How to cook your best-ever Christmas dinner
Author: Stewart Turner
Christmas is great fun at our house, everyone’s up at the crack of dawn, downstairs, opening presents, then we’re in the car and off: we go round to my brother-in-law’s with the kids and I cook the dinner, then it’s just relaxing with good food and good wine. This is my stress-free recipe.
First, buy yourself a decent turkey – a bronze, and look for a hen bird as they tend to be slightly more tender. Then, my top tip for Christmas is to crown it. No, not the paper hat stuff – you want to ask your butcher to remove and bone the legs (which can then be rolled up with stuffing and roasted) and to take out the wish bones. You want to do this because 1) it’ll be a dream to carve – a piece of cake – and 2) it means that you can cook these very different joints for the right length of time. (No one wants dry breast and undercooked leg.) It also reduces the cooking time by half – so there’s no need to be up at daybreak to get the bird on.
At Berry Bros. we have taken to brining our turkeys – pop the crown in the solution (see below) for 48 hours and this will make sure the meat stays super-succulent. Before you’re ready to cook it, rinse the bird and let it come up to room temperature. For a bit of added luxury, you can always pipe a little truffle or herb butter under the skin. And don’t forget the sprouts – properly cooked and nicely caramelised, they’re the king of Christmas veg.
For the brine
4.5 l water
1 lemon, sliced
1 head garlic, split
1 tsp peppercorns
½ bunch thyme
1/bunch flat parsley
Bring 500ml water to the boil, then add the salt and honey. Once they have dissolved, pour the mixture into the remaining water. Leave to cool completely before using
8-10 good-quality, rare breed sausages, skins removed
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 large sprig of thyme and rosemary leaves, chopped
6 fresh sage leaves, chopped
1 lemon, zest only
50g chestnuts, peeled and roughly chopped
50g dried apricots, chopped
2 apples, peeled, cored and diced
50g fresh white breadcrumbs
Heat the butter in a saucepan. Add the onions and garlic and soften over a low heat. Stir in the sage, thyme, rosemary and lemon zest. Add the apples and continue cooking until they are just beginning to lose their shape, then add the chestnuts and apricots. Remove from the heat and allow to cool. Once cool, add to the sausage meat and beat well to blend everything together.
For the turkey
Once you’ve made the stuffing, spread some in the boned legs then roll them up and tie with string. Wrap the remaining stuffing in a greaseproof paper and tin-foil parcel, and put aside.
Next, once you’ve rinsed, dried and buttered the turkey crown, stick it in a roasting tray, uncovered, along with the legs, and pop it into a hot oven for about 1 ½ hours. I start it off at about 200C to get a nice colour, then after about 20 minutes reduce the temperature to 170C. Once the bird’s cooked – check it with a skewer – make sure you rest it for at least 30 minutes. Give the legs about another half an hour again, check they’re cooked (the juices should run clear) and then rest them until you’re ready to plate up the meal. While the turkey’s resting, cook the stuffing for around 25mins.
The best Brussel sprouts
200g peeled chestnuts
100g butter, diced
1 clove garlic, grated
I know that sprouts are a Marmite sort of veg – you either love ‘em or hate them. I am definitely a lover, but they have to be cooked properly. This is where it can all go wrong: you either get the cannon balls or green grey mush. For me, sprouts have to be cooked through you just can’t serve them crunchy, they must be just cooked and slightly yielding but not mushy.
Remove the outside leaves and cut a deep criss cross in the base. Boil them in salted water and, once just-cooked, drain them. Now heat some butter in a frying pan until foaming add the sprouts in a single layer and fry until they just start to colour, then throw in the chestnuts and garlic continue to cook until lovely and golden basting with the foaming butter. The butter adds a fantastic nuttiness that takes them to the next level – this will turn any sprout detester into a sprout lover.
Stewart’s seasonal drinking
With the canapés: it’s got to be Champagne – go with your favourite – you’ve got to have some bubbles before you move onto the still stuff.
Before the main event: this German Riesling will blow your socks off – it is just amazing. Usually, I love Chardonnay, I’d have it six days a week and twice on Sundays, but for Christmas I wanted something different: 2012 Lorcher Krone Riesling QbA Trocken, Grand Cru, Eva Fricke
With the turkey: for me, it’s got to be Pinot Noir – I find the New Zealand ones have this brilliant linear precision and intensity. Try 2010 Berrys’ New Zealand Pinot Noir, Ara, Marlborough
For the sweet stuff: we’re going off-piste this year with something a bit different from the usual Sauternes, so we’re going to try this Cypriot wine recommended by Demetri Walters MW. It’s lovely, and will be a total winner with Christmas pud. 2004 Kyperounda, Commandaria Limassol, Cyprus
That’s the lot – a proper Christmas feast. Let me know how you get on with it and – whatever you’re eating and drinking – have a very Merry Christmas.