Christmas dinner: Tips and shortcuts from the experts

Save yourself some scrolling on Christmas morning with our guide to a festive dinner

Chef Rory O’Connell

Chef Rory O’Connell

 

When it comes to Christmas dinner, we’re still very much traditionalists in Ireland, with more than 1 million of us serving turkey each year, and it seems we’re traditional in what recipes we faff over too. According to Google, Christmas food searches are at their peak on December 24th and 25th, with many of us asking the same questions – “turkey cooking times” is right up there. So in an effort to save you some scrolling on Christmas morning I’ve preempted the festive food queries you may have and asked a few experts to chime in too.

November is Food Month in The Irish Times. irishtimes.com/foodmonth
November is Food Month in The Irish Times. irishtimes.com/foodmonth

Christmas dinner starters

Be inspired by the as-calm-as-they-come chef Rory O’Connell: “For my starter I will keep it simple. A selection of smoked fish from Frank Hederman will be accompanied by pickled cucumbers and mayonnaise.” He’ll add fresh bread and oysters, easy and impressive. If seafood isn’t your thing try pate, made in advance or bought, served with melba toast and Cumberland sauce.

Smoked pike terrine with melba toast and parsley and chives. File photograph: iStock
Smoked pike terrine with melba toast and parsley and chives. File photograph: iStock

Vegan options

Vegan food blogger Holly White suggests asking your vegan guests to bring their own gravy or main.

Vegan food blogger Holly White. File photograph: Laura Hutton/The Irish Times
Vegan food blogger Holly White. File photograph: Laura Hutton/The Irish Times

“Honestly – I never mind bringing my own additions, so a host should never feel under pressure to cook something extra.” She does urge you to think about the rest of your dinner, though: “Avoid any animal fats on the veg, so goose fat potatoes and butter are out.”

Gravy

Gravy in a copper pot. File photograph: iStock
Gravy in a copper pot

Jamie Oliver’s gravy recipe is the most searched for, with good reason, and he recommends making it a day or more in advance. You could also consider shop-bought gravy – not the granules mind, these days you can get superb quality gravy to go from butchers and good shops.

Roast potatoes

Chef Gar Mullins from the Marker Hotel prefers goose fat to get the perfect roast potato, but you can use any good oil or fat for your roasties – just make sure it’s nice and hot when your spuds go in. As well as the essential parboiling, Mullins dries his spuds out a bit before roasting for an extra crispy tip. If it’s all a bit much, consider posh frozen roasties. Once they’re smothered in gravy, who’s to know the difference?

Stuffing

A must for the Christmas table. Chef Erica Drum advises making two: a very traditional bread one “with lots of onion, sage and chopped apple”, and a sausage stuffing with Superquinn sausage meat (available in SuperValu these days). “Neither will actually be stuffed anywhere,” she tells me, as they are just great sides, so don’t be put off if you’re not serving a bird.

Turkey cooking times

There are numerous online calculators you can use for this. Safefood has one, and if you’re feeling nervous that’s the best place to go. Invest in a temperature sensor to be super confident in your cooking. Also, remember to work out enough time to bring the bird up to room temperature before you cook and for resting time after, and that can be a few hours either end of cooking depending on the size of your bird.

Brussels sprouts

Roasted brussel sprouts with bacon
Roasted brussel sprouts with bacon

Don’t boil them! Sprouts should taste like sprouts and boiling, well, it just ruins them. Chef and sometime farmer Keith Coleman recommends sauteing them slowly in butter: “They steam in their own juices while simultaneously caramelising their surface.” Even if you’re not a fan, he urges you to cook them: “I think there’s too much nostalgia surrounding the Christmas meal staples not to serve them, and there’s plenty of other opportunities in the year to impress and show off to your guests.”