Thursday 22 March 2018

Recipes: Brenda Costigan says plan your strategy, marshal the troops and prepare as many dishes in advance as possible

Plan your strategy, marshal the troops and prepare as many dishes in advance as possible, says Brenda Costigan, and Christmas Day will be full of happy memories for the chef too


Brenda Costigan

Christmas traditions are comforting: mothers baking festive fare, Christmas trees and carol singers, the aroma of the roasting turkey wafting through the house.

Habits may change over the years, but the Christmas dinner still has pride of place. Despite all the technology, the production of this meal is always a challenge, if for no other reason than the cook feels that he or she should be able to enjoy Christmas Day too. So, like any good manager, a list should be made of the menu and the tasks involved -- then follow the list! Do as much as possible in advance and delegate. With two weeks yet to go to get the work done, this should be a doddle.

Start at the beginning by planning and, if possible, preparing the starter for the main meal. The preparation of the vegetables can be staggered over the week.



This tasty starter can be made a day or two in advance. Serve cold. Serves 6-8.

You will need:

25g (1oz) butter

4 tablespoons water

300g (11oz) leeks, finely chopped

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

700g (1 1/2lb) fresh raw salmon, all skin and bones removed

200g (7oz) smoked salmon, skinned

2 small eggs

100ml (almost 4fl oz) cream

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped

1 tablespoon fresh chives, chopped

To serve, you will need:

3-4 tablespoons mayonnaise

1 tablespoon tomato relish or lemon juice (optional)

Thin slices of baguette, toasted

A salad of mixed baby leaves

Vinaigrette dressing

Line a 23cm x 13cm (9in x 5in) loaf tin with baking parchment. Preheat the oven to 170 C, 325 F, Gas 3.

Put the butter and water in a pan and fry the finely chopped leeks. Season them with some salt and freshly ground black pepper, and cover the pan loosely with a lid. When the leeks are soft, drain them in a sieve and leave them to one side. Roughly chop 200g (7oz) of the fresh raw salmon and dice the remainder into 1cm (?in) cubes. Coarsely chop the smoked salmon. Put the roughly chopped fresh salmon into a food processor with the eggs and the cream and buzz until fairly smooth. Put into a bowl. Add the diced fresh raw salmon and the chopped smoked salmon to the bowl. Mix, and then add some salt and freshly ground black pepper, the chopped fresh parsley, the chopped fresh chives and the fried leeks. Pour into the prepared loaf tin, press the mixture firmly down, and cover it loosely with tinfoil. Place the loaf tin in a roasting tin and pour in boiling water until it comes about a quarter way up the sides of the roasting tin. Cook in the oven for about 40-50 minutes until the terrine is nicely set and the top is slightly golden. If necessary, remove the tinfoil near the end of the cooking time to brown the terrine. Remove it from the oven, stand the loaf tin on a wire tray and leave it to cool, then chill in the fridge overnight.

Turn the terrine out gently on to a serving plate and slice it with a sharp knife. Mix the mayonnaise with the tomato relish or lemon juice, whichever you are using, if you are using them, and spoon a little on each serving. Decorate with thin circles of toasted baguette and a mini salad dressed with vinaigrette.

Roast Potatoes

These can be prepared one or two days in advance or they can be frozen for three weeks. Potatoes often turn black when they're prepared in advance, but this doesn't tend to happen with organic potatoes. The potatoes are peeled, then steamed until they are just tender. If you're boiling the potatoes, leave them in their skins and peel them when they're just cooked. As soon as the potatoes are done, lift them out, peel them if necessary, and lay them on a tray, with gaps between each one to allow them to cool quickly and prevent further cooking. Dip each potato completely into melted butter and place them in rows on a baking tin. Season with some salt and freshly ground black pepper. When they have cooled, cover them with tinfoil and store in a cool place. On Christmas Day, allow the potatoes to reach room temperature, remove the cover and pop them on a tin and into the hot oven, once the turkey is out. Roast for about 30-40 minutes until golden. If you like, you can baste the potatoes with a little of the delicious fat from the turkey and give them a blast of heat under the grill if they are browning too slowly.


