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How to ace Christmas dinner

Anxious about your turkey timings? Feeling pressured over your potatoes? Here's 12 stress-busting tips to help you nail it on the day, courtesy of The Cross’s Michelin-starred Chef Director Adam Bennett.

If Christmas lunch has you reaching for the sherry in sheer panic, then help is at hand. It is after all just a pimped up roast dinner. But according to The Cross’ Chef Director, when you’re feeling under pressure, this is not the time to start experimenting – stick to recipes you have already cooked before and keep it simple. You want to enjoy the day as well.

Adam was Head Chef at the Michelin-starred Simpsons in Edgbaston for 10 years, where he also ran Simpson Cookery School before taking over as Chef Director of The Cross at Kenilworth in September 2013 so he knows a thing or two about keeping calm in the kitchen. Within a year The Cross received a Michelin star which it retains today.

At home Coventry-born Adam likes to cook Christmas dinner, normally for big family gathering of around 20 – and he notices in the run up to the big day his friends start listening to any advice he dishes out very carefully.

Here are his top tips for producing the killer Christmas roast. So here you go, tidings of great joy for anyone who hankers after perfect roasties and can’t face wrestling with a turkey for hours.

ADAM’S TOP TIPS FOR COOKING THE PERFECT CHRISTMAS LUNCH:

  1. The starter – We will have soup. It’s nice and easy to serve with something like cured or smoked salmon. I will also make a meat-based starter like chicken liver parfait – but that’s me. Pumpkin soup is a great for Christmas and you can garnish with seared scallops. I am a great fan of soup, it’s an underrated skill.
  2. The turkey – I will cook turkey, pork, and beef. I usually go for a free-range bronze from Aubrey Allen. The big conundrum with any bird is that the legs cook at a different rate to the breast. You end up with undercooked legs or overcooked breast. The best way to avoid this is to take the legs off and cook the crown and legs separately.
  3. You can ask your butcher to debone the turkey taking it off the crown – and chop up the bones for you to take home for the gravy.
  4. On December 23 brine your turkey for six to 10 hours as this adds flavour, moisture and makes the skin crispy. I go for 60g of salt to 1 litre of water. First dissolve the salt in a little hot water and put in a bay leaf, peppercorns, garlic, rosemary, and thyme, then add cold water for the rest. Cover your turkey with the brine ideally in the fridge, then after 10 hours rinse off with water and leave open to dry in the fridge until Dec 25.
  5. Preheat the oven to 220°C/fan200°C/gas 7 and cook the turkey for 20 – 30 minutes to brown. Then lower the oven to 85ºC and cook the turkey for 6 – 8 hours depending on size. You need the turkey to reach a core temperature of 65C at the thickest part of the breast.
  6. The only fool proof way to know if it’s cooked through it to use a temperature probe – it will cost you £15 – £20 but it’s worth it.
  7. Heat the oven to 200°C and just before carving, place the turkey back into the oven for 15-20 minutes to bring up to serving temperature.
  8. For the gravy add the chopped bones to the turkey tray for a roast through with some black pepper, grated garlic, onion, and celery. Transfer the juices and veg from the turkey tray into a pan. If you have a bottle open pour in a splash of wine, add stock and let it simmer for 15 – 20 minutes. Put through a sieve.
  9. Roast potatoes. I use Maris Piper potatoes and drop the peeled potatoes into boiling salted water for around 12-15 minutes. After draining, toss them gently in a colander to roughen up the edges. Roast with plenty of duck fat in a hot oven (220ºC) turning every 10 minutes for about half an hour or until they are golden and crispy. Add some cracked garlic cloves, fresh thyme and rosemary for the last ten minutes of cooking.
  10. The biggest tip for Christmas Day is to cook the vegetables the night before. I go for three different coloured veg – carrots, parsnips and sprouts. Blanch the carrots and sprouts in boiling water for a couple of minutes then put them in iced water to stop the cooking process. I have some nice service bowls with lids – so I put the veg in them and keep in the fridge overnight ready to microwave on Christmas day. It takes a bit of the pressure off. Parsnips you can roast with the potatoes
  11. Cook stuffing separately in a tray.  You can make your own with sausage meat, lots of fried onion with garlic, a couple of eggs, breadcrumbs, sage and parsley add in some sautéed chestnuts or some soft dried apricots and a little bit of butter. Add some course breadcrumbs and herbs on top.
  12. Dessert – I usually serve 2 – 3, including Christmas pudding, something like a tiramisu is always good and something fruity – I like to do poached pear served with syllabub. Christmas it up with some spices in syrup.

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