12 tips from a Michelin starred chef for cooking up a festive feast

Prepare for an extra special Christmas
Prepare for an extra special Christmas

Michelin starred chef Jeff Baker shares his 12 top tips on creating a stress-free festive feast this Christmas

We all know just how stressful Christmas can be, finding the perfect gifts, wrapping them, travelling to see family and then the grand finale, making the Christmas dinner.

Free Range Turkey

Free Range Turkey

These twelve top tips for a successful Christmas Day are sure to make your day go with a swing.

1. Get the drinks in the fridge...now!

Amongst the carnage of cooking times and counting plates, it's easy to forget about the drinks. To avoid any upset once your guests have arrived and throughout your dinner, pop your fizz, white wine or beer in the fridge as soon as you can. Not your tipple? Red wine should be open a few hours before dinner to left it breathe and intensify the flavour.

2. Pre-feast nibbles to satisfy all the guests

Pigs in blankets are popular at this time of year

Pigs in blankets are popular at this time of year

Whipping up super speedy nibbles couldn’t be any easier. British charcuterie makes a tasty selection while being simple to prepare. Simply serve with sourdough bread and your favourite dips and pickles, allowing you to get back to perfecting your feast without worrying about entertaining your guests.

3. A scrumptious starter with a difference

If you are looking to impress, baked figs and fresh goats curd with truffle honey will go down a treat. Bake the figs in a cool oven at about 120° c with the truffle honey (4tsp) until tender (usually takes about 15-20 minutes). Next, mix together the walnut oil (4tsp) and sherry vinegar (1tsp) and toss with rocket leaves and place the salad in 4 bowls. Add the figs and curd (200g) into each bowl, then scatter over some broken walnuts. For extra scrumptiousness serve with fresh baked sourdough.

4. The perfect gravy? Easy peasy

Forerib of beef

Forerib of beef

There’s no need to cut corners and reach for the instant gravy this Christmas. Simply tip the excess fat from your roasting tray, add giblets and fry until brown. Next add ready to use stock of your choice (match with your meat for the best flavour). With the stock in the tray, scrape any leftover meat sediment into the stock and boil to reduce the volume. Add herbs of your choice and pass the liquid through a fine sieve into a clean pan. Want a real rich treat? Reduce the gravy a little then whisk in a large knob of cold unsalted butter, enjoy.

5. Roasties from the freezer? I don’t think so…

Arguably the most difficult element of the Christmas spread...the roast potatoes. A top tip is to peel, wash, and steam your potatoes until they are just cooked. This will usually take around 16 minutes. Once cooked, melt duck fat and drizzle over the potatoes, and season with sea salt & a few sprigs of rosemary. Place on a non-stick tray in a pre-heated oven 220°C /200°C fan assisted (gas 7) & roast until golden & crisp, 40 -45 minutes turning after 25 minutes.

6. How to get the most out of your meat: Turkey

Ripon Cathedral cured mini gammon

Ripon Cathedral cured mini gammon

To get the best flavour as well as use up as much of the meat as you can try this top tip. Remove the giblets and keep them for the gravy later. On the day of roasting, sit the turkey in your kitchen to slowly bring it up to room temperature, this gives an even roast. And don’t forget to weigh your turkey!

Soften 150g of butter with the zest of a lemon, sea salt, thyme leaves, and a splash of olive oil, (about 25ml). Gently lift the skin away from the breast meat starting at the cavity and carefully push the softened butter between skin and flesh. To stuff, cut an onion in two and place it with the rindless lemon and a carrot into the cavity with some fresh sage. Now put the turkey on a wire trivet and place in a preheated oven at 220°C /200°C fan assisted (gas 7) for 30 minutes. Then pour 200ml of water onto the base of the tray and cover the turkey with tin foil. Reduce the heat to 160°C or 180°C without a fan(gas 4) and roast 40 minutes per kilo, removing the tin foil for the last 30 minutes or so to colour the skin. To check the turkey is cooked pierce the skin between thigh and breast and push the skewer in to the flesh close to the bone. The juices should run clear. Ta da!

7. Struggle to get the kids to eat vegetables? They’ll ask for seconds with this tip

For carrots, turnips, parsnips or even shallots, simply place them together in a tin foil bag with a sprig of thyme or rosemary, a whole garlic clove, sea salt, and a teaspoon of duck fat. I then bake in the oven for a minimum of 1 hour until the vegetables are sweet and lightly caramelized. For green vegetables and brassica, boil them in salted water until just cooked, then refresh in ice-cold water and drain. To finish, gently toss in a little butter and cracked pepper, sometimes with toasted almonds, caraway seeds or crispy smoked bacon and a few diced shallots.

8. An alternative to roast potatoes

Yes, there are some people who don’t like the classic roastie. Luckily, parsnip and potato gratin is simple to make. Warm equal amounts of whole milk and cream (500ml in total), with a couple of crushed garlic cloves, plus salt and ground white pepper. When nicely infused pour the mixture onto roughly 500g of thinly sliced potatoes mixed with 200g of thinly sliced parsnips. Layer in a gratin dish and bake for 15 minutes on 180°C or 200°C without a fan(gas 6) then lower the heat to 160°C or 180°C without a fan(gas 4) and cook for a further 40 minutes or until the potatoes are tender. Don’t forget to press the gratin now and again to form a cake like texture.

9. Mix up your pigs in blankets

This year there are a whole range of extras to tempt your guests, from chestnut & apricot stuffing balls, four varieties of pigs n blankets to ‘devils on horseback’ all easy to cook and perfect as nibbles or with your traditional roast.

10. Rich, buttery bread sauce, look no further

Take 6 slices of brioche without crust and make into crumbs, heat 350ml of whole milk with 1/2 diced onion, bouquet garni and season with salt, pepper, and a little nutmeg. Pour the infused milk onto the breadcrumbs and cook on a gentle heat until thickened slightly. Then whisk in 50g of cold diced butter and keep warm. Of course, this recipe can be made with simple white breadcrumbs if you prefer a more traditional sauce.

11. Master your cheeseboard

Serve cheeses made with different types of milk- ewe’s, cow’s, goat’s, even buffalo milk, or those made from a blend of milks. Each type of milk has a different flavour profile and this will make your selection more varied. Also think about varying textures, smooth, crumbly or sticky, they all make for a great cheese board. Serve alongside semi dried fruits, some quality butter, and a simple biscuit or two, or for something extra special, some fruit cheese or truffle honey.

Before serving, remove cheeses from packaging and leave uncovered at room temperature for at least an hour, or even longer. This way, they can breathe and you can taste the full spectrum of flavours in each and don’t let the cheese touch each other as this can alter the flavour.

12. Never know what to do with the leftovers?

Create another quick and delicious Boxing Day meal as a way to use up any leftover turkey. Dice 2 onions and soften with a crushed clove of garlic. Add a glass of dry white wine and boil into syrup. Then add 200ml of poultry stock and 200ml of cream. Bring to a boil and season with salt and pepper. Roughly slice a selection of mixed mushrooms (about 150g) and add to the sauce, then add your shredded turkey and a dozen or so chestnuts, walnuts or almonds to the mix. Simmer for 20 minutes on a low heat.

To finish, add a handful of chopped parsley and serve with some simple rice, potatoes or make into a wonderful pie. Simply chill the mixture down then cover with a good quality puff pastry and bake for 20 minutes at 180°C or 200°C without a fan(gas 6) until golden brown!

Guide and pictures supplied by Jeff Baker, Development Chef at Farmison & Co.