The cards may read “peace to all men” but Christmas is a time for bitter fights, tantrums and physical conflict, especially when it comes to lunch (or should that be “dinner”?).
Most of all, it’s a day when people come together to vehemently disagree about food. Siblings will fly thousands of miles, cross land and sea, to brawl over whether there should be Yorkshire puddings with the turkey. And where do all the new vegans fit in? It’s a tinsel-strewn minefield.
But don’t worry: I’ve spoken to some of the country’s top chefs to compile this fool-proof guide to making Christmas day both peaceful and tasty.
Catering for vegans
Greggs sparked mayhem at the beginning of the year when it launched its vegan sausage roll. The budget bakery may even be to blame for all your new plant-based family members who require something more enticing than a dry nut roast.
Adam Rawson, executive chef at The Standard, has a solution. “Cook a whole miso and brown sugar baked celeriac, covered in roasted chestnut tahini with cranberry sauce and sage,” he says.
Pastaio’s Stevie Parle, meanwhile, urges the use of a “smallish onion squash”, stuffed with a “very nutty, herby pilaf rice… It’s delicious and looks the part.”
Chef restaurateur Robin Gill, who’s soon-to-open The Yard at Great Scotland Yard Hotel, has something more traditional in mind: “I’d suggest a chestnut pot roast with roasted root vegetables, finished with a maple syrup glaze.”
For the veggies, says Forest Side head chef Paul Leonard, “I always find a vegetarian wellington goes down a treat. I make a mushroom duxelle, confit some carrots and beets, then thinly slice parsnips. You can put anything in. Build it like a traditional wellington, with pancakes and a good puff pastry. It’s a showstopper when it comes out of the oven.”
Only last month November Waitrose announced it would be selling 100 per cent British lamb by 2021. Not that there’s anything wrong with New Zealand’s meat – we’ve been enjoying it for years – but these days provenance is king, and food miles are the enemy. Coombe Farm, based in Somerset, and London’s Turner & George both sell retired dairy beef, while ethical veg boxes such as those available through Abel & Cole will help to limit your carbon footprint.
At Stepney City Farm – or your closest equivalent – you’ll find the freshest eggs, homegrown veg, herbs, flowers, and some of the juiciest sausages going. You could even consider buying wine from one of London’s own producers. Chateau Tooting, anyone? The rose is surprisingly crisp.
Young people today drink less than the generations before them. There are plenty of reasons why, and all of them are boring. The point is, you’ve got to stock up if you don’t want to offend your nieces and nephews. It’s Christmas, give the Gen Zeros a break.
Seedlip is probably the best-known alcohol-free beverage. Described as the “world’s first distilled, sugar and additive-free non-alcoholic spirit,” it launched about four years ago and has since been used by some of London’s top bartenders to create drinks like the ‘NoGroni’.
Or there’s Everleaf, created by Paul Matthew of The Hide bar in Bermondsey. He said it took years of experimentation to find the right combination of flavours. “I wanted to make something non-alcoholic, firstly to give people more choice when they don’t necessarily want to drink, but also to reflect that concept of sustainability – sustainable consumption as well as sustainably sourced.”
No matter how carefully you plan, there’s bound to be food left over – who among us is not tempted to throw in a few extra few spuds, or prepare extra pigs-in-blankets, just in case. The cure might be a goose cassoulet.
“A perk of opting for goose is that you get great offcuts the next day. On Boxing Day I like to make a big sharing cassoulet with classic confit goose leg,” says Dan Fletcher.
“Using leftover sausage stuffing as a base, just add white beans, extra roast veg and some stock from the goose bones and pop it in the oven to slow cook. If you want to really impress, sprinkle over some crispy sprout leaves and chestnuts before serving.”
Tom Booton, head chef at The Dorchester Grill, has another nice idea: “A great way to use up a ham hock is to shred the ham from the bone and then fry in a little oil until crispy. Serve crumbled over blanched hispi cabbage for the best Boxing Day dish.”
Make a curry instead
Every year people moan about dry turkey breast meat, and those people would perhaps be better off with something else entirely. So why not skip the whole palaver and make a madras? Rohit Ghai, from Indian restaurant Kutir, says he likes to kick things off with his signature quail naan and masala scrambled eggs. For the main event, James Cochran from Islington’s 12:51 has a foolproof turkey curry that’s sure to satisfy.
“Sometimes you need something more than a roast, and this is a serious option. Use turkey trim as a base, with curry powder and coconut milk to bring everything together.” Cochran has a simple recipe to follow: onions, minced garlic, a little grated ginger, two tbsp of scotch bonnet jam, 50g of raisins, 10g of coriander, 20g of curry powder, and 500g of coconut milk. Then add a handful of coriander and any leftover vegetables you have lying around.
Don’t bother cooking
Sure, you could toil for hours on turkey and chestnuts and jackfruit koftas. But maybe it’s time to admit that cooking isn’t in your repertoire. Do you really want to spend half a day preparing roast potatoes and skimming skin off vats of gravy? Go out for lunch instead.
