Last week I was very lucky to attend a roast dinner cookery class at Leith’s in London courtesy of Buster, yep, the plughole unblocker. Might not be the most glamourous brand but it’s bloody useful! (Especially when you have long, constantly shedding hair like me!)
I like to think I know my way around a roast dinner, but I learnt some tips that blew. my. mind. and have upped my roast game to eleven. Christmas dinner can be a bloody stressful affair (last year our electric shorted and sent the burglar alarm into tamper mode…) so I thought I’d share some of the things I learnt (and some things I already utilise) to try and make Christmas at least a tiny bit less stressful for those of you who are cooking. (This isn’t in order of cooking, I’m not that helpful, it’s just a list of tips.)
Prep your veg the night before
This is a Christmas Eve tradition in our house (along with Matt hiding upstairs to do some last-minute wrapping, leaving a gin for Father Christmas, and drinking slightly too much given the inevitable pre-7am wake-up). My mum started it because she is wise!
We all sit on the sofa with chopping boards, peelers, and a pile of veg on the coffee table, whack on a Christmas film, and make sure the wine bottles are within reach. We get all the veg we need for Christmas dinner peeled and chopped, ready to go. If you’re prepping your potatoes, put them in cold water so they don’t turn brown. They’ll be ok for 8-12 hours so it’s the perfect way to save yourself a job on the day.
We also prep carrots and sprouts. If I am making red cabbage (I’ll share an amazing recipe later on) I tend to make this on Christmas Eve too, and then can just warm it through on Christmas day. Broccoli I don’t pre-prepare, however if you’re doing a cauliflower/broccoli cheese you can definitely get it made and in the sauce, ready for the oven the next day.
Preparation is key, and while it can be tempting to just veg on the sofa once you finally coax the kids to bed on Christmas Eve it really does take a whole lot of stressing out of Christmas Day (and allows you not to be tied to the kitchen).
Personally my favourite part of any roast dinner, even a bad roast potato is still pretty good, but if you can nail them you will earn yourself a place in the Christmas Dinner Hall of Fame (which might only exist in my head at the moment, but if I ever win the Lottery I will spend every penny of my winnings making it a reality).
That’s the main takeaway I got from Leith’s. Apparently they’re the only potatoes worth roasting.
The rest is pretty classic, par-boil the potatoes (I always chuck in a few that are smaller, because they go extra crispy and they’re my favourite), drain and then give them a good shake in the pan to rough up the edges and make sure they go extra crispy.
You want a (metal) tray in the oven with duck or goose fat getting super hot (you can of course use vegetable oil if you’re vegetarian).
I cook everything for a roast at 200°c (180°c fan).
Add the potatoes to the tray once the fat/oil is really hot and turn them over once to unsure they’re fully covered. If there isn’t quite enough fat, you can melt a little more in a pan and ladle it over the top.
Turn and baste the potatoes at least once during cooking. Timings? No idea. About 45 minutes probably. Just keep an eye on them, you’ll know they’re ready when they’re golden and crispy (this is how I cook ok, it’s why I couldn’t ever write a cook book).
Serve with a little sprinkle of salt.
Chicken (or turkey)
We learnt tips to roast the perfect chicken at Leith’s, but the tips would definitely be transferrable to a turkey. The most famously dry bird in all of roasting history.
Apparently this is the French way to roast a chicken, which you can definitely impress the inlaws with.
You need to rub butter on both sides of the bird (yes, top and bottom), quite a lot because butter is great, and season with salt and black pepper. If you have some herbs you like to add you can do this here. Then put the bird upside down (so breast side down) on to a tray and put in the oven. (Here’s the NHS guidelines for turkey cooking times)
About half way through cooking bring the bird out of the oven, and transfer to a different tray, this time the other way up (so breast side up) and put back in the oven. This allows you to use the juices from the first half of cooking to get started on your gravy, making it way more flavourful.
Speaking of gravy…
I always make my own gravy because I am a domestic goddess (/ it’s actually really easy).
With a tablespoon gently remove most of the oil from the top of the chicken juices (the clear bit that sits on top) and chuck it away. Warm the remaining juices and add a tablespoon of plain flour (stirring the flour in off the heat, adding flour to liquid over heat makes it cook and go lumpy). Stir over heat for one minute then add 300ml of chicken stock. Keep this bubbling gently over heat. Season with salt and black pepper. Add the remainder of the juices from the chicken/turkey when it finishes cooking and strain into a warm gravy boat. If it’s too thick add a little more flour mixed with water.
Pigs in Blankets
Why do we only do this at Christmas? Mental.
