EVEN though I cook day in day out all year, I still take great joy in making Christmas dinner for all the family.
This year will be our twins’ first Christmas, and our two older boys are now at the age where they get incredibly excited at the thought of Santa arriving and have been for weeks!
I usually try to cook something a little different – goose, whole fish, partridge, and even snails to start one year – much to my poor mother’s dismay! For years my sister has nagged at me to just stick with good old traditional turkey. So this year, she’s getting her way, but I still can’t resist giving it my own spin. Opening our gastro pub, The Scran & Scallie, has also given us a chance to have a bit of fun in creating festive menus and dishes and fellow chef Dominic Jack and I have enjoyed taking traditional recipes and giving them our own modern, and often fun, little twist.
This year we’ve deconstructed the traditional turkey. First step is to debone the turkey, and then we cook it sous vide using a water bath. The deboned turkey is then laid out flat and the stuffing, apricot, prunes and meat are all added, before being rolled up in cling film, rather like a ballotine. It’s then cooked very slowly and the result is a beautiful, succulent round slice of turkey. The method avoids those dreaded dry turkey dinners that put many people off cooking turkey.
I’m incredibly lucky to have a domestic sous vide, but for most home cooks who don’t, this roast turkey recipe is equally delicious and still gives that traditional dish a little special touch.
If you’re looking to try something other than roast potatoes, potato gratin is a good option. The beauty of it is you can prepare a lot of it the night before and heat it in the oven before the big meal. Legendary chef Pierre Koffmann taught me the secrets of making perfect potato gratin many years ago and I still use the same recipe in my home cooking to this day. The trick is to make sure you slice the potatoes as thinly as you can. Salting and squeezing excess water from the potatoes also helps to get rid of excess starch.
Celeriac isn’t seen as the staple that carrots, potatoes or Brussels sprouts might be, but I still consider it a glorious addition to the Christmas table. It brings a gorgeous nutty flavour to a meal. This is another dish that is easy to prepare ahead, which is the key to a stress-free Christmas Day. The lemon confit gives it a little sweet tone which is an ideal complement.
Before I even get started on the Christmas dinner though, I’m being reminded by my boys about preparing food even more important that the family meal – I mustn’t forget to chop the carrots, bake the biscuits and pour the whisky for Santa Claus!
ROAST TURKEY AND STUFFING
Serves four to six
For the turkey
4.5kg free-range turkey
salt and pepper
For the stuffing
3kg turkey leg meat (boneless) and trimmings (neck, gizzards etc)
500g pork fat
2 large eggs
6 large onions
1 bunch of chopped sage
150g chopped prunes
To make the stuffing
• Chop the onion finely and sauté in a pan until translucent. Set aside to cool. Mix in the chopped sage.
• Mince the pork fat and turkey meat and trim. Remove the stones from the prunes and chop the prunes and apricots. Combine together in a large bowl the mince, cooked onion and sage, cream, eggs, breadcrumbs, salt, prunes and apricots. Cook a small portion in a pan to taste, then adjust the seasoning if required.
To prepare the turkey
• Mix the butter with your hands and rub all over the turkey – season well with salt and pepper.
• Place the stuffing into the turkey. (This can be done on Christmas Eve).
• Preheat the oven to 220C/Gas 7.
• Take the turkey out of the fridge 1½ hours before cooking to bring to room temperature. Place into the oven and cook for 20 minutes.
• Place tin foil on top and cook for a further 50-60 minutes. You can check it by placing a skewer into the thigh – if the juices are still pink, cook for a further 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and strain off the juices for the gravy, keeping the fat to roast your potatoes or vegetables later.
• Slice the turkey and serve with some cooking juices, stuffing and any side dishes you choose.
KOFFMANN’S POTATO GRATIN
8 large potatoes
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
500ml whipping cream
Freshly grated nutmeg
1 garlic clove, halved
• Heat the oven to 140C/Gas 1. Peel the potatoes and cut them into wafer-thin slices, using a very sharp knife, or better still, a mandolin if you have one. Place in a colander to drain. Sprinkle the potato slices lightly with salt and leave to sit in the colander for 10-12 minutes.
• Meanwhile, slowly bring the cream to just below the boil in a deep pan over a low heat. Season lightly with salt and pepper and grate in a little nutmeg.
• Grease a large, shallow ovenproof dish with the butter and rub with the cut surface of the garlic clove. Squeeze the potato slices to remove excess liquid and layer them in the prepared dish. Slowly pour over the hot cream to just cover the potatoes.
• Bake in the oven for 50 minutes to 1 hour until golden on top and cooked through. Check the potatoes are cooked by inserting a small knife in the centre; it should pass through the layers easily. Serve hot.
1 ltr chicken stock
50g butter and 1 small knob of butter to finish
salt to taste
1 tablespoon thyme/bay leaf
juice of ½ a lemon
1 tbsp chopped parsley and chives
• Cut the celeriac into pieces of approximately 1cm thick.
• Simmer the celeriac gently in the chicken stock along with the lemon juice, butter, bay or thyme and salt until it is just cooked.
• Cool the celeriac still in the liquid, then take out. Roast the celeriac pieces in a hot pan until they are nicely browned.
• At the last minute, add a final knob of butter, chopped parsley and chives, and a pinch of lemon confit.
sugar to taste
• Peel the lemon and squeeze out all the juice and reserve.
• Remove all of the white pith.
• Shred the lemon peel into thin strips (julienne).
• Place the peel in cold water and bring it to the boil, then strain. Repeat blanching in cold water and bring to the boil twice more (three times in total).
• After the third blanch, place the blanched lemon strips in the lemon juice and add enough sugar to balance the acidity.
• Simmer the lemon strips in the lemon ‘syrup’ until just tender. Re-taste and add more sugar if needed.