Although the turkey (or whatever you’re having yourself) takes centre stage on Christmas Day, it’s always the extra components on the plate that elevate it from mediocrity to excellence. As much as the centrepiece divides the masses, every family has their own preferred accompaniments to make it extra special. With a focus firmly placed in the traditional camp, here is my Essential Guide to Christmas Dinner for your side dishes. The best part is that most of the work can be done in advance. You can read all about my general tips for cooking Christmas dinner here and the best advice on cooking your turkey and ham here but for now it’s everything you need to know about your spuds to sprouts…
The most important formula to remember when it comes to any kind of crispy potato (chips, roast, baked, crisps) is: the absence of any kind of moisture, a dry potato, hot fat/oil, and a hot heat source. The beauty about roast potatoes when it comes to Christmas dinner is that you can have the parboiling part done in advance (Christmas Eve is a good time) and be ready to go once the turkey is finished cooking and removed from the oven. When it comes to roast potatoes these are my general rules:
A like them or loathe them inclusion but I just so happen to love them so that’s why they’re here. My advice would be to get ahead of the game and to prepare in advance. Remember that ice from the first post? Now it comes into use. On Christmas Eve peel the outer leaves off the sprouts and cut the larger ones in half from stalk to tip. Put a good handful or 2 of ice into a large bowl of water. Bring a pan of water to the boil, add the sprouts, bring back to the boil and cook for approx. 3-4 minutes until just tender/al dente. Strain and immediately add to the bowl of iced water to cool down. Leave for 5 minutes and then strain again. Put the sprouts into a container/plastic bag and refrigerate until needed. To finish and serve the sprouts, fry some bacon lardons until crispy and then add the chilled sprouts. Sauté and stir until heated through. Serve in a bowl along with the bacon lardons. Try them, you’ll be converted!
This may be one of those components that *whispers* may be okay to buy a good quality one in the supermarket. However, it is so incredibly simple to make it really is worth trying out at home. Fresh cranberries are so readily available in all supermarkets so if you do feel that you want to make this at home yourself, and believe me it will taste better, then check out the following recipe. Once cool, this recipe will keep in the fridge for 1 week or you can freeze for up to 1 month. Cranberries themselves freeze really well so buy them now when they are plentiful and cheap, and freeze for next year. Now that’s really getting ahead!
Homemade Cranberry Sauce
A dinner this good also needs fantastic and flavoursome gravy to bind everything together. Once the turkey has come out of the oven and been removed from the tray, pour about 100-200ml of just boiled water into the roasting tin, using a whisk or wooden spoon to scrape up all those crusted in crispy bits within which lies tonnes of flavour. Pour all these juices into a glass jug through a fine sieve.
Add a couple of ice cubes to cool down quickly and bring the fat to the top. Some of the fat will also cling to the ice cubes, helping to speed up the process. Once cool (put the jug into the fridge for a while if you need to) spoon off the majority of the fat from the top, keeping 2-3 tbsps aside, and discarding the rest. Heat the reserved fat in a saucepan, add 2tbsp flour, and stir together until a roux is formed. Gradually add the turkey juices to the pan and once all the stock has been added keep stirring until the gravy comes to the boil. This is where you can experiment with flavours by adding a dash of port or sherry, or indeed a spoonful of redcurrant jelly. Reduce the heat and simmer gently for approx. 5 minutes.
If the thoughts of making a roux seems overly complicated to you just add the cooled down and fat removed turkey juices to a saucepan and heat until simmering. Thicken with a gravy powder. Delicious all the same!
Maple Roasted Carrots and Parsnips
As with the sprouts this is another where the main work can be done in advance on Christmas Eve. Peel your carrots and parsnips (1kg in total will serve about 6) and slice in half lengthways (or into quarters if the parsnips are large) Just make sure that they are all of a fairly even size. Place into a saucepan, pour over boiling water, put on a high heat and bring back to the boil. Cook for 3 minutes, strain, and place immediately into a bowl of iced water to cool down. Leave for 5 minutes and then strain again.
Place carrots and parsnips into a container/plastic bag, add a 1 tbsp of olive oil, 2 tbsps. of maple syrup, and a couple of sprigs of fresh thyme. When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 190 degrees Celsius fan oven. Put the carrots, parsnips, maple syrup, oil, and thyme onto a baking tray. Season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper and roast for 45-50 minutes until golden, turning from time to time to ensure an even cooking and crispy coating. These can be put into the oven the same time as the roast potatoes, after the turkey has been removed from the oven and is resting.
Wishing you all a wonderful Christmas!