Friday 22 June 2018

Neven Maguire's top tips for a stress-free Christmas

Follow Neven Maguire's steps for a stress free Christmas dinner. Photo: Fran Veale
Follow Neven Maguire's steps for a stress free Christmas dinner. Photo: Fran Veale

1 Shop Ahead

If you are wondering how early you can pick up the turkey, they should be bought on or after December 22. Ideally you should order your turkey well in advance, then the right size will be waiting for you at the supermarket or butcher until you need to collect it.

2 What Type of Turkey to Buy

I prefer to use a free-range or organic bird for this special occasion. Work out the size you need or ask your butcher for advice on this. Make sure they weigh it for you so that you can easily work out how long to cook it for (see the timings, right). When you get home, remove the turkey from the packaging and remove the giblets - it's best to make the stock the day you pick it up. Put the turkey on a tray and cover with greaseproof paper. Store in the bottom of the fridge.

3 Cooking for One: Turkey Breast

If you are only cooking for one and would like some leftovers, or cooking for just two people, a single turkey breast is a good option. If you have the time and inclination it would benefit from soaking in a buttermilk brine for a more tender and moist texture, but it's not essential. Ask your butcher for a 350g (12oz) turkey breast and heat a sauté pan over a low heat. Add 25g (1oz) of butter, and when it's foaming, add the turkey breast, turning it in the butter, but don't allow it to colour. Cover with a round of parchment paper and the lid. Cook for 5-7 minutes, until just cooked through and tender. Carve into thin slices and arrange slightly overlapping on a plate to serve.

4 Is the Turkey Cooked?

Ovens can vary, especially when you are cooking other things at the same time and opening the door regularly. Work out the approximate time to cook your turkey, but it's essential to test that it's done, ideally with a meat thermometer or skewer. Insert the dial/spike type of thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh at the beginning of cooking or use a digital meat thermometer or a skewer to check the temperature at the end of cooking. I always cook mine to 75-80°C (167-176°F) rather than the 90°C (194°F) often suggested on some thermometer gauges. To test whether the turkey is cooked with a skewer, insert it into the thickest part of the thigh and check the juices - they should run clear. If the juices are still pink, then the turkey is not yet cooked. Put it back in the oven, checking it every 10 minutes, and cover your vegetable sides with foil. When the turkey is ready to carve, simply reheat the veg - microwave any that are steamed or boiled and pop the roasted vegetables in a high oven for 5 minutes.

5 Resting the Turkey

You should leave a turkey to rest for about 30 minutes, although a whole turkey will sit for up to 2 hours if you get terribly behind or someone is delayed. Lift it out of the roasting tin with the help of the foil and put on a platter. Cover loosely with foil and a clean tea towel. This allows the juices to settle back into the meat, leaving it deliciously moist and easier to carve.

6 Carving Made Easy

For neat slices, make sure your carving knife is sharp. No carving knife? Use a long, thin-bladed knife or electric knife instead. Don't use a serrated knife, as this will rip the meat. Once the turkey has rested, transfer it to a large board. Hold one of the legs by the knuckle between the leg and body (the hip joint), pulling the leg away from the body as you go. The leg should come away quite easily. Repeat with the other leg and then either carve each leg between the thigh and the drumstick to create two pieces or slice the meat straight off the legs. Discard the bones or freeze for later to use in stock. To carve the breast meat, the traditional method is to hold your knife flat against the breast, securing the bird with a carving fork, and cut the meat along the length of the breast. The other option is to cut the entire breast off the carcass by slicing down one side of the entire backbone, then cutting under the breast, following the line of the ribcage. Then just slice the breast on the board and repeat with the other side.

7 Hot Christmas Dinner

Warm the plates in a low oven (the microwave or even the dishwasher works too) and put the turkey and ham on the plates first, followed by stuffing and any garnishes. Finish with the vegetables and roast potatoes. Alternatively, create a buffet area and allow everyone to help themselves, perhaps getting parents to help any children with their selections first.

I always preheat the oven to 190°C (375°F/gas mark 5). Make sure your turkey has been allowed to come back to room temperature. If you have stuffed it you will need to weigh the stuffing and add that amount to your turkey weight. Allow 20 minutes per 450g (1lb) plus 20 minutes extra.

Turkey Cooking Chart

● 1.8kg (4lb) turkey crown (off the bone) will take 1 hour 40 minutes

● 2kg (4½lb) turkey crown (off the bone) will take 1 hour 50 minutes

● 4.5kg (10lb) oven-ready turkey will take 3 hours 40 minutes

● 5.4kg (12lb) oven-ready turkey will take 4 hours

Neven's Freezing and Storage Tips

● Food hygiene and food safety is so important around Christmas.

● Store your meat correctly in the fridge.

