It’s arguably the most important meal of the year; if you mess it up you’ll be hearing about it for the following 364 days. So, to help ensure things run as smoothly as possible from a culinary standpoint – the last thing anyone wants is a re-creation of the infamous Fishes episode of The Bear – two top Irish celebrity chefs share their tips and tricks for Christmas dinner.
Lilly Higgins, food writer and chef
Make lists and delegate
I’m a really big believer in lists because otherwise it’ll come to Christmas Day and there’ll be no butter, no whipped cream or no cranberry sauce – crucial elements. You don’t want a Christmas Day tragedy, so you really have to plan ahead and delegate jobs.
You need to plan ahead for leftovers as well, of course, so it’s really a case of seeing it as a weeklong catering job. If you’re gonna be doing a turkey curry, get the spices you need, get coconut milk; plan ahead so you’re not sending your husband out to get rice on St Stephen’s Day.
Don’t be afraid to try something new
I love sprouts cooked in balsamic vinegar with grapes and pecan nuts – you’ll find my recipe here. It brings a totally different flavour; the grapes break up that whole brassica heaviness that sprouts are known for and each mouthful is different. I’ve done those sprouts for the past 15 years or so and they’re absolutely delicious.
Don’t go overboard with the meat
“Keep the stuffing meat-free, I would say, because there’s so much meat otherwise. In Cork, we would have spiced beef as well – so there’s beef, ham and turkey. You don’t need sausage stuffing on top of that; the last thing you want is the meat sweats.
Especially if you’re not particularly meat-centred all year round, suddenly you’ve got five different types of animal on your plate. So I would go really heavy on the herbs with the stuffing, and lots of lemon zest to make it really light and bright. It goes so well with all the gravy and heavier stuff.
Keep desserts simple
Over-complicating things is a mistake because if you’re doing the cooking you’re going to want to have your own Christmas Day as well. A baked cheesecake is perfect – you can do it the day before and it will actually benefit from sitting in the fridge overnight. Or mince pies that just need reheating are really good as well.
Edward Hayden, chef and food writer
Respect the turkey
It’s expensive to buy a good turkey, so it’s an investment – and therefore you have to respect it and make sure you don’t end up with really dry meat.
I tend to make a really nice herb butter. What you do with it is – make sure you’re not hungover for this, by the way – slide your hand up under the breast and massage the butter into the turkey as if it were a fake tan.
Then I’ll get a glass of white wine or water, or a bit of chicken stock, and pour that on top of the turkey, and I’ll cover it with two pieces of tinfoil going both directions. Fold the tinfoil up into like an envelope to create a little incubator. By having the turkey sealed in with the white wine, it’s almost introducing an element of steam, which will aid it cooking nice and gently and it’ll retain the moisture.
And leave it alone. An awful lot of people go pulling and dragging at the turkey – poking it, and skewering it, and pulling a wing off to see if it’s cooked. Don’t batter and bruise the turkey.
Don’t underestimate the power of thyme
I know sage is synonymous with Christmas but I think thyme is a key ingredient, in stuffing and with roasted veg. The day before or earlier on Christmas morning I would have blanched and refreshed some carrots and parsnips and turnips. Put them on a tray with some big wedges of red onion, some thyme and some honey, and a little bit of rapeseed oil, and roast them in the oven. I love thyme on roast potatoes; it just gives a lovely flavour. There’ll always be thyme in my Christmas shopping trolley.
Don’t steep the veg beforehand
I never steep my vegetables, with the exception of potatoes. I’ll have my carrots and parsnips and turnips peeled on Christmas Eve and I’ll put them into a bowl and cover them with some really damp tissue paper and a bit of cling film. It means that you’re not pouring off the nutrients.
Do a casual starter
Everyone has their own traditions but what I do in our house is a casual starter. So, as people arrive, they might have some drinks and I’d have some canapes, little nibbly bits to go with them: cheese and crackers or cured meats, or little individual red onion and goat’s cheese tartlets.
And I’ll always have a pot of soup on the go; we’ve all got dusty sets of china at the back of the press, so I’d have all those taken out and polished up – and people could have a little teacup of soup in their hand. I think it takes that formality out of it.
And also, allowing people to graze keeps the wolf from the door when you’re finishing off cooking, because that last half an hour is critical.