Nifty tricks with turkeys & our top 10 tips to help make your Christmas dinner go with a swing

According to British Turkey, an estimated £22bn is spent by UK households at Christmas, that’s an average of £835 per family, £161 of which is on food. 76% of British families still stick with turkey as the centrepiece of their Christmas feast. Britons used to eat swan, goose, pheasant and peacock, with turkey a luxury up until the 1950s, after which they became more widely available.

Regardless of how much we spend at Christmas, I am guessing that like me, you’re feeling the pressure of the epic task to create the classiest Christmas possible. But there is no need to stress – preparation, the right equipment and a little planning will make for a marvellous meal and avoid crying into the cranberry.

I’m not necessarily a traditionalist but I do love turkey on the Christmas table – there’s something special about carving that big bronzed bird that feels so…Christmassy! Over many years and much trial and error, cooking for numbers between 20 (yes 20!) and two for the festive feast I’ve learned that you need to forget about perfect and go with what YOU like for the seasonal spread.

It’s not worth getting in a tizzy about turkey, of course you want it to be a cracker (who doesn’t?) and everyone has their own little tips to get us through the day. Even experienced chefs will tell you that the yuletide table is enough to frazzle nerves and put a dampener on what should be a celebration for everyone – including the cook.

So how do you create a sumptuous meal for family and friends and still enjoy Christmas Day?

Top 10 tips

Preparation, preparation, preparation – so important I said it thrice.

  1. Instead of getting up at the crack of dawn on Christmas Day and missing all the present opening action, why not enlist Santa’s little helpers with the prep? Enjoy egg nog in front of the TV and get everyone peeling!
  2. Prepare your meat on Christmas Eve too – stuff, wrap and season whether you’re a traditional turkey or bold beef kind of family.
  3. Invest in a sheet of muslin big enough to cover the bird. Melt butter, wrap the bird and cook according to your usual method.
  4. Don’t add turkey liver to the gravy – it makes it bitter. Also, avoid port and cranberry as it overpowers the delicate turkey flavour. Instead, add Madeira which gives a slightly boozy, deep, rich and honeyed treat to Christmas gravy and doesn’t dominate.
  5. Don’t stuff the turkey cavity – it adds a lot of time to the cooking. Stuff the parson’s nose and make stuffing balls instead. Sausage meat, sage an onion is traditional, simple and tastes great – it also soaks up delicious gravy. For a twist grate in some lemon zest or nutmeg or add a dollop of cranberry sauce.
  6. Cranberry sauce is very easy to make and can be done well ahead of time. I like orange juice and a dash of port in mine.
  7. Bread sauce is comforting, creamy and easy to make. Its medieval origins mean that adding nutmeg, bay and cloves is a must, but spicing it up with paprika can make it pretty on the plate and adds a smoky depth to what can be a bland accompaniment.
  8. Roast potatoes are as important as the meat as far as I’m concerned and you don’t have to use goose fat (even though you get delicious, crispy, slightly chewy roasties) to get the perfect crisp. Par boil good floury potatoes in salted water, scuff them in a colander with a fork and make sure the oven temperature is really hot. The cooking fat should be spitting in the roasting tray before you tip in the slightly dried out potatoes. It’s no hardship as the meat should be resting while these beauties crisp to perfection.
  9. You either love or hate them but sprouts are here to stay for the traditional feast. There is no need to cross the bottoms and steaming produces better (and more measurable) results than boiling. If you’re feeling extravagant, melt some butter in a pan with ground white pepper and toss in the steamed sprouts. For an extra flourish add flaked almonds or crispy bacon bits.
  10. Parsnips make a perfect accompaniment to the traditional roast. To avoid burning, par boil in milk flavoured with bay leaves and honey, then add to the roasting tray when the roasties are almost done.

You made find these helpful too…

Judge Wooden 3 piece Carving Set Dexam Digital Meat Thermometer Judge Vista Draining 3 Piece Set
Judge Wooden Carving Set
with Carving knife and fork
Our price £29.99

Dexam Digital Meat
Normally £12.00
Our price £7.99
Save £4.00

Judge Vista Draining Set
3 piece
RRP £168.00
Our price £59.95
Save £108.05

Whichever way you do it, remember, Christmas is about spending time with the ones you love, so get the right equipment, enlist the family and get stuck in to a shared celebration.

And if all else fails there’s always mulled wine! Merry Christmas everyone!

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