Paul Flynn: Cracking Christmas cooking tips
The chef and restaurateur recalls simpler days when Christmas meant a new cowboy outfit, MilkTray and Cidona
Paul Flynn (centre), dressed for action, with his mother Mai and siblings Declan, Marguerite and Breda
Paul Flynn at home in Dungarvan: “On Christmas morning we eight children queued in sequence outside a locked door to the sittingroom, where all our presents were.” Photograph: Patrick Browne
There were eight children in my house when I was growing up. We lived over my father’s chemist in the square in Dungarvan. I was the youngest.
The smells and flavours of Christmas are my most abiding memories. They seem to linger as hungry thoughts long after Christmas has passed.
It always began in October, when my mother made the cake (it needed this time to mature). I was always sent for the stout in exchange for the rights to lick the mixing bowl, which made me yearn for Christmas to come more quickly.
It certainly got the ball rolling in terms of me thinking about the presents I was going to ask for, much to my parents annoyance, no doubt.
Christmas stressed my mother, with so many people in the house, all of them demanding something.
There was always too much food . . . mountains of it, overflowing indiscreetly from the plates, with inevitably lots of waste and my dad tut-tutting all the while.
On Christmas morning we queued in sequence outside a locked door to the sittingroom, where all our presents were designated a special place. Naturally I was first, eagerly waiting to squeeze myself into a long-awaited cowboy suit. I usually needed help, for I was a chubby little fella.
My parents always delivered, not an easy thing in difficult times. Whether it was the latest Beatles or Rolling Stones album for the boys or Bay City Rollers scarves or Max Factor makeup for the girls, it was there.
There was never a starter with our Christmas dinner. It was always turkey and ham, sprouts, mashed carrots and parsnips, peas and two types of potatoes. We always deliberated over the stuffing for that was the holy grail. All of us loved it and inevitably compared it to previous years, sometimes to my mother’s dismay. We always drank Cidona, even my father. No Blue Nun in our house! For dessert we had trifle, and ignored the long-laboured-over Christmas cake.
Boyfriends and girlfriends called over then and took over the sittingroom, humming along to Simon and Garfunkel and stealing kisses. I was brought in for a laugh, for now my cowboy outfit was at breaking point. I was okay with it because they gave me Milk Tray. I then, as now, would do anything for chocolate.
Some of the eldest helped my mother with the wash up. There was a lot of it, but she smoked her way through it, then went into the sittingroom with a glass (or two) of Baileys. She loved a party. I was an ordinary Irish boy in an ordinary Irish house.
Food has changed enormously. We have so much choice, people expect more and mothers still get stressed.
I adore Christmas. It’s time for family, friends, fun and forgiveness . Food is central to everything in our house; indeed we have family discussions about what we are going to eat over the course of the holiday from early November. However, I want to leave stress at the door and want to help you do the same.
Ideas for Christmas food
So here are some tips:
Draw up menus, nothing fancy, but it will give you a good idea of what to shop for. This way you put structure on your shop and minimise food waste.
For nights in front of the telly, or with visitors, have a lovely cheese and charcuterie board with the finest selection of cheeses, cold meats and pates with tasty chutneys , bread and biscuits . . . no cooking required.
On Christmas morning have smoked salmon on toasted brioche with some tangy crème fraiche.
For Christmas dinner, more is not more. If you’re having turkey and ham, prepare as much as you can in advance and don’t do too many types of vegetables, including potatoes .
Delegate. The cook should never, ever wash up – they should sit, watch telly and eat chocolate.
Get someone else to make the Christmas night sandwiches and tea.
Buy enough cranberry sauce!
Don’t be afraid to have the same dinner the next day. In fact I love it even more. The work is done and the pressure is off. You don’t always have to make turkey curry, it’s just more work.
Take a walk. Get some fresh air over the Christmas break – or your little man won’t be able to fit into his cowboy outfit.
With seasonal wishes,
Paul (John Wayne) Flynn