Have a timetable for the big day so that you don’t forget a crucial step. And delegate, delegate, delegate – it’s time to rally all the troops and give them jobs to do.
The first thing to decide is the time you would like to serve lunch, and work back from that. The most common problem is that most households only have one oven, which the turkey will fill leaving no room for anything else.
If lunch is being served at 2 o’clock, plan to have the turkey coming out of the oven at 1 and let it rest for an hour. That leaves plenty of time to roast the potatoes and parsnips. I par-cook my potatoes in boiling salted water until just about cooked, and then roast them in duck fat until crisp. I treat the parsnips the same way, but toss them in honey and thyme before roasting.
If you find yourself with the same problems each year, have a think of how you can fix them. Some of the most common downfalls are the turkey being dry, and the vegetables over-cooked.
To keep the turkey breast nice and moist, lift the skin before cooking and rub with a herb butter (herbs, salt, cracked pepper). Place the bird on a bed of root vegetables (carrots, onions, celery, thyme and garlic) with a glass of wine thrown in for good measure. Rub with olive oil and season, cover with tin foil and place in a preheated oven at 180C/ 160C fan/gas mark 4. To calculate the cooking time, allow 20 minutes per 500g and remove the tin foil for the last 45 minutes, so that the skin has a chance to brown.
To make the gravy, remove the bird and the vegetables from the roasting tray, add a tablespoon of flour and some chicken stock, and bring to a boil. Strain into a saucepan and keep warm.
The best way to avoid over-cooking your vegetables is to pre-cook them and refresh in iced water. When serving, simply re-heat them in boiling water with a drop of olive oil and salt.
If you like me are not a huge fan of Brussels sprouts, try braised red cabbage instead. It can be made a couple of days in advance and will benefit from a couple of days in the fridge to let the flavours develop.
A good breakfast and a little bubbly set the mood for the rest of the day. Then follow your timetable and get cracking on the job in hand. The challenge is to manage your oven, anything that can be served at room temperature goes in first – mince pies, Eve’s pudding and the cooked ham for glazing. Then it’s in with the turkey.
While the bird is in the oven, you can par-cook the vegetables and potatoes and have them ready to roast.
To check that the turkey is cooked, probe with a fine skewer; the juices should run clear and the skewer should be hot.
To get nice crisp roast potatoes, heat the roasting tray and the duck fat first, before adding the potatoes and sprinkling them with salt.
If the starter is cold, it can be plated a good half hour before serving and dressed at the last minute.
It’s easier to serve lunch family-style with the potatoes, vegetables and stuffing in large bowls or on platters and passed around the table, leaving you to concentrate on carving the meats.
When the meal is finished, it’s time to retire to the fire and let the others clear up.
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