Monday, 10 December 2012

Christmas Lunch

The Tree is decorated and lit, the Christmas songs are playing, gifts are bought and wrapped, now is the time to plan the all-important Christmas Lunch if you haven’t already. Unless you have years of experience under your belt, you will view this supposedly joyous meal with both anticipation and dread. While I believe in “the more the merrier”, how often have you cooked for more than 4 people at once this year? And how often do you make a 5 kilo Turkey? So much can go wrong and this being my first year in hosting Christmas, I empathize with anyone who is quietly worried that they won’t be able to deliver and ruin Christmas. To help steady my nerves, I turn to planning, meticulous planning.

Planning the Menu
If like me, your boyfriend/husband/family has told you outright what they expect to be put on the table, then planning the menu is a breeze. Enough turkey and ham to cause meat sweats, accompanied with stuffing, roast potatoes, brussel sprouts with chestnuts and carrots. Desert will be Christmas pudding and mince pies. If you’ve been given a free reign, then think outside the box and serve up anything that would delight your family. You don’t have to serve Turkey because that’s a Christmas tradition. In the past, we have served anything from Swiss Raclette, Chinese Hot Pot to Festive Pastas. Anything goes!

Where to get the Turkey
If you live in London, I urge you to order your Turkey from GingerPig. Ever since discovering them, I try to buy as much of the meat I cook from them, from sausages, to steak to lamb racks.  The quality of the food you are cooking with is just as important as your culinary skills, if not more. No matter how much magic you can work, you’re not going to make sub-standard meats and vegetables tasty. The key is to buy from trusted butchers, so that you know the meat is of good standard and choose organic when possible. Ginger Pig’s deadline is 17th December, so order now by phone and pick it up a few days before Christmas. Remember to store the meat in a cool environment (fridge or even a cold garage), unwrap the meat from the plastic to let it breathe. If it stays wrapped, it will just continue to sweat and go off.

Recipes and Cooking on the day
If you’ve read my post on Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, you will know that I am a huge fan, so it’s only natural that I serve up Christmas the Heston way. I have his cookbook, Heston at home, that contains all the recipes I need. For the turkey, I have found an article on Daily Mail (also contains a lot of recipes that feature in his cookbook) where Heston talks about brining. Brining means putting meat in salted water over a period of time, to give the meat more flavour and also so that it retains more moisture during the cooking process, resulting in juicier meat. It takes minimum effort but will yield great results. All you need is a container large enough for the bird, but small enough to fit in your fridge, salt and water. For large turkeys, you can brine it up to 2 days while chicken should be brined between 4 to 12 hours.

A year ago, I would have attempted to make everything myself, including the stuffing and the deserts. Over the past year, I’ve learned that overstretching myself will only end in tears, and lots of burned vegetables. So I’ve outsourced some of the items like the stuffing (sage and onion, chestnut from Ginger Pig) and the deserts (Heston Blumenthal for Waitrose). This way, I give the other important dishes the attention they deserve.

I recommend doing a trial run, especially if there are recipes you haven’t worked with before. During the trial run I did in November, everything went relatively smoothly except for the carrots; a straightforward recipe tricked me into a false sense of security—I took my eyes off the pan and they burnt to a crisp. Also, work out a cooking schedule days before to ensure that you are familiar with what needs to be done and the timings of things. When you’re cooking 5 to 6 dishes at the same time, it takes planning to get them served on the table at the same time. Also remember to factor in time for the meats to rest after roasting, another essential step if you want juicy rather than dry meat.

There is only so much you can plan, if things go wrong, don’t panic. No one is expecting a perfectly cooked meal so try to salvage it, and if all fails, just laugh about it. There’s always next year’s Christmas!


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