The easy way to cook Christmas dinner

Read on for the way to cook a stress-free Christmas dinner:

Are you wound up yet? Well surely you should be what with only three days to go, the relatives already planning on drinking you out of house and home, all the shopping still to do and you haven’t even started boiling the sprouts yet.

Ah Christmas. What a wonderful stress-free time of the year. It’s a good job Christmas dinner’s a doddle: cook, serve, eat, argue with the relatives, mess all over the place, fall asleep in front of the queen. Easy.

But surprisingly, there are some people who find the whole idea of cooking an ordinary family Christmas lunch too much, too stressful and get wound up about it days or even weeks before the occasion.

Why do some people find it such a worry? Is it because it so often goes wrong? Because it does. And the dreaded turkey must take much of the blame. It’s made of “healthy” low fat meat that’s easy to over-cook and make taste like you’re eating unseasoned balsawood. And it’s also due to a lack of confidence, lack of planning and confusing recipes from Aunty Gladys et al.

I can do it alright. But not because I’m cleverer, better trained or can talk more than anyone else. No, I can because I have confidence. And that comes from thinking about things in advance and not drinking too much – much to everybody’s surprise.

I always plan such a meal in advance, making a list or timetable of when I should start each particular task such as blanching the roasting potatoes or putting them into the oven. I probably do that when cooking a normal Sunday lunch but, having done it so many times, I hold the list in my head.

But to be honest, at Christmas, if you’re going to have turkey, that’s the bit you’ve got to think most about. However, because it takes a fair time to cook, once it’s in the oven, doing the rest is quite straight forward. And then there’s the period while it’s resting.

First, when buying, allow around ¾lb – 1lb oven ready weight per person. Obviously turkeys don’t come the size of pigeons so small families will have plenty of fodder for the imagination into the new year. Try to buy a fresh turkey. If you have to buy frozen it’s essential that it’s allowed to defrost slowly – preferably in a refrigerator. This could take a couple of days so be prepared to start now. Remember to remove the giblets as soon as possible but use them to make a stock for the gravy by simmering them for around two hours with a chopped carrot, stick of celery, onion, a few peppercorns and a pinch of dried herbs (it’ll need skimming once it’s come to the boil). Strain and keep in the fridge until needed.

However, before stuffing the bird, allow it come to room temperature which could take overnight. Don’t try and cook it from fridge temperature. The same goes for the stuffing itself.

Traditionally, turkeys are stuffed with two different types of stuffing; sausage meat in the body and possibly chestnut in the neck-end but it’s up to you. To make a sausage meat stuffing for a 12lb to 14lb turkey mix a cup of breadcrumbs with a finely chopped onion, 2lb of sausage meat, a few sprigs of picked thyme, a beaten egg and salt and pepper. You could then, if you wished, take around ½ of this and add a tin of mashed or puréed chestnuts for a different stuffing for the neck-end.

Stuff the bird at both ends and close the neck-end with a small skewer. Put the turkey into a roasting tin and generously coat the whole bird with softened butter – be prepared to use a whole pack because turkey is very low in fat – and season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Then layer the breast with overlapping pieces of streaky bacon before covering the whole tin with cooking foil that’s well sealed at the edges.

Now, the cooking bit. There are all sorts of instructions for changing temperatures up and down during the cooking period but I prefer to cook it on a relatively high temperature straight through. So, pre-heat the oven to230°C (gas mark 8). With a larger bird like this you can’t just cook it for a set number of minutes per pound as it depends on the size of the turkey. As a general guide, a 10lb turkey needs 2½ hours, a 15lb turkey 3 hours and a 20lb turkey 3½ hours. Remember to calculate the weight to include the stuffing.

Thirty minutes before the end of cooking time, remove or cut open the foil and remove the bacon to allow the breast to brown.

To test if the turkey is properly cooked, pierce it where the flesh is thickest to ensure there is no pinkness in the juices. Once cooked, lift it to it’s carving plate and cover well with foil before piling the contents of you tea towel draw on top to insulate it like a massive tea cosy. It will keep hot for a long time – at least and hour to 90 minutes – which allows you to finish the rest of the meal. And it will benefit massively from the resting resulting in a more moist and tender meat. Please believe me.

To make the gravy, spoon off most of the fat from the roasting tin, place the tin over a low heat and stir a couple of tablespoons of flour into the juices. Then mix or whisk the giblet stock a bit at a time into the tin until you have a smooth gravy of the thickness you like. Taste and season as necessary. Take off the heat and reheat when you need it, adding any juices that have run from the resting turkey just before serving.

So once your turkey’s resting and the gravy’s cooked you can then do the potatoes, vegetables and bread sauce – or whatever else you traditionally have – in a relaxed fashion. Maybe now’s the best time to have your first sherry.

But whether you’re cooking for two or the extended crew; plan, relax and enjoy it. It’s Christmas.

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