Planning Christmas dinner
This year will be the fourth time that I’ve been responsible for cooking Christmas dinner.*
My first bash at it in 2007, when I made it for seven people at my parents’ house, was a reasonable success. The turkey, an organic bronze from the Marks & Spencer catalogue, turned out pretty well under the watchful eye of a Good Housekeeping recipe. The gravy my wife threw together using a Delia Smith-assisted stock of neckbone and giblets, remains the best I’ve ever had.
The only thing that didn’t quite hit the mark was the roast potatoes. My mum had peeled and cut them on Christmas Eve after seeing Brian Turner on TV saying that they’ll be fine as long you put them in air-tight bags. The mangy, greeny-black colour they had turned disappeared during the roasting process, but they didn’t taste quite right.
The following year, when it was just the two of us, we decided to kick things up a notch with better quality ingredients, expensive wine and a much more ambitious menu. Roast quail with a pork, truffle and cognac stuffing was brilliant** and a lot of fun to make – even if we did have to visit five different shops to get hold of pork mince on Christmas Eve. The £25 Chilean red, recommended by a nice bloke in Oddbins who I’d tasked with finding something to match such a rich dish, was incredible.
None of the veg hit the mark this time though. The greengrocers had prepared us a box and we foolishly didn’t inspect it until we got home. Everything was a long way past its best and by that stage it was too late to do anything about it.
After having 2009 off, it was back to me cooking again last year, this time for five and in my own kitchen. I’d bought what was meant to be the best turkey in the country, the Copas, which Rick Stein had raved about in one of his TV programmes. I couldn’t get over how beautiful the bird looked when I first opened its box. You could tell from its appearance that it had lived a very healthy life and that it was going to knock spots off anything you’d get in the supermarket. Interestingly, it cost about the same as the turkey my mum had ordered from M&S three years before.
I didn’t want to let such beautiful produce down, so I looked long and hard for a recipe equal to the task. I eventually settled on Matthew Fort’s method, which involved slow-cooking the turkey on a very low temperature for more than 10 hours.
Of course, I’d forgotten that my rubbish oven runs on a timer, and regretted every minute of it as I had to wake up at three-hour intervals throughout the night to turn it back on, rotate the turkey and stab it with a temperature probe.
The turkey was divine – better than I could ever imagine it being. Perfectly moist and packed full of flavour, I would’ve loved to have forced it down the throat of anybody who says they don’t like turkey or complains that it’s always too dry.
Unfortunately the rest of the meal was a disaster. Jamie Oliver’s gravy, which looked brilliant on TV, was crap. Thin and weak and not at all worth the hours of hard work that went into making it.***
And then the oven broke. After half a day maintaining 80 degrees C, it refused point blank to get hot again. We just about managed to roast the veg, but the spuds were far from crisp. I spent Christmas dinner wondering when the hell we were going to be able to get a repair man out to fix it. It was January before we got it sorted.
And now here we are in November 2011, and it’s time to start planning for Christmas dinner all over again. There’ll be six of us this year and I’m part way towards deciding what to eat.
Choosing the animal was quite tricky. I didn’t think I could top last year’s turkey without using the same cooking method and I’m not going to do that in case it kills my oven again.
We ummed and ahhed about rib of beef; capon was mooted. Partridge was considered before being dismissed for no particular reason. Goose was discussed and lusted after, before we decided that oven size might be an issue. I contemplated poulet de bresse and figured I probably wouldn’t want to share it.
Eventually, we arrived back at turkey and my thought was: “Why the hell not?”
I’m going to order the Copas this week from Evans of Didsbury. The recipe I’m not 100 per cent set on yet but I’m considering one from Gordon Ramsay that I saw him do on TV a few years back. The idea of removing the legs and stuffing them, and cooking them separately to the rest of the turkey to avoid them drying out, looked quite good.
Canapés will be a big decision and the one I’ll probably enjoy making the most. I find these to be much easier and interesting than starters, but I need to think long and hard about how I can top 2010’s batch. The mini-cheese and caramelised onion tarts, smoked salmon with chive and mustard butter on rye bread, and devils on horseback I made were all pretty awesome.
Christmas pudding is obviously already in the bag. But what should I drink with it? Sauternes as usual or something more interesting?
What about the wine to go with the roast? Pinot noir again or should I be adventurous? I saw a sparkling lambrusco recommended in the paper once; dare I try it? It’s pretty bizarre.
There’s the champagne to choose for Christmas breakfast. Then there’s the port to go with the cheese. Gravy will need some thought, none of which will involve Jamie Oliver.
The list is long, but I look forward to working my way through it.
What are you all doing for Christmas this year? Anybody have any good tips?
*Well, fifth Christmas dinner if you count the one I made during second year at university. Iceland’s cook-from-frozen turkey surprisingly wasn’t that bad.
**Excellent though it was, I couldn’t quite help but think the quail wasn’t as good as the much simpler duck breast with mustard crushed potatoes and red wine reduction I’d made the night before.
***I know other people who have made Jamie’s gravy too and said exactly the same thing.
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