AS Christmas approaches there’s more and more pressure each year to perform in the kitchen.
Gone are the days when the standard turkey dinner is enough to satisfy our maturing palates.
We caught up with some of Northern Ireland’s top chefs to find the secret to serving the perfect Christmas dinner.
For celebrity chef NICK PRICE he says getting the turkey should be the main priority so that everything else can fall into place around it.
Nick, formerly of Nick’s Warehouse is currently a consultant chef at The Clandeboye Lodge’s Coq & Bull brasserie.
He said: “I like to take off the legs of the turkey, remove the bones and fill them with stuffing. Then tie them up and wrap in foil – without the legs the turkey will cook quicker.
“Be sure to check the revised weight against the 20 mins per lb and an extra 20 mins over rule. I also like to cook the turkey upside down – on its breast, this keeps it nice and moist.
“The stuffed legs can go in with the bird for the last hour, add a couple of pints of water to the tray with the turkey and wrap the whole bird in foil.
Top TV chef PAUL RANKIN agrees with Nick Price that getting the turkey right helps the rest of the dinner become less stressful.
He said: “Invest in a quality bird that has been dry-plucked and hung for ten days; a good quality turkey will make the cook’s job considerably easier by yielding flavourful, tender meat with little effort.
“Keep it simple. Season the turkey simply with salt and pepper.
“Avoid stuffing the cavity. Instead, cook the stuffing separately or remove the legs, then stuff and roll them into a ballotine.”
Planning Is Everything
BBC star PAULA MCINTYRE reckons keeping it simple and sticking to the plan can take the stress out of any seasonal feast.
She’s currently working alongside Northern Ireland convenience retailer SPAR to show how the perfect dinner can be found on your doorstep.
Paula said: “Instead of serving a starter for each of your guests try making some canapes. This means everyone isn’t waiting around with rumbling tummies.
“Also don’t overstretch yourself by having loads of different vegetables and potatoes. Oven space is a priority, use a steamer to utilise space and serve a flavoured butter to pep up the carrots.
“Planning is also important, remember you can make things such as stuffing and gravy ahead of Christmas day and freeze them. Just defrost the day before and cook as normal.
“Lastly, stick to what you know. Christmas isn’t the time for experimenting. And don’t forget to take help when it’s offered.”
Northern Ireland food writer and TV chef JAMES MCINTOSH is a big fan of forward preparation. Like Paula he believes having a solid plan can help festive cooking with ease.
Currently James is on a mission around Northern Ireland to find local producers and chefs to feature in his forthcoming publication the NI Cookbook.
James said: “In cooking there is a French term called ‘Mise-en-Place’. It means getting everything ready in your mind before cooking.
“I have a five step plan for a less stressful Christmas dinner party because after all, the cook has to enjoy the party too.
“Firstly, plan the menu making sure to include all accompaniments and afters like coffee and chocolates. Then write a shopping list and do the shopping. That way you won’t spend more than your budget allows for either.
“Make a time plan this will help to ensure everything will be ready on time. If some items end up being cooked a little early, you can always cover the food with a little foil and turn the oven down to a lower temperature.
“Read the recipes thoroughly before you start cooking so you have a good idea of any preparation required, including chilling time so there won’t be any last minute surprises to throw off your time plan.
“And lastly start to cook to the time plan and if you can, make as much as possible in advance.”
A Little Pizazz
Well known award winning chef NIALL MCKENNA says getting the boring jobs out of the way early means you have time to add a little pizazz to your meals.
Niall, who owns James St South and Cast & Crew in Belfast said: “The best tip I can give is to plan, anything that can be done in advance you really should.
“When it comes to meat and turkey try and buy the best quality you can afford. For the stuffing I always roll it into little round balls rather than stuff into the cavity.
“With regular things like Brussel sprouts – jazz them up with bacon or pancetta and don’t be afraid to look for recipes online. One way to cook them, for example, is to slice the sprouts finely, heat some butter and garlic in a pan and add, cook for no more than five minutes and season with salt and pepper.
James McIntosh’s all round hints
1. Baked goods are not flexible when it comes to temperature and have to be cooked at the temperature on the recipe, so it’s always best to have a cold desert that you have pre-made just in case.
2. Dishes with stronger flavours are best to cook separate to ones of less flavour. For example, you will want to cook a light and delicate sponge cake separately to a garlic roast.
3. Meat is the most flexible with temperature. The longer it is cooked at a lower temperature, the juicer it will be. However remember it needs to be up to temperature before serving so it’s not raw in the middle, and when cooked, you have 20 minutes of oven space available for other last minute accompaniments while it’s resting.
4. Ensure that air can circulate between the dishes when cooking so they are not tightly packed in together.
Nick Price’s perfect cranberry sauce recipe
500g of FRESH cranberries
1 whole orange cut into chunks (skin and all just remove the pips)
Caster sugar to taste, start with 2 tablespoons…not too much tasting!
Place all in a food processor and blitz
Final taste test and add more sugar if required – keeps for about 2 weeks covered in the fridge
Serve smart says Paula McIntyre
“To make things easier why not serve everything as a buffet and let people help themselves – that way if they don’t like sprouts they don’t have to have them.
“Also the food won’t be cold by the time you have plated up ten different meals.
“Delegate responsibilities to guests rather than putting all the pressure on one person.”
Niall McKenna’s amazing ham accompaniment
Slow Baked Ham Hock (Serves 8)
1 tbsp black peppercorns
2 onions, sliced
5kg unsmoked ham
Mustard glaze 2 tbsp of Dijon, 2tbsp American mustard, 4 tbsp honey, and 2 tsp ground allspice.
Heat the oven to 160c. Place the peppercorn and onions in the bottom of a large roasting tray and pour in 2cm of water. Place rack in tin and sit the ham on top. Cover the tray with tin foil as tightly as possible and bake in over for 4 hours. Remove and turn oven up to 200c.
To make the glaze place all the ingredients into a pan and heat gently, add a splash of water if the glaze becomes too thick and bring to the simmer.
Remove the skin from the ham leaving a decent layer of fat and score the fat in a diamond pattern and stud with the cloves. Brush with the glaze and reglaze through the cooking process, cook for 15-20 minutes. Make sure it doesn’t darken too much during the cooking process. The ham will need to be left out for 30 minutes before carving.