Stretch out the streaky bacon by flattening it out with a knife and then wrap. Definitely prep these on Christmas Eve.
If you’re not being traditional (boring) then you have to have yorkies! Don’t make ’em. Aunt Bessie has you covered. Who has the time?! (This is me tip, not a Leith’s tip. Obviously.)
Chantilly carrots require less prep and look fancy as hell. No chopping or peeling needed, win!
Cook the carrots in salted, boiling water until just al dente. Drain. Add a big knob of butter and 2 tablespoons of honey to a pan and melt together to make a glaze, add the carrots and cover well. Add the juice of one lemon towards the end. Serve with chopped parsley.
I had never made my own stuffing before, usually sticking to Paxo, but it was actually really easy and is definitely impressive. It could also be handy if you have people with dietary requirements at your Christmas table, as you can play around with flavours to make it perfect for everybody.
Below is the Leith’s recipe, it was really yummy and I loved the apple through it. You could obviously do cranberries and orange, sage and onion, or whatever else you fancy.
1 onion, very finely chopped
55g/2oz fresh white breadcrumbs
1 small cooking apple, grated
2 teaspoons chopped mixed fresh herbs
Grated zest of 1⁄2 lemon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Melt the butter in a saucepan, add the onions, cover with a piece of dampened greaseproof paper and a lid, then fry the onion until soft but not coloured. Allow to cool.
- Put the breadcrumbs, apple, herbs, and lemon zest together in a mixing bowl.
- Add the softened onion and mix together. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Cook in an enamel or ceramic oven dish until crispy on top (balls or as a traybake, chef’s choice!)
Mulled Wine Red Cabbage
This is one of my absolute favourite additions to Christmas dinner, sweet, spicy, and fragrant. The whole house smells AMAZING while you’re cooking it too (plus it’s an excuse to drink red wine).
A splash of olive oil
1 cinnamon stick
2 bay leaves
½ large red cabbage, finely shredded, white core removed
2 clementines, zest and juice
½ lemon, zest and juice
2 tbsp Demerara sugar
A mug of red wine (how more of us should drink it tbh)
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
- Add a splash of oil to a heavy based pan over a low heat. When hot, add the spices and bay.
- Add the cabbage, clementine juice, a grating of clementine and lemon zest, the sugar and half a mug of wine. Cover.
- Simmer over a very low heat for about 1 hr. Stir now and again. Add more wine if needed, so it doesn’t dry out on the bottom of the pan.
- Uncover after 1 hr. Turn the heat up. Splash in more wine, little by little, letting it guzzle it up like a risotto. Taste. The cabbage should be dark, glossy and sweet. Adjust the seasoning.
- Finish with a squeeze of lemon juice and a little more zest.
Another one of my favourites and SO easy, you can fully prep this the night before and just bung it in the oven about 45 minutes before you sit down to eat.
All you need to do is make a basic cheese sauce. To do this simply melt a good knob of butter in a heavy-bottomed pan and melt (careful not to burn it). Take it off the heat and add plain flour a small amount at a time stirring well each time, until you have a fairly thick paste. Put back on the heat and start adding milk, again a small amount at a time, stirring well until you have a sauce that coats the back of a spoon. Add a shit ton of cheese (use the small side of you grater and cheese straight from the fridge, less chance of lumps breaking off – that’s another me top tip!). Season with salt and pepper.
Then all you need to do is pour your cheese sauce over chopped leeks (pop them out so you have lots of individual rings) into a ceramic or enamel oven dish and grate a little more cheese on top. Refrigerate until you’re ready to cook.
I don’t like nor know how to cook sprouts, you’re on your own there I’m afraid.
That seems like a lot but it’s actually not the worst meal in the world to cook. Prep, timings, and cleaning down as you go are key to keeping stress levels to a minimum. And wine.
It’s a good idea to sit down and write down your elements of the meal and the timings of them a few days before Christmas, and plan yourself a little cooking schedule. It’s not cool or rock and roll but it will help you avoid eating your potatoes at 2pm and your turkey on Boxing Day…
If you’re having starters then I’d definitely advise doing something that requires minimum effort, you’re not going to have a lot of oven/hob space. Prawn cocktail is fun, tasty, and brings back a whole load of kitsch nostalgia. Pâté has a similar feel to it. Don’t do melon balls, even when everybody had melon balls nobody wanted melon balls.
Hope something here helped? Do shout if something isn’t clear or you want to know a little more! I’m no expert but people do enjoy my roasts and I don’t have the kind of friends and family who would lie…