Christmas dinner is arguably the most important food event of the year; it’s the meal that brings family and friends together to enjoy not only one another’s company, but also a wonderfully cooked meal. As a result of the great importance placed upon this meal many of us feel a huge amount of stress on the day, worrying that our Christmas dinner will fall flat. However there’s no need to worry; with some expert advice from Aga we have a few tips on how to create the perfect Christmas dinner that will allow you to simultaneously cook a delicious meal and enjoy the frivolity of the day.
The logical place to start when discussing Christmas dinner is of course the turkey. Turkey is notoriously known for being bland and dry, and this is of course what we all want to avoid. Aga suggests a long, slow cook with the turkey smothered in butter, stuffed with an apple and orange, both halved, and surrounded by half a bottle of port. If you are using an Aga to prepare your Christmas feast it is suggested that you cook your bird for approximately ten hours overnight in the simmering oven to achieve a succulent and flavoursome meat. If you are cooking for a large number it may be better to cook two smaller turkeys rather than one large one; the larger the bird the harder it is to cook evenly through without drying out the meat.
Roast potatoes are another firm favourite in a traditional Christmas dinner. We all enjoy our potatoes crisp and crunchy on the outside with a beautifully fluffy centre. Aga suggests using Maris Piper or Desiree potatoes to achieve impeccable roasties. Once boiled in salted water for around ten minutes the potatoes need to be shaken to create the rough, fluffy edges which will crisp up when roasted. If you want your potatoes to have some added crunch scratch the potatoes with a fork once boiled. A liberal coating of oil or goose fat will ensure they have the distinctive crunchy exterior that we all crave in our Christmas dinner. If you are feeling adventurous, try adding some garlic, rosemary and jelly stock to your potatoes for added flavour. Whilst this may not sit well with the more traditional diners around your table, it will add another beautiful flavour to your plate.
Vegetables are a part of dinner which is often open to debate. In order to please all palettes Aga suggests a mix of carrot, parsnip and red onion with a hint of garlic and a delicious caramelised touch to give them a festive edge and depth of flavour. As for sprouts, though a highly contested subject I think we would all agree that they are a staple in a Christmas dinner (even if only to be pushed to the side!) Aga suggests keeping sprouts simple; they are best picked freshly from the stick, as opposed to bought loose, and once cooked a simple knob of butter and sprinkling of pepper will do the job.
Depending on your confidence in cooking, gravy can be as complex as you wish – a combination of different flavours can create beautiful gravy. Take your time; use the meat juices as the base with a dash of wine, and add water and some seasoning to enhance the flavours. Whatever you do, steer clear of adding gravy granules; whilst this may seem like a quick fix it will increase your chances of lumps and is unlikely to achieve a full flavour. If you need to thicken your gravy add a sprinkling of flour or cornflour, just ensure you stir it briskly to avoid creating lumps.
Preparation is the key to cooking the perfect Christmas dinner. A well timed schedule put together on Christmas Eve will save you a lot of stressing on Christmas Day – decide on your time to eat and work backwards from it. Vegetables can be prepped on Christmas Eve ready to be cooked the following day. Peeling and chopping vegetables is a time consuming part of the process so if you tackle this the day before it will speed up the cooking process on the day significantly, allowing you more time to socialise and relax. The potatoes can be cooked early on Christmas Day to be reheated just before serving. Returning them to the oven will further crisp the outsides, enhancing the delicious crunch. The turkey will of course need time to rest – when the bird is removed from the oven this is when you should cook your vegetables, reheat potatoes and make gravy, in order to make sure it’s all ready at the same time. If you start to fall behind schedule and the bird loses too much temperature don’t fret, a quick blast in the oven just before serving will do the trick and any time lost just means more time for guests sat by the fire sipping champagne.
Remember that when preparing your Christmas dinner the purpose of the meal is to bring together family and friends to celebrate. Christmas Day should be spent relaxing with loved ones and a glass of fizz, so remember to organise ahead of time and get a clear plan in place to follow on the day. By following these very simple tips your Christmas dinner should be delicious and stress free (nearly)!
If you would like some advice on wine pairings with your Christmas dinner have a look at our ‘Pairing Wine & Festive Foods’ blog with expert advice from The Wine Company.