CHRISTMAS is special and what I look forward to more than anything is spending quality time with friends and family doing what we love most – enjoying great food and drink together, catching up and having fun over the festive period.
With four young boys, Christmas is a pretty busy time in our house and the excitement of the children is truly infectious. Seeing them counting down to Santa’s arrival has certainly been getting me in the festive spirit earlier, which can only be a good thing, because it also turns my attention to planning the Christmas dinner.
When it comes to the food at Christmas, I always think you should really go for it – push the boat out and create a standout meal that makes everyone happy. For me, that doesn’t necessarily mean reinventing the wheel – sometimes the classics are the best, and all they need is a little modern or personal twist to make them outstanding.
Where I do recommend you always spend a little more time and effort is with the ingredients. Speak to your local fishmonger, butcher or farmers’ market and get your orders in early so you can get the pick of the very best.
This year, we’re starting out with a classic – a modern take on the prawn cocktail. It’s a dish that’s been ridiculed in recent years, like many 1980s British favourites. But if done well, it can be fantastic. I was recently with Gordon Ramsay, who talked about the huge family Christmas dinner they have every year, which always features prawn cocktail. It’s inspired me to try it this year and I’ve created my own modern twist on this retro recipe.
The difference between a good and bad prawn cocktail is all in the prawns. Whatever you do, don’t scrimp on the prawns. Pre-order some quality langoustines from your local fishmonger and you’ll create a prawn cocktail that makes a perfect celebratory starter.
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We’ll be enjoying goose for our Christmas dinner at home this year as it’s a great alternative to turkey and can be much juicer with a lovely intense flavour. A 4-5kg goose tends to take around 3∫ hours to cook, but you have to ensure you baste it regularly to get the best from the flavoursome bird. If you weigh the bird after it’s stuffed, you should allow 15 minutes’ cooking time per 500g, plus an extra 30 minutes.This is a bird you can use every single part of and I definitely recommend you use the fat for roasting your potatoes. Goose fat has been used for hundreds of years to cook the best tasting roast potatoes you’ll try and it’s always my secret to perfect roast potatoes – crispy on the outside and soft and fluffy on the inside.
While goose makes a refreshing change from turkey, the great thing is you can still keep a lot of the traditional trimmings. If you buy good quality vegetables – red cabbage, carrots, Brussels sprouts – you can keep your other side dishes simple yet tasty with some fresh herbs, citrus fruits and seasonal spices. The key is not to overcook your vegetables, so make sure you plan your cooking times carefully.
We’ll be keeping things classic when it comes to the dessert this year too, with a traditional but tasty Christmas pudding. A lot of people find Christmas pudding quite a heavy finish to their meal, but in fact, if you cook it in the right way it should be moist and meltingly light and fruity. You’ll need to start preparing the pudding now, but don’t be put off by the cooking time as it’s definitely worth the wait.
The joy of this dessert is in the presentation and the theatre – which for me is what Christmas is all about, whether you’re a child or a grown-up who’s still a big kid at heart.
Roast Goose with apricot stuffing
Serves four to six
1 goose, about 4-5kg
1 tsp salt
For the apricot stuffing
300g dried apricots
a splash of brandy
1.8kg pork mince
1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped
5 sage leaves, chopped
4 sprigs of thyme
1 tbsp herbes de Provence
2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
200g chestnuts, chopped
2 tsp salt
For the gravy
1 tsp vegetable oil
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 onions, peeled and chopped
2 bay leaves
1 small bunch of thyme
500ml red wine
1 litre chicken stock
4 tbsp plain flour
salt and pepper
To prepare the apricot stuffing
Put the apricots in a bowl with two cups of hot water and a splash of brandy. Leave them to soak for about ten minutes or until plump. Drain off the excess liquid and chop the apricots roughly. In a large bowl, mix the apricots with the pork mince, onion, herbs, garlic, chestnuts, breadcrumbs and salt. Mix until everything is thoroughly combined, then fold in the eggs one at a time. Mix well.
To roast the goose
Preheat the oven to 190C/Gas Mark 5. Trim any excess fat from the goose, checking inside as well as out. Season inside and out with salt and white pepper and fill the cavity and neck with the apricot stuffing.
Put the bird in a large roasting tray and roast in the preheated oven for about 3½ hours, basting regularly. During this time you can prepare the gravy. After removing the goose from the oven, leave it to rest for ten minutes, then remove it from the roasting tray and set aside in a warm place.
To make the gravy
While the goose is roasting, warm the vegetable oil in a large pan over a high heat. Add the carrots and cook until caramelised, then add the onions. Cook for another five to six minutes until soft and add the herbs. Pour in the wine and cook until reduced by two-thirds. Add the chicken stock and reduce again by half. Strain through a fine sieve and set this stock aside for later.