“I’m cooking [at the restaurant] on Christmas day this year and we’ll be doing roast goose with all the trimmings,” says Adam Rawson. “We’re even making mince pies from the leg meat.” Nathan Eades, head chef at The Wild Rabbit, is going for a simpler vibe, with “cold cuts, pork pies, and terrines,”
Pasta guru Stevie Parle, meanwhile, has the day off and says he might go “somewhere classic” like The Ritz or The Goring. Imagine sitting down to dinner at the Ritz, everybody on their best behaviour, no dishes to worry about afterwards. Still want to tackle that turkey?
The art of Snacking
Before unleashing the turkey – or curry, or giant vegan sausage roll – what are you going to nibble on? Snacks – ‘canapes’ to our readers in the Home Counties – are a serious business. Personally I’m considering filling Yorkshire puddings with mac ‘n’ cheese, but a few chefs have some ideas, too.
George Barson, chef director at Cora Pearl and Kitty Fisher’s, will be making devils on horseback. “It’s the one thing I never go without and I always keep them pretty traditional,” he says. “Always streaky bacon – unsmoked is almost as pointless as unsalted butter in my mind – because the smoky, salty flavour contrasts perfectly with the sweetness of the pitted dried prune.”
Dan Fletcher, from 28 Market Place, adds: “I like to make the most of seasonal wild mushrooms and mix them up with some high quality sausage meat to make a giant sausage roll. I cut it up into slices and serve with some sliced prunes on top for a hit of sweetness. You can also leave out the sausage for a veggie version. And I love a little french snack called pissaladière. It’s a French-style pizza. You just top a thin bread dough base with anchovies, caramelised onions and olives and pop it in the oven until the dough is cooked. Then slice it up into squares and serve. The sweet and salty flavours go really well with champagne so it’s a perfect pre-lunch snack.”
Get the details right
Your uncle’s getting upset about the carrots and your mum’s telling your grandma off for the way she’s done the sprouts. Despite its age, Christmas dinner is as divisive as ever. Even the top chefs can’t agree. Nigella Lawson and Jason Atherton both insist on bread sauce with lunch. Ben Tish from Norma thinks slow roast pork belly is a more delicious alternative: “This is what I’ll be serving for my family this year, with roasted spiced quince and seasonal cabbage steamed and finished with orange, chilli and marjoram, and potatoes roast with thyme and garlic.”
Monica Galetti, meanwhile, says she likes to glaze a ham with tinned pineapple blitzed to a puree. “I add it to a simple caramel [heat caster sugar in a saucepan until golden]. It makes a nice thick glaze ready to brush over your ham, which doesn’t run off the sides.”
The Christmas sandwich
You’re doing Christmas wrong if you’re not rounding off the occasion with a hefty sandwich brimming with meat and gravy and all manner of delights. Just ask Richard Corrigan. The Bentley’s legend puts slices of cold leftover ham, homemade kimchi and grated red cabbage on buttered rye bread. “Add some chopped pineapple if you’re feeling exotic,” he advises.
Cornerstone’s Tom Brown says: “I use leftover beef – my mum always does beef and turkey – dipped in cold gravy, with enough horseradish sauce to sting your nose, pickled gherkins from the cheese board, sliced red onion on crusty tiger loaf. And don’t be shy on the butter, it’s Christmas after all.”
Sam Herlihy of The Sons + Daughters also knows his way around a sandwich. He says: “They are by nature made of leftovers. But to push them towards something truly lush I think you need to look to the less obvious remains. Gravy belongs in a sandwich for starters. I’d also raid the cheese plate. A handful of crisps, a quail egg or some chopped pistachios is classy as hell.”
Paul Ainsworth says turkey should be cooked breast from leg: “Keep in mind the turkey legs and breast are two totally different muscles, so to be at their absolute best they require two different cooking techniques. Ask your butcher to remove the crown, wishbone and the thigh bones from each leg, this will make carving easier after a few festive drinks.
“What I love to do with the deboned legs is stuff them with your favourite kind of sausage meat and add cranberries, apricots and classic Christmas spices. Season it with salt and pepper, brush with a little oil, wrap it in baking parchment and foil, and it’s ready for the oven. This really packs in the flavour and is much quicker than cooking the whole bird on the bone.”
And here’s a tip from Booton: “Boil the carrots in carrot juice instead of water for extra flavour,” says. Scott Paton of Boringdon Hall’s top tip is: “Try dressing your sprouts in the cooking juices from your pigs in blankets – you’ll change people’s lives forever”.
Finally, remember the five Ps: perfect planning prevents pathetic performance. “Cook your roast potatoes the day before,” says Lympstone Manor’s Michael Caines, “then re-heat them while the turkey is resting. Always blanch potatoes for three or four minutes before roasting to ensure they’re crispy on the outside and soft and creamy in the middle.”
Paul Ainsworth advises freezing your gravy so you can make sure you’ve got it right weeks ahead, while Jason Atherton says bread sauce can also be made in advance. He says sourdough works best, and he blends his with cloves, cinnamon, and mace.