How to ace Christmas lunch with Tom Aikens
The region’s finest chefs reveal their secrets to a perfect Christmas meal, from tasty turkey to gorgeous gravy and lovely leftovers
Calling all Christmas cooks – we’re here for you! Before you strap on your apron (and go a bit Christmas crackers), check out these top tips from the in-the-know chefs heading up some of the best restaurants around Hampshire and London. Spoiler alert: it’s all about the prep, people…
Get ahead – prep the Christmas lunch on Christmas Eve
“Don’t try and be a Christmas hero,” says Luke Holder, Head Chef of Hartnett Holder & Co at Lime Wood in the New Forest (above). “Prep as far ahead as possible – you can blanch the potatoes for your roasties, make the bread sauce and peel and blanch all your brussels the day before.”
Jack Stein, Chef Director of Rick Stein Winchester (above), suggests prepping gravy the day before, too: “Cook down some onions, garlic and thyme with a good glug of red wine. Allow to reduce by around half and then add some good quality fresh stock bought from a deli or butchers.
“Let it simmer down for half an hour, then add a tablespoon of marmite and soy a sauce for an umami hit and a splash vinegar to taste. On the day, add all the pan juices from roasting your meat at the end and serve.”
Phill Bishop, Head Chef at the Greyhound on the Test, Stockbridge, is making a salmon rillette for his family’s starter on Christmas Eve: “I cook the salmon the night before so has time to chill,” he says.
“Cover in sliced lemon, dill and a good splash of white wine and slow cook at 70 degrees until it’s just flaking but still nice and pink in the middle. Flake the fish down, add crème fraîche, pickled cucumber, chopped dill, seasoning, lemon zest and juice. Mix for a luxurious rillette.”
Stock-up on quality wine and look out for bargain bubbles
“Christmas is a celebration so I open the best wine I can afford and get stuck in,” says Charlie Stein, Drinks Director of Rick Stein, Winchester (above).
“Wines that work well are Bordeaux, Rhone, white Burgundy, Languedoc red, and Italian reds. If you’re on a budget, look out for Crémant de Bourgogne in the supermarket – it’s made in exactly the same way as Champagne, with the same flavour, but doesn’t carry the premium price.
“If Boxing Day is left-over meats, turkey sandwiches and a hangover, reach for some aromatic Pinot Gris or some honeyed South African Chenin Blanc. If, like us, you have gammon, jacket potatoes and left-over goose, then something light, red and crunchy like Pinot Noir or Beaujolais will do the job perfectly.”
Avoid dry turkey – bring on the butter and start low and slow
Oli Tucker, Head Chef at THE PIG in Brockenhurst, has a few tricks up his sleeve for a moister turkey: “Soften a few blocks of butter and mix with some fresh garlic, thyme and a touch of lemon zest and stuff this under the skin that covers the breasts,” he says.
“If you cook at a low temperature of around 120 degrees for the first couple of hours and finish at 220 degrees for the last half an hour, you get a beautifully moist turkey and golden crispy skin. Allow to rest for 10 minutes before carving.”
Save space in the oven and cook carrots on the stove
“Part of the problem with a big Christmas lunch is space – it’s very difficult to cook everything and get it all ready at the same time,” says Tom Aikens, Chef Patron of the Michelin-starred Muse in London, (above).
“To battle this, roast your carrots and parsnips in frying pans on the stove instead of in the oven. However, always blanche and roast your sprouts whole in a very hot oven – it brings out the best, earthy flavour.
“Add little extras to your vegetables to make them zing: chestnuts, bacon lardons and honey to Brussel sprouts; lemon, thyme and tarragon to roast carrots and honey and thyme sprigs to roast parsnips. To make bread sauce extra luxe, use brioche crumbs rather than white loaf crumbs to enrich it and always finish with a dash of double cream.”
Fluff up spuds before roasting and cook ‘em hot
“Cook the potatoes until they are just cooked through and almost crumbling on the outside, then before placing onto a tray of hot oil or animal fat (duck or goose) fluff the potatoes in a colander, says Oli Tucker, Head Chef at THE PIG. “Season well with salt and pepper and Cook at 200 degrees, turning every 15 minutes until golden brown.”
Go out in a blaze of glory with a flaming Christmas pudding
Avoid the anti-climax of the flame extinguishing before the Christmas pudding reaches the table with this simple, effective tip from Andy Mackenzie, Executive Chef for Exclusive Hotels including Winchester’s Lainston House: “Warm the brandy, transfer into a metal ladle, ignite and then pour over the Christmas pudding.”
Love your Christmas meat leftovers
Don’t waste spare Christmas meat: turn it into a baked pie with puff pastry, says Tom Aikens .“Here’s a simple one which will work with whatever leftover meat (turkey, ham, even goose) you’ve got in the fridge: Make a basic béchamel, add some leeks and mushrooms, a dash of cream, grainy mustard and parsley. Then add all the white and dark meat, cut up into smallish pieces. Pop into a pie dish, cover with defrosted puff pastry, brush with egg yolk and bake at 200 degrees for 20 mins.”