Using great, fresh ingredients and employing a little planning will give you time to enjoy a delicious feast and time with family and friends. Tunbridge Wells Farmers’ Markets Manager Bruce McMichael shows you how to have a stress-free festive lunch
Farmers’ markets and farm shops are fun places to visit at any time of year, and particularly at Christmas when carol singers, fairly lights and mulled wine make it an extra special occasion.
Many of us will have ordered turkeys from artisan butchers, farmers’ markets or farm-shops and will be collecting them anytime now. Such planning is essential for a successful Christmas Day and to reduce stress levels, remember to write a menu, shopping list and schedule for the big day.
One of the biggest decisions is whether to have turkey with all the trimmings or a goose or ham. Many people claim turkey is a boring meat, plain tasting and dry. However, with a little care and attention, it can become a showstopper.
If you’re using a frozen turkey, it will need hours to defrost. If you keep it in the fridge it will take 3-4 days for a 12 – 16 llb bird to defrost, for example. Placed in a bowl and covered with cold water, you’ll need approximately 30 minutes per lb for thawing – make sure you change the water every hour or so.
On Christmas Day morning trim the sprouts, dry them and store in food bags in the fridge. Peel carrots, parsnips, cut the smaller ones in half lengthways and the larger ones into quarters, store them in a bowl of water to prevent them browning. These are great dotted with butter with a shake of caraway or fennel seeds to add extra interest.
Peel the potatoes and cut into large chunks ready for roasting, then cover with cold water to keep fresh.
To make the stuffing, try blitzing some onion, bread, sage, garlic and butter in a food processor, then before shaping the mixture into balls and cooking at 220°C for 20 minutes until golden brown. Finally turn the oven down to 170°C to cook them through for around 10 minutes, but check on progress after five minutes or so.
The trick to cooking turkey well and retaining the natural succulence, is to roast it on a high temperature, before cooking long and low. Leaving roasted meats and birds to rest for a minimum of 20 minutes before carving will also help to retain the juices, delivering a rich, delicious flavour. If cooking a full turkey, stuffing the cavity will also increase flavour and stop it from drying out.
To make the gravy, start by finely dicing some carrots, onions and celery. Heat your roasting juices and pan scraping on a medium heat, add the diced vegetables and any herbs you like and wait until the vegetables caramelises. Adding a generous splash of red wine before reducing the mixture gives the gravy a greater depth of flavour, as will whisking in a knob of butter at the final stage.
Finally, plate-up and get some little helpers to serve your Christmas feast on a sparkling table and take pleasure in your food.
Check http://kfma.org.ukto find your local farmers’ market.
Top tips for Christmas Dinner
Par-boil potatoes and roll in semolina before roasting for extra crunch.
Looking for a really crunch turkey skin? Place the bird in a very hot oven, 200°C, for 40 minutes. Then reduce heat to 170°C for the remainder of the cooking time.
Cranberry sauce, bread sauce and chestnut can also be frozen in advance – just add a splash of cream or milk after reheating.
Freeze left over wine in ice cube trays, adding later to sauces, gravy or if it’s white to chill your wine.