Cook Brussels sprouts shortly before serving them. Serves 4.

You will need:

450g (1lb) Brussels sprouts

1 tablespoon sunflower oil

1 tablespoon butter

3-4 back rashers, chopped

25g (1oz) hazelnuts, roughly chopped

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

The preparation of the raw sprouts can be done the day before. Peel off any coarse outer leaves and trim the base. Store the washed, prepared sprouts in a plastic bag in the fridge. Then, just before serving, cook them in boiling salted water until they are tender -- about 5-8 minutes -- and drain. Rinse out the saucepan, add the sunflower oil and the butter, then fry the chopped rashers until golden. Add the roughly chopped hazelnuts and, when they are lightly browned, add the drained sprouts, with an extra knob of butter if you like. Season with some salt and freshly ground black pepper. Serve.


This can be made a few days in advance and kept in the fridge.

You will need:

225g (8oz) fresh cranberries

110ml (4fl oz) water

50-75g (2-3oz) caster sugar

1-2 tablespoons redcurrant jelly

Put the cranberries and the water in a heavy-based, non-stick saucepan and bring to the boil. Cover the saucepan loosely and simmer until all the berries pop and soften. If the mixture is very watery, take the lid off and boil, stirring occasionally; doing so will evaporate the excess liquid. Add the caster sugar, stirring well to dissolve it, and then add the redcurrant jelly. Serve cold.


Take the turkey out of the fridge at least an hour before you put it in the oven. Put the stuffing in the neck end, flap the skin around and tuck it underneath. Hold in position with wooden cocktail sticks. Put the following into the body cavity: an onion, a clove or two of garlic, half a lemon, a few sprigs of thyme and parsley and a few bay leaves.

After handling raw turkey, carefully wash your hands and any equipment used. There are umpteen different ways to prepare the turkey for roasting, but keeping the flesh moist is the challenge. My preference is to cook the turkey in a closed 'tent' made with two very long pieces of tinfoil arranged in a very large cross. Place the roasting tin under the centre of the cross and then sit the turkey on top of the tinfoil. Draw up the four sides in a box-like shape around the turkey, making a double fold at each corner to close. Then close the top of the box by drawing the edges together and closing in a double fold. The tent must be loose-fitting to allow steam to circulate easily inside. There should be no need to open the tinfoil tent until towards the end of the cooking time, to allow the skin to brown. If you need reassurance and wish to take a peek halfway through the cooking, the top of the tent can be opened -- take care not to be scalded by the hot steam -- and close it as quickly as you can. After opening the tinfoil tent to allow the final browning, pour off all the delicious juices from around the turkey.

Approximate cooking times:

Start roasting in a very hot oven -- 220 C, 425 F, Gas 7 -- for about 30 minutes, or an hour for a large bird. Then reduce the heat to moderate -- 170 C, 325 F, Gas 3. Ovens do vary, so these times may not be exact. The times below include the initial thirty-minute period at a high temperature.

Cooking times: 4-6kg (10-14lb) 3?-4 hours; 6-8kg (14-18lb) 4-4? hours; 8-9kg (18-20lb) 5 hours.

To check if the turkey is cooked, use a paper towel and squeeze the flesh on the thighs -- it should be soft; or stick a skewer into the thickest part of the flesh, holding a spoon to catch the escaping juices. If the bird is cooked, they will be golden, and pink if it is underdone.


Because this tasty mixture is inserted under the skin of the turkey breast, it stays in position and flavours the flesh.

You will need:

110g (4oz) softened butter

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

2-3 garlic cloves, crushed

1 tablespoon parsley, finely chopped

1 tablespoon thyme, finely chopped

1 tablespoon chives, finely chopped

Mix the softened butter, the salt and freshly ground black pepper, the crushed garlic cloves, and the finely chopped parsley, thyme and chives together to make a soft paste.

Insert your hand under the skin at the neck end of the turkey breast, using disposable gloves if you like. You will find a fine-but-strong membrane holding the skin to the flesh. Using a sharp knife, cut a slit in this membrane -- doing so will allow your hands to get further under the skin. Gradually work your fingers gently under the skin as far as you can, loosening it without tearing it. Gradually insert the herb-and-garlic-butter mixture, working it right in. Then roast the turkey in the usual way.


