The Christmas cook’s companion

Categories: Expert guidance

We’ll make no bones about it, last year this blog was so popular we thought we should take another look at it and, having added a sprinkling of new Borough Market chefs to the mix, we think they’ve cracked the perfect recipe for stress-free cooking over Christmas yet again. Read on for some great tips for shopping in the Market too

Ed Smith, chef, blogger and author of The Borough Market Cookbook
Food over the Christmas period has always been a communal thing for me and my family, both the preparation and cooking of it. I’m one of four boys and we all go home for at least Christmas Eve through to Boxing Day. Mum is an excellent project manager and ambitious host. It’s unclear whether that’s the result of having a large family, or the reason for it.

As far as the main Christmas lunch goes, we’re each given responsibility for one or two vegetables and at least a trimming too. We do most of the donkey work the night before, so on Christmas day it’s ‘just’ the cooking and making sure everything comes together at the same time. So I’d say that, theoretically, many hands and doing lots in advance is the key to making things easy, calm and enjoyable… you wouldn’t know it to look at us, though.

Luke Robinson, demo chef and head chef at Evelyn’s Table
The night before Christmas has always been more exciting for me than the reality of the following day—it’s all about the build-up for the all-day food fest of Christmas day proper!

There is the Catholic tradition of eating fish on the 24th December, but putting tradition aside this really makes perfect sense as Christmas meals are an onslaught in anyone’s book. What better way to prepare than with a simple, light dish the evening before?

Soak 800g quality salt cod for at least 24 hours in advance. Slice a couple of white onions in half, remove the top and tail and slice into thin strips. Slowly cook these down in oil, starting with the lid on at a high heat, then turn the heat to medium and cook until softened. Mid-way through cooking, add 1 tbsp chopped garlic. Slice roughly a kilo of waxy potatoes, then season and rub them with oil, before cooking at 180C in the oven until tender.

Drain and