remove the wishbone from the neck end of the turkey, for ease of carving later.

4 Season the cavity with some with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Place most of the cooled stuffing into the cavity at the leg end of the turkey, ensuring that it's not packed completely full (you need to allow a bit of space for the heat to get in under the breastbone - you should be able to push the handle of a wooden spoon in under the breast). Put the remainder of the stuffing into the crop at the neck end.

5 Weigh the turkey and calculate the cooking time. Allow 15 minutes per 450g, and 15 minutes on top of the total cooking time.

6 Place the turkey on a large roasting tray, spread the 75g of soft butter over the breast and the legs, and season the whole turkey with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Now put the stuffed prepared bird into the preheated oven for the calculated amount of time, depending on the weight. The turkey is cooked when the juices run clear. I like to stick a small knife into the thigh of the turkey and hold a spoon under it to catch the juices to check that they're not pink. If they're still pink, the bird needs longer in the oven, but if you've calculated the cooking time, then the bird should be cooked.

7 Remove the turkey to a carving dish, keep it warm and allow it to rest while you make the gravy from the juices in the tray.

8 To make the gravy, spoon or pour off the surplus fat from the roasting tray. Pour the turkey stock or the chicken stock, whichever you're using, into the degreased juices in the tray (see my Gravy Tip, above) and place the tray on the hob. Use a whisk to mix the juices - this will help to dissolve the lovely golden nuggets of flavour stuck to the bottom of the tray.

9 In a small saucepan, melt the butter and add in the flour. Cook over a medium heat for one minute. This is your roux. Now pour the gravy from the roasting tray, through a sieve, into a saucepan. Bring it up to the boil, and season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, if necessary. While it's boiling, gradually add in the roux, using a whisk, until you're happy with the consistency. You might not need all the roux; it'll keep in the fridge for another time. Pour the gravy into a hot gravy boat. Carve the turkey and serve with the stuffing and the hot gravy.

Bread sauce

Serves 8

You will need:

600ml milk

100g soft white breadcrumbs

2 onions, peeled and studded with six cloves each

50g butter

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

75ml cream

½ teaspoon grated nutmeg

1 Put the milk, the white breadcrumbs, the clove-studded onions, and the butter in a small, deep pot, and season them with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Place the saucepan on a medium heat to bring to the boil, then immediately turn the heat down very low. Cover the pot and cook the sauce for 30 minutes. Alternatively, cook it in an oven preheated to 180°C, 350°F, Gas 4.

2 Once the bread sauce is cooked, remove the clove-studded onions, and stir in the cream and the grated nutmeg. Taste for seasoning, adding more sea salt and freshly ground black pepper if necessary. Serve hot.

Red cabbage

Serves 8

You will need:

450g red cabbage

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

120ml water

½ teaspoon salt

50g caster sugar

450g cooking apples

1 Remove any damaged outer leaves from the cabbage. Examine it and clean it if necessary. Cut the cabbage into quarters, and remove the core. Slice the cabbage finely across the grain.

2 Put the white wine vinegar, the water, the salt and the caster sugar into a saucepan. Add the sliced cabbage and bring it to the boil.

3 Meanwhile, peel and core the cooking apples and cut them into quarters (no smaller). Put them into the saucepan, on top of the cabbage; there's no need to stir. Cover the saucepan and continue to gently cook the cabbage and the apples until they are tender - this will take about 40-50 minutes.

4 Taste for seasoning, and add more salt or sugar if necessary. Serve in a warm serving dish.

Photography by Kip Carroll

Sunday Indo Life Magazine

Editors Choice

Also in Life