When the goose is cooked and resting, pour all but one tablespoon of the fat from the roasting tray, keeping all the brown juices. Place the roasting tray on a high heat and stir in the flour with a wooden spoon until you have a smooth brown paste.
Slowly pour in the stock you prepared earlier and stir until smooth. Turn down the heat and simmer until the gravy is slightly thickened. Check the seasoning and strain before serving.
Serve the goose with the stuffing, roast potatoes, seasonal vegetables and gravy. Braised red cabbage also goes well with goose.
Carrots with orange and cumin
Serves four to six
20 baby carrots – peeled with the stalks kept on (if you can’t get baby carrots you can cut regular carrots into batons)
2 tsp cumin seeds
300ml fresh orange juice
a knob of butter
1 tbsp chopped parsley
olive oil for cooking
Heat a heavy-bottomed pan, and add a dash of olive oil.
Add the cumin seeds and lightly toast for one minute. Then, add the carrots and roll them in the cumin seeds. Make sure your pan is big enough for the baby carrots to be laid out flat. Add the orange juice, then add the salt and a knob of butter. Add a lid or a cartouche, then leave to cook slowly for six to eight minutes, depending on the size of the carrots.
Set aside. When ready to serve, heat and garnish with chopped parsley.
Spiced Red Cabbage
½ medium-large red cabbage
olive oil for cooking
½ onion, peeled and sliced
2 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
salt and pepper
pared zest and juice of 1 orange
50g soft light brown sugar
50ml white wine vinegar
400ml red wine
1 dessert apple
Cut out the core and finely shred the cabbage. Heat a heavy-based saucepan over a medium heat and add a generous drizzle of olive oil. Add the onion and sweat for two to three minutes, then add the cabbage and cook for one to two minutes. Add the star anise, cinnamon and some salt and pepper and cook for another one to two minutes to release the flavours.
Now add the orange zest and sprinkle in the sugar. Add the orange juice and wine vinegar and let it bubble to reduce. Pour in the red wine and port. Add the sultanas and leave to cook gently for 40 minutes. Peel, core and dice the apple. Add to the cabbage, toss to mix and set aside.
16 langoustines (you will need 4 langoustines per portion)
2 baby gem lettuces
4 tbsp mayonnaise
a pinch cayenne pepper
a drop of tabasco sauce
4 tbsp tomato ketchup
1 tsp Worcester sauce
salt to taste
cracked black pepper
juice of one lemon
4 lemon wedges
For the mayonnaise
2 free range medium egg yolks, at room temperature
1 tsp Dijon mustard
25ml white wine vinegar
250ml olive oil
a squeeze of lemon juice
Peel off some of the best leaves from the baby gem and shred the hearts, before washing and drying. Poach the langoustines by placing them in a large pot of water and bringing it to the boil, then add a pinch of salt. When the water has boiled, drop in the langoustines and cook for one minute. Scoop them out and allow to cool, then peel the shells.
To make the mayonnaise, put the egg yolks into a medium bowl with the mustard and wine vinegar and whisk together until evenly combined. Slowly drizzle in the oil, whisking continuously as you do so, to emulsify the mixture. Once all the oil is added you should have a thick, glossy mayonnaise. Season with salt and add a squeeze of lemon juice to taste. Once the mayonnaise is ready, add the ketchup, the tabasco, Worcester sauce and cayenne pepper to taste, then add salt, pepper and a squeeze of lemon – you can make the sauce as spicy as you like.
Take a cocktail glass or bowl and spoon a small amount of sauce into the bottom. Then, place in the shredded heart of the baby gem lettuce. Place the baby gem lettuce leaves along the side of the glass and decorate as you wish with the langoustine tails. Place another spoonful of the sauce on top and finish with black pepper and a lemon wedge on each glass.
Serves four to six
115g grated carrots
115g grated apple
115g fresh breadcrumbs
zest of 1 orange
zest of 1 lemon
40g self-raising flour
¼ tsp cinnamon (powdered)
¼ tsp nutmeg (powdered)
¼ tsp ginger (powdered)
115g soft dark sugar
a buttered cake mould
Keeping the brandy, flour and eggs aside, combine the raisins, sultanas, currants, grated carrots, grated apple, fresh breadcrumbs, suet, the orange and lemon zest, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger, followed by the sugar and treacle. Mix all of the ingredients in a large mixing bowl until completely combined. Leave the mix to rest for at least 24 hours. Once rested, add the brandy, flour and eggs, and mix together and pre-heat the oven to 150C/Gas Mark 2. Fill your buttered mould and cover in cling film over the top, and then in tin foil. Place in a roasting tray with water reaching two inches up the mould. Cook for approximately four hours, checking with a knife that it comes out clean. Serve with your choice of brandy sauce or custard.
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