● There is no need to store your vegetables or other low-risk foods, like potatoes and vegetables, they can be stored in the back kitchen or a cool, dry area.

● When you have cooked your dinner, are as full as you can be, and you want to go for a snooze, take your leftover meat and put it into a container in your fridge. You will be glad you did when enjoying the delicious leftovers later.

● Frozen or fresh frozen turkeys can be stored in the freezer for up to six months.

● If using a frozen turkey it must be thoroughly thawed before cooking to avoid the risk of salmonella. Thaw covered at the bottom of fridge. When thawed the legs should be flexible and there should be no trace of ice crystals in the body cavity.

● Supermarket fresh turkeys have a use-by date. If you buy yours from a butcher ask how long will it keep. In general, cook within three days. Store covered in the bottom of the fridge.

● I recommend and always try to use fresh free-range turkey as it is much more succulent and the flavour is far superior to that of a frozen turkey, but make sure to order from your butcher in plenty of time. Ask them to prepare the turkey so that it is oven-ready.

Things that can be done

more than a week before

• Make Christmas pudding and Christmas cake up to two months in advance.

• Make my mint chocolate truffles up to two weeks in advance.

•Order your turkey and ham well in advance, along with any other specialist items.

• Shop for all the store cupboard ingredients and alcohol you'll need. Remember to think about exciting non-alcoholic mocktails for kids and designated drivers. It's always worth having extra lemons and limes, rapeseed and olive oil, eggs and a few extra loaves of bread for the freezer. Supplies of extra-wide foil, kitchen roll, cling film, parchment and greaseproof paper are also essential.

• Clean out the fridge and reorganise it so that you'll have plenty of room. Consider keeping vegetables and other unopened items in a cupboard or in the garage if it's nice and cool.

• Go through the crockery, cutlery, glasses and table decorations you want to use.

• Make extra ice or buy it in a bag.

• Make a food shopping list of everything you think you'll need and keep it handy so that you can add to it as you think of things.

• Make a list of things to do that is well spaced out.

• Sharpen your knives.

Christmas Day (served at 3pm)

The timings I have given for Christmas lunch are based on a 1.8kg (4lb) turkey crown.

• 11.30am Take the turkey out of the brine and bring back to room temperature before cooking. Arrange the oven shelves so that everything you need to cook will fit.

• 12.30pm Preheat the oven to 190°C (375°F/ gas mark 5) and finish preparing the turkey for the oven. Unless you have a second oven to cook the celeriac and sweet potato boulangère in, bake it in advance, then leave at room temperature covered with foil.

• 12.50pm Put the turkey in the oven for 1 hour 40 minutes. Carve as much of the ham as you think you are going to need and put it in a shallow ovenproof dish. Cover with foil and leave to come back to room temperature.

• 1.45pm Prepare the roast potatoes so they are ready to go into the oven at 2pm.

• 2.20pm Arrange the smoked salmon and cream cheese stacks on plates for the first course and put on the table. Cover the plates with cling film if you think the room is very warm.

• 2.30pm Take the turkey out of the oven and put in a warm place to rest, loosely covered with foil and a clean tea towel. Put the prunes and sausages wrapped in bacon in the oven. Finish making the gravy. Reheat the red cabbage in a second oven at 180°C (350°F/gas mark 4) or reheat gently on the hob in a covered pan or in the microwave.

• 2.40pm Put the apricot and sage stuffing balls in the oven along with the carved ham and the celeriac and sweet potato boulangère to warm through. Put plates and any serving dishes in the oven to warm.

• 2.45pm Make the braised peas with bacon and heat the bread sauce and gravy on the hob or in the microwave.

• 2.50pm Carve the turkey and remove everything from the ovens so that you can serve up on the warmed plates and serving dishes.

• Later Reheat mince pies and the Christmas pudding. Finish the trifle for serving and don't forget the mint chocolate truffles tucked away in the fridge!

On December 23

• Do your final shop and pick up the turkey and ham.

• Soak the gammon in water for at least 8 hours or overnight and calculate the cooking time. This can be cooked overnight with great success or have it ready to be done first thing on the 24th.

• Make the salmon terrine with prawns (see right).

• Make the sausage stuffing roll (see page 27).

• Ice your Christmas cake and store as instructed, and make your MacNean mince pies (see page 30).

On December 24

• If the ham has not been cooked over night, then put it on early in the morning, roughly 14 hours before you intend to eat it. So if you're planning on an 8pm dinner, the ham needs to be switched on at 6am.

• Cook the ham with sticky apricot and ginger glaze (see page 30) and serve some of it for dinner with braised red cabbage with pomegranate, and jacket potatoes topped with sour cream and chives.

• Peel the potatoes and keep them covered in water.

• Take butter out of the fridge to soften for the turkey.