Buy a good-quality pale or smoked ham; check the weight. Cook it on Christmas Eve for convenience. Remember to steep the ham in a basin of cold water on the night before Christmas Eve.

You will need:

4-5kg (9-11lb) ham

1 small onion, chopped

1 stick celery, chopped

1 small cooking apple, chopped

2 garlic cloves, chopped

Freshly ground black pepper

Herbes de Provence

300-425ml (1/2-3/4pt) apple juice

English mustard

Some brown sugar

Cloves (the apple tart kind)

Preheat the oven to 200 C, 400 F, Gas 6. Put a very large piece of tinfoil in a roasting tin, and sit the ham on top. Scatter the chopped onion, the chopped celery, the chopped cooking apple and the chopped garlic around the ham. Season with some freshly ground black pepper and flavour with the herbes de Provence. Pour the apple juice around the meat, then draw up the tinfoil and wrap it around the ham. Put the ham into the oven and, after 30-60 minutes, reduce the heat to 180 C, 350 F, Gas 4, allowing a total of about 45 minutes cooking time for every 450g (1lb) of meat. When the ham is tender, carefully pour off the juices and vegetables -- you could add these to a soup.

Cut the skin off, ensuring that you leave lots of the fat on the ham. Spread mustard all over the fat and then press brown sugar in a generous layer on top. Cut a diamond pattern in the fat, stud it with whole cloves and put into a hot oven until the sugar melts and caramelises -- about 45 minutes.


On Christmas Eve, make a giblet stock. Put the giblets -- the bird's neck, heart, liver, and gizzard -- into a saucepan and add a litre (1?pt) of water. Add a lump of onion, a clove of garlic, a stick of celery and a small carrot. Season with some freshly ground black pepper and salt, and add some mixed herbs. Bring to the boil, cover, and simmer gently for about 45 minutes. Leave to stand. Before using, strain the stock. The cooked liver can be chopped and added to the stuffing, if you like. On Christmas Eve, make the gravy.

You will need:

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon butter

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 garlic clove, chopped

50g (2oz) mushrooms, chopped

1 small rasher, chopped

2 level tablespoons flour

Approx 1L (1 1/2pt) giblet stock (or a can of beef consomme with water added)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

3-4 tablespoons ruby port or madeira

1 tablespoon redcurrant jelly

Juices from the roast turkey

In a pan, heat the olive oil and the butter together and gently fry the finely chopped onion and the chopped garlic. When they have softened, add the chopped mushrooms and the chopped rasher and fry until tasty. Add the flour and make a chunky paste -- continue to cook gently until it turns golden brown. Gradually add the giblet stock or the beef consomme with water, whichever you are using, stirring briskly to blend it through. When the paste is smooth, bring it to the boil to thicken it. Season with some salt and freshly ground black pepper. Add the ruby port or madeira, whichever you are using, and the redcurrant jelly. Heat through. Cover and leave in a cool place overnight.

Next day, when the turkey is roasted, pour off some of the juices from the roasting tin. Skim off the fat, add the juices to the gravy, bring to the boil and serve.


Here is a little list of Don't Forgets for Christmas Day; it's handy to keep in your kitchen over the festive period.

Extra lemons for turkey stuffing, brandy butter and, of course, the G&Ts.

Brown sugar and English mustard for glazing the ham; whole cloves to stick into the fat.

Fresh cranberries -- these are only available at Christmas time -- buy a few extra packets as they freeze well.

Pitta or naan bread -- great for cold turkey and ham snacks.

Bread rolls -- extra rolls can be frozen, then crisped in the oven when they're thawed.

Mayonnaise, chutney or relish are handy stand-bys for any salads and sandwiches you make using leftovers.

Rubber gloves (or oven gloves) to lift the cooked turkey out of the roasting tin.

Extra ingredients for any reheated dishes -- it is easy to forget other meals.

Clean tea towels to cover the hot, cooked turkey after removing it from the oven. It will sit and wait very comfortably for at least a half an hour before carving.


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