Forget restaurant critic week on Masterchef. Serving up Christmas lunch for 10 while juggling present wrapping, visiting in-laws, sugar-wired children and a dog who is determined to liberate the ham from the fridge is a culinary challenge that ranks right up there with the very best. Yes, we’ve all seen that Nigella episode where she leisurely wafts around the kitchen in a festive dressing gown caressing a cup of tea and no, we don’t believe it for a minute.
Most of us are our own worst enemy. Such is our need for this monstrous roast to be triumphant that Christmas morning becomes an epic culinary marathon of pans, peelers and potatoes. It’s like being trapped in a domestic episode of Come Dine With Me, only with blood relatives to critique our efforts and no strangers’ pants drawer in which to have a poke around beforehand.
And yet it could all be so different. Or at least so says James Ramsden, author of the widely-acclaimed Do-Ahead Dinners and, now, Do-Ahead Christmas. With a bit of planning and advance preparation, once the turkey is in the oven you can actually leave the kitchen and foist yourself upon your guests on Christmas day. Go for a walk perhaps. Have a snooze. Maybe watch Frozen for the 18th time with your children.
Of course, there is no shortage of ‘get-ahead’ advice out there but traditionally all the focus is on stock-piling your freezer with sausage rolls, casseroles for the influx of guests between Christmas and New Year and pastry for emergency puddings. That’s all well and good (unless, like most City dwellers, your tiny freezer is already given over to gin, peas and fish fingers), but still not much help in getting the main event on the table.
And that is exactly where Do Ahead Christmas comes into its own. Loaded with original but straightforward recipes for the whole festive period and some cracking cocktail ideas (tangerine whisky sour anyone?), it also shares loads of hacks for getting ahead on the traditional Christmas lunch. Cook your potatoes and sprouts on Christmas Eve? You betcha.
So, we’ve read the book from cover to cover and here are our favourite ideas for getting ahead on the traditional Christmas lunch. No freezer in sight.
- Make 22 December sauce day: your gravy, bread sauce and cranberry sauce can all be made up to three days in advance (5 days for cranberry) and refrigerated. Gently reheat on the hob while your is turkey resting and simply add a little more milk if you think the bread sauce looks a little dry.
- Make your stuffing up to 3 days in advance, cook and reheat in the oven once the turkey is out. Although it is traditional to stuff the turkey, it cooks more evenly without and also allows you to tick one more thing off your list before Christmas Day.
- Don’t boil carrots, roast them. Do so on Christmas Eve until cooked (but retaining some bite) and simply throw back in the oven to reheat while you rest your turkey. One fewer pan on the stove top and they are more flavourful too.
- Parboil your potatoes on Christmas Eve until almost cooked, cool and refrigerate. Not only does this save time on Christmas day but it actually allows the potatoes to dry out, making for better, crisper roasties. Don’t fret if they discolour overnight – James says it won’t affect the flavour, texture or colour once roasted.
- Similarly, you can get-ahead on your sprouts too. Give them a brief simmer (4-5 minutes), plunge into iced water and refrigerate once cool. All you’ll need to do the next day is warm them through in a frying pan with some butter, bacon, chestnuts or whatever takes your fancy.
- Don’t waste precious time on Christmas Day layering your trifle. Get the fruit, jelly and custard layers done on Christmas Eve, leaving just the cream (and any toppings) to be added on the big day.
While we’re talking about planning – make sure you don’t trust that Christmas Eve delivery to bring all the essentials. It may be an urban myth that Tesco once substituted turkeys with turkey twizzlers, but assuming you’ll be able to dash out for cloves at 7pm on Christmas Eve is certain folly.
With this in mind, we asked James for his top three essential Christmas stockpile items. First up? Cheese, “for picking at idly after dinner, for bunging on toast under the grill late at night, and for back-up when you forgot about the vegetarian guest.” Secondly, clementines, “the taste of Christmas. You need the Vitamin C at this time of year, and everyone loves a clementine. They look pretty in cocktails, too”. Sage advice. Lastly, crisps, “because you can’t always faff around making canapés.” Amen to that.
And now you have time to try out two brilliant do-ahead festive recipes – James’s gravlax with rye crackers (the perfect Christmas Day starter) and his chocolate, orange and hazelnut tart that we’ve been day-dreaming about since we discovered the book.
Want that tangerine whisky sour recipe? You’d better to get to Amazon sharpish.
Do-Ahead Christmas by James Ramsden (Pavilion). Book cover and photo of James Ramsden by Clare Winfield.