• Make the lobster bisque (see right).

• Chill all the drinks you might need for the day.

• Set the table and do any last-minute tidying up.

• Leave all frozen items out in a cool place overnight to defrost.

Recipes for freezing in advance

The following recipes can be frozen up to three weeks in advance of Christmas Day.

• Bread sauce • Cranberry sauce • Stuffing balls • Braised red cabbage with pomegranate • Christmas pudding • Brandy butter • MacNean frangipane mince pies Things that can be done

More than a week before

• Make Christmas pudding and Christmas cake up to two months in advance.

• Make my mint chocolate truffles up to two weeks in advance.

•Order your turkey and ham well in advance, along with any other specialist items.

• Shop for all the store cupboard ingredients and alcohol you'll need. Remember to think about exciting non-alcoholic mocktails for kids and designated drivers. It's always worth having extra lemons and limes, rapeseed and olive oil, eggs and a few extra loaves of bread for the freezer. Supplies of extra-wide foil, kitchen roll, cling film, parchment and greaseproof paper are also essential.

• Clean out the fridge and reorganise it so that you'll have plenty of room. Consider keeping vegetables and other unopened items in a cupboard or in the garage if it's nice and cool.

• Go through the crockery, cutlery, glasses and table decorations you want to use.

• Make extra ice or buy it in a bag.

• Make a food shopping list of everything you think you'll need and keep it handy so that you can add to it as you think of things.

• Make a list of things to do that is well spaced out.

• Sharpen your knives.

Christmas Day (served at 3pm)

The timings I have given for Christmas lunch are based on a 1.8kg (4lb) turkey crown.

• 11.30am Take the turkey out of the brine and bring back to room temperature before cooking. Arrange the oven shelves so that everything you need to cook will fit.

• 12.30pm Preheat the oven to 190°C (375°F/ gas mark 5) and finish preparing the turkey for the oven. Unless you have a second oven to cook the celeriac and sweet potato boulangère in, bake it in advance, then leave at room temperature covered with foil.

• 12.50pm Put the turkey in the oven for 1 hour 40 minutes. Carve as much of the ham as you think you are going to need and put it in a shallow ovenproof dish. Cover with foil and leave to come back to room temperature.

• 1.45pm Prepare the roast potatoes so they are ready to go into the oven at 2pm.

• 2.20pm Arrange the smoked salmon and cream cheese stacks on plates for the first course and put on the table. Cover the plates with cling film if you think the room is very warm.

• 2.30pm Take the turkey out of the oven and put in a warm place to rest, loosely covered with foil and a clean tea towel. Put the prunes and sausages wrapped in bacon in the oven. Finish making the gravy. Reheat the red cabbage in a second oven at 180°C (350°F/gas mark 4) or reheat gently on the hob in a covered pan or in the microwave.

• 2.40pm Put the apricot and sage stuffing balls in the oven along with the carved ham and the celeriac and sweet potato boulangère to warm through. Put plates and any serving dishes in the oven to warm.

• 2.45pm Make the braised peas with bacon and heat the bread sauce and gravy on the hob or in the microwave.

• 2.50pm Carve the turkey and remove everything from the ovens so that you can serve up on the warmed plates and serving dishes.

• Later Reheat mince pies and the Christmas pudding. Finish the trifle for serving and don't forget the mint chocolate truffles tucked away in the fridge!

On December 23

• Do your final shop and pick up the turkey and ham.

• Soak the gammon in water for at least 8 hours or overnight and calculate the cooking time. This can be cooked overnight with great success or have it ready to be done first thing on the 24th.

• Make the salmon terrine with prawns.

• Make the sausage stuffing roll.

• Ice your Christmas cake and store as instructed, and make your MacNean mince pies.

On December 24

• If the ham has not been cooked over night, then put it on early in the morning, roughly 14 hours before you intend to eat it. So if you're planning on an 8pm dinner, the ham needs to be switched on at 6am.

• Cook the ham with sticky apricot and ginger glaze and serve some of it for dinner with braised red cabbage with pomegranate, and jacket potatoes topped with sour cream and chives.

• Peel the potatoes and keep them covered in water.

• Take butter out of the fridge to soften for the turkey.

• Make the lobster bisque

• Chill all the drinks you might need for the day.

• Set the table and do any last-minute tidying up.

• Leave all frozen items out in a cool place overnight to defrost.

Recipes for freezing in advance

The following recipes can be frozen up to three weeks in advance of Christmas Day.

• Bread sauce • Cranberry sauce • Stuffing balls • Braised red cabbage with pomegranate • Christmas pudding • Brandy butter • MacNean frangipane mince pies (see separate recipes)

Irish Independent

Life Newsletter

Our digest of the week's juiciest lifestyle titbits.

Editors Choice

Also in Life