Christmas lunch really is one meal where it is well worth doing as much preparation and cooking in advance as you can so that you have as little to do as possible at the last minute. Even if you’ve cooked Christmas lunch many times before, it is always a challenge. Here are some tips to make it all as stress-free as possible. One of the biggest tasks at Christmas is the shopping. Buy all of the larder or store cupboard ingredients and booze well ahead, and store where they will not get used by mistake before the big day!
Perishable items can all be bought by 23 December; there shouldn’t be any need to rush to the shops on Christmas Eve. Remember that most supermarkets are open long hours in the run-up to Christmas and some also deliver. If you are really pushed you can order your groceries online.
Order a fresh turkey in good time from your butcher or supermarket, or even online from a specialist supplier. It is worth asking in advance how much notice they need. Also ask whether they deliver – one less thing for you to do! If you are ordering a larger turkey than you usually cook, do check that it will fit in the oven! Fresh turkeys are best, but if you do buy a frozen bird take care to thaw it thoroughly. Thaw the turkey in a cool place such as the garage, not in the fridge or in water. Watch the temperature outside though, because if it is freezing the turkey will take longer to thaw. Aim to have the turkey defrosted completely and into the fridge by Christmas Eve. When thawed the meat should be soft and the cavity ice free. Check that the legs move freely from the breast too. Remove the giblets from a fresh bird at once, and as soon as they are loose from a frozen bird, cover and keep in the fridge or use straightaway to make giblet stock. Allow the turkey to come to room temperature for about 1 hour before cooking. Time the turkey so that it has at least half an hour to rest before carving. Is the turkey cooked? Remember that ovens vary and although you can work out the approximate time to cook your turkey (see the chart on page 107), it is still essential to test it with a meat thermometer or by using a skewer. Insert the dial/spike type of thermometer into the thickest part of the turkey thigh at the beginning of cooking. The digital type of meat thermometer goes into the turkey to test the temperature at the end (see also page 105).
To test whether the turkey is cooked with a skewer, insert the skewer into the thickest part of the thigh and check the juices – they should run clear when the turkey is cooked. If the juices are still pink, then the turkey is not yet cooked. Pull the legs away from the breast to allow the heat to circulate and return the turkey to the oven for about 15-30 minutes before testing again. Cover the breast of the turkey with foil to protect it from getting too dark and drying out. Resting the turkey Loosely cover the whole cooked turkey with foil, then also with clean towels to keep the heat in. The turkey will happily sit like this for up to 2 hours and still be piping hot when carved. While the turkey is resting there is plenty of time to cook the sausages wrapped in bacon, re-roast the potatoes and parsnips, and reheat the vegetables, stuffing, bread sauce, scarlet confit and gravy. If you get terribly behind with the remaining preparations (or the family are delayed), then simply put the turkey back into the oven at a high temperature at the last minute. Any leftover turkey needs to be cooled and put into the fridge as soon as possible – don’t leave it hanging around in a hot steamy kitchen!
Carving the turkey
I find it easier to carve one side of the turkey first. Take off one leg and cut in half to give a drumstick and thigh. Carve the meat from the leg – you may find this easier with a smaller knife – and slice the thigh meat. Cut the wing off the bird as close to the breast as possible, then slice the breast meat on the diagonal, including some stuffing. Arrange the meats and sliced stuffing on a serving
platter so everyone can have a little light meat from the breast and dark meat from the legs.
Lumpy gravy? Simply sieve or you could use a hand-held blender to destroy the lumps. If your gravy is too thin, add a teaspoon of cornflour mixed with a little cold water or stock, then bring back to the boil to thicken. Adding the skimmed juices from the roasted turkey enhances the flavour of the gravy no end, but if yours still seems a little tasteless, check seasoning and then add a dash of Worcestershire sauce.
A few reminders
Sharpen knives well ahead. Make sure you have supplies of extra-wide foil, kitchen roll, clingfilm and non-stick baking paper. It is good to have a large spoon for basting. A skewer or meat thermometer is essential for testing the turkey. If oven space is short, then half-roast the parsnips and potatoes the day before (see pages 134 and 135). If your Christmas pudding is traditional, and contains a high proportion of sugar, dried fruits, fat and alcohol, it can be reheated in the microwave. All these ingredients quickly reach a high temperature in the microwave. It’s a good idea to be on hand while the pudding reheats, and reheat for slightly less time than directed to begin with. Also check the power of your microwave and refer to the manufacturer’s handbook if in doubt. Remove the foil and paper from the pudding and microwave on 750W for about 3 minutes. If not cooked, cook again at 1-minute intervals. Leave to stand for 2 minutes before serving.
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