How to master your first festive feast – from turkey and veggies to boozy gravy

16 mins read

CHRISTMAS DAY plans scuppered and suddenly embarking on cooking your first ever festive feast?

Worry not – before you start Googling “turkey basting”, “giblets” and “gravy roux”, read our dummy’s guide to making the perfect festive dinner.


We’ve put together a dummy’s guide to help you master your first Christmas dinner[/caption]

Whether you want to recreate Nigella Lawson’s maple syrup parsnips, Mary Berry’s trifle or Gordon Ramsay’s boozy gravy, here is everything you need to know from them and fellow chefs Jamie Oliver, James Martin, Delia Smith, Marco Pierre White, John Torode and Martha Stewart.

Top tips

  • Clear fridge so plenty of space
  • Make sure oven big enough for turkey
  • Remember to defrost turkey
  • Buy cranberry sauce and bread sauce
  • Prepare as much as possible the day before
  • Roasties and Yorkshire puds can be frozen
  • Give yourself plenty of time, make a schedule
  • Remember to rest turkey

Par-cook veg day before

GET ahead on Christmas Eve by prepping your veggies.

James says: “The day before, bring a large pan of salted water to the boil.


Prep your veggies by blanching them for three to six minutes, depending on the size[/caption]

“Blanch each type of veg individually for three to six mins, depending on the size. Remove with a slotted spoon, plunge into ice-cold water, then drain.

“Put the veg on a tray and store in the fridge. On the day, just before it’s time to serve the main course, bring a large pan of water to the boil, add the veg and cook for two to three minutes.

“Drain and dot with butter. Serve in a large dish.”

James Martin says they’ll only need boiling for another two to three minutes the next day

Give your turkey time

FIRST things first, remember to defrost your turkey, remove the giblets and make sure you leave enough time to cook it.

As a general rule, allow 20 minutes per kilo plus 70 minutes if your turkey is less than 4kg. For a 4kg to 5kg turkey, that is around 2½ hours.


Remember to defrost your turkey and remove the giblets before you cook it[/caption]

And don’t forget to let the turkey rest before eating, too.

Jamie says: “Knowing the exact weight will ensure the cooking time is correct, and thus avoid an overcooked and dry bird, or a raw one.

“And don’t forget to leave time for your turkey to rest when it comes out of the oven.

“Turkeys between 4kg and 6kg should be rested for 1½ hours, and ones from 6kg to 10kg can rest for two hours.”

Streaky for pigs in blankets

IT’S easier wrapping fiddly chipolata sausages in streaky, rather than back or middle bacon and Jamie suggests adding a drizzle of honey during cooking.

He says: “Cook in a preheated oven at 180C/350F/gas 4 for 30 minutes, or until golden, gnarly and cooked through.


Wrap your chipolatas in streaky rather than back or middle bacon[/caption]

“Using a fish slice, scrape the pigs in blankets from the bottom of the tray, leaving them in there, then add Worcestershire sauce and give it a good shake, scraping all that sticky goodness from the bottom of the tray.

“Drizzle in the honey, then place on a medium heat on the hob and bring to the boil until caramelised, shaking continuously to coat. Serve immediately.”

Jamie Oliver Enterprises Ltd/ Ella Miller

Jamie Oliver suggests adding a drizzle of honey and Worcestershire sauce during cooking[/caption]

Never peel parsnips

DON’T ruin parsnips by peeling them, as Jamie reckons all the taste and goodness is in the skin.

He says: “I only found this out about five or six years ago and I’ve been cooking since I was eight.

“Just cut off the ends and par-boil them for about six minutes.

“Drain them, toss them in your chosen fat, add some herbs, then roast them with salt and pepper for about 50 minutes at 180C. Put your parsnip glaze on in the last five minutes of roasting.”

Nigella goes further and drizzles maple syrup on hers.

Beat the stuffing

FOR the simplest stuffing use a boxed mix. Marco adapts this by adding fried chopped onions and some sage to the mix, along with some boiling water (as per the packet instructions).

He then adds sausage meat and stuffs it inside the neck of the turkey before cooking.


Mix your stuffing for three minutes to make it fluffy rather than stodgy[/caption]

Or you could roll it into balls, put on a loaf tin and sprinkle with sage leaves. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes.

John recommends beating the mixture with a wooden spoon for three minutes to get some air into it so that it expands during cooking — leaving it fluffy rather than stodgy.

Steve Dunlop

Marco Pierre White adds chopped onions and sage for some extra flavour[/caption]

Don’t score sprouts

IT’S a tradition in many households to score sprouts before boiling, but experts say this can leave them waterlogged.

Delia recommends we buy small sprouts and steam them.


Don’t score your sprouts – it can leave them waterlogged[/caption]

She says: “You don’t want big golf balls, you want to buy small ones. If there are any outer leaves, take them off.

“You don’t need to make any little crosses and I think they’re best simply steamed. You can toss in a bit of butter if you want.”

Rex Features

Buy small sprouts and steam them, just like Delia Smith[/caption]

Turn turkey upside down

ONE of the biggest complaints about turkey is that it is too dry.

Nigella recommends giving it a bath before popping it in the oven, which means adding is to a large pan with water, salt and spices such as cloves.

Turn the turkey upside down halfway through cooking so it bastes itself[/caption]

She says: “For me, the only turkey is a brined one.

“Not only will it tenderise the meat and add subtle spice and depth of flavour, it’ll also make carving the bird much easier.”

If finding a pot big enough sounds like too much trouble, other celebrity chefs, including Martha Stewart, suggest turning the bird upside down halfway through cooking so that it bastes itself — though be extremely careful not to spill any hot turkey fat.

Jack Layer, a MasterChef finalist in 2016, who runs exclusive monthly supper clubs in London’s Covent Garden, also recommends this method, saying: “Half way through cooking, tip the turkey upside down to let juices flow through the meat.”


Nigella Lawson recommends putting it in a bath of water, salt and spices before popping it in the oven[/caption]

Ketchup for prawns

IF it’s not broken, why fix it? Many of us still have a retro prawn cocktail as a starter on Christmas day.

For the sauce, James suggests simply mixing ketchup with a teaspoon of brandy, a few drops of Tabasco to taste and one teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce.


Mix ketchup, brandy, Tabasco and Worcestershire sauce for an easy prawn cocktail[/caption]

He makes his own mayonnaise to mix it with, but a shop-bought version will do the job too.

Then once you’ve made your sauce, James says: “Pile lettuce into dishes, top with prawns and a dollop of sauce then sprinkle over cress.”

Breadcrumb the roasties

IT can be difficult to perfect the crunchy outside and soft, fluffy inside of roast potatoes, so why not cheat?

Sprinkle on some ready-made bread-crumbs, or as Gordon suggests, semolina.

He recommends par-boiling and steam-drying potatoes first, before roasting them in duck or goose fat.

He said: “For the ultimate crunch, gently shake the potatoes to create fluffy edges that will crisp up while roasting and finish with a sprinkling of semolina – this will add a heavenly crunch to the potatoes.”

Then pop them in the oven to roast.

Boozy roux for gravy

COMMON gravy mistakes are that it is too lumpy or a bit watery.

To avoid the lumps, whisk! And to avoid gravy being too watery, top chefs always make a roux first — turkey fat, butter and oil — then gradually add stock. Gordon adds a splash of booze, too.


To make the perfect gravy, make a roux out of turkey fat, butter and oil before gradually adding stock[/caption]

He says to drain the excess fat from the roasting tray, then put it on the heat on the hob. Then add bacon (if you have had it wrapped around the turkey), onions and the lemon from the cavity – all chopped up.

He adds chopped tomatoes, rosemary sprigs, the wings of the turkey and, importantly, dry cider.

Then once the liquid has reduced, mash up some veg, pour in stock and reduce again by a third. Strain through a sieve, pressing down on the solids, and serve.

James has a secret gravy hack too — freeze any leftover in an ice cube tray so that you can save it and simply warm it up later.


Gordon Ramsay’s top tip is adding a splash of booze to your gravy[/caption]

Heat brandy before pouring on to pud

CHRISTMAS pudding just isn’t the same without a good splosh of plonk, but to get the most spectacular results make sure you heat the brandy first.

Mary says: “Steam or boil the pudding for about an hour to reheat. Then turn it on to a serving plate.


Serve up the most spectacular Christmas pudding by heating the brandy first[/caption]

“To flame, warm three to four tablespoons of brandy or rum in a small pan. Pour it over the hot pudding and set light to it.

“Serve with rum sauce, boozy cream or brandy butter.”

Cheat with the trifle

EVEN the best chefs sometimes cut corners, and Mary’s Cheat’s Christmas Apricot Trifle recipe is a perfect example. She uses shop-bought custard and sponges.

Mary says: “Spread the apricot jam over one half of each slice of sponge and sandwich together with the other half.

Cut corners by using shop-bought custard and sponges in your trifle

“Drain the tinned apricots, reserving three tablespoons of syrup from the tin, and chop the apricot halves into chunks.

“Arrange half the sandwiched-together trifle sponges in the base of a glass trifle bowl and press them in.


Mary Berry’s apricot trifle is delicious, and it can be made a day ahead and kept covered in the fridge[/caption]

“Pour over half the apricot syrup and half the brandy until all the sponge is soaked. Scatter half the chopped apricots over the top.

“Repeat with another, final layer of sponge, apricot syrup, brandy and apricots. Spoon over the custard, spread or pipe over the cream and scatter with the toasted flaked almonds.

“This can be made a day ahead and kept covered in the fridge. Make sure you scatter over the nuts just before serving so that they stay crisp.”

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