For those still toiling behind their pcs on Christmas Eve. And who look forward with eager dread at making the festive dinner tomorrow, I thought I would just offer some useful tips for escaping disaster and ensuring some happy results. Some of these may seem obvious, some less so.
Turkey This is a bird that just wants to dry out given the chance. There are endless tricks and spells for keeping it moist. Stuffing, larding, covering in foil, basting, roasting in a bag are but a few. Escoffier famously quips ‘simply roast in a medium oven’. I think there are two failsafe remedies. First, turn it upside down after half an hour. Cooking it on a rack makes this easy and all the juices sink through the front of the body. Secondly, having worked out your weight to time of cooking ratio, thirty minutes before that time is up, making sure the juices are running clear with no pink tinge, take it out of the oven. Baste it and cover in foil so none of the heat escapes. Just leaving it to rest for that half hour will concentrate the moisture. And amazingly it will finish cooking itself during that time.
Bread Sauce I love this sauce and home made is even nicer. When you get home tonight, peel an onion and stud it with cloves. Leave it in a pint of milk overnight. If you have some bread break it up and leave it out overnight to go stale. In the morning, take the cloves out of the onion and put them into the processor with the bread. Mix this with the infused milk with salt and pepper until you have something like porridge. Heat very slowly and stir.
Brussels Sprouts Hard or mushy seems to be the fate of these strong tasting lovelies. By the time they get to the table they are often grey and cold and in my book they are definitely not a vegetable to eat al dente. So I deliberately overcook them – which is easy to do – and mash them with lots of butter and a few anchovies. You don’t taste the anchovies but they add a bite that revives the flagging sprouts taste. Try it.
Roast Potatoes Another dish for which everyone has their own special remedy. Mine is simple. Use goose fat of course but sunflower or grapeseed oil if not. Roasters need as many corners and edges as possible, so when you cut themmake sure you create as odd shaped multi-sided objects as possible. Par-boil them for ten minutes or so and drain them. Now add the fat or oil and some chopped sage. Then just throw them around the pan a bit so the edges are broken and bashed. Decant the whole into a roasting dish and off you go. This encourages those lovely crispy edges and sage gives the whole kitchen a wonderful aroma of business and efficiency.
Christmas Pudding Eton Mess The whole pudding and brandy butter thing is usually too much for me after two helpings of main course. So last year I devised a lighter – though richer – alternative. Once cooked, break up the Christmas pudding into a bowl with broken meringue bits and vanilla ice cream. Stir it all up. Add some whipped cream or brandy butter to give it an edge.
Defrocked Friar I have to tell you about one of the best after dinner cocktails ever invented. I used to see an employer of mine drink these and always thought that I’d know when I had made it, when I could order a Defrocked Friar. It’s simply a measure each of Cognac and Green Chartreuse served over frappéd ice. Chartreuse is a herbal liqueur named after the Grande Chartreuse monastery, where it is made. It’s a favourite of my dear friend Tom. The colour comes from chorophyll. Not only is it a wickedly indulgent cocktail and digestive it’s also a cure-all for indigestion or overeating generally. What better before turning out for a game of charades?