From cooking the gravy on Christmas Eve to prepping the best roasties, Michelin-starred chef Simon Haigh, who returns as chef director at Mallory Court Country House Hotel and Spa, Leamington Spa, shares some easy-to-follow tips for nailing the perfect Christmas dinner.
When choosing a bird, is ‘free-range’ preferable and can you taste the difference?
I don’t think you can tell if it is free-range if cooked well, but make sure it has no artificial additives, is blemish free, well within the shelf-life recommended and from a reputable supplier – not some bloke down the pub!
The type of bird you choose is a very subjective matter! But there is one I would not recommend – and that is goose. The yield is poor and the meat can be dry if overcooked. Stick to turkey and if there is only a few of you ask for a posh chicken like Poulet de Bresse, but be prepared to reach deep into your purse.
I always ask for turkey legs to be deboned, which I then stuff and poach before roasting.
On Christmas Day, how do you normally prepare the turkey and cook the turkey? Do you brine in advance?
Brining is fine but can be a faff – I mean what container do you have at home which is big enough to brine in – the bin?
I roast the breast on the bone and insert half a pack of butter under the skin of each breast, so it melts as it cooks and stops the meat being dry.
Cook without foil unless the skin gets over brown. A large bird should cook in 2.5 – 3 hours at a temp of 170 °C (338 degrees °F).
To test if it is cooked insert a probe at the base of the breast near to the wing bone, as this is the thickest part of the bird and it should read 75 degrees centigrade (°C). Remove from the oven, cover with foil and leave to rest for a good hour.
How do you make the perfect gravy?
Do this the day before. Ask the butcher to give you the bones from the leg, the neck and any other parts of the carcass.
Chop the bones small and roast, add some onion, thyme, garlic and add a sprinkle of plain flour – hopefully to resemble the snow outside – to help thicken. Roast again until it has all browned.
Remove any excess fat, add some dry white wine, reduce by half and then cover with water and cook for 2-3 hours. Strain off and taste.
If it needs thickening more, reduce or add some gravy granules. If you feel the flavour is a little light add a Knorr stock cube but be careful as these contain a high content of salt.
Pop this in the fridge remove the fat when set. When the turkey is roasted, deglaze the tray with another glass of wine and a good amount of water then add to the sauce from the previous day. Reduce or thicken as desired, adding the roasting juices from the bird on the day to intensify the turkey flavour.
What special vegetarian and vegan options for Christmas Day would you recommend?
We will be making roasted cauliflower with spiced lentils and jasmine tea-soaked sultanas.
How do you prepare the perfect roast potatoes?
Boil the potatoes first to the point that they are nearly falling apart. Let them dry and place in a hot tray with plenty of fat whether this be veg oil or duck fat (do not use olive oil as this is just a waste of money), turning regularly for even cooking and crunch-ability.
You can add fresh thyme and garlic for a bit of extra flavour.
Any top tips on how best to cook the most seasonal veg?
Prep the night before and cook in advance on the morning stopping the cooking process by plunging in ice-cold water and re-heating when required.
What desserts work well?
I would always buy in when I’m at home. Chocolate always works well on all fronts.
Favourite festive cheeses?
Vacherin Mont d’Or is a personal favourite, paired with fruity Comté and Colston Bassett Stilton for a bigger flavour.
Any personal top fizz or wine choices?
I love a bottle of Bolly (Bollinger) when cooking, but remember you would not drink and drive so take care when drinking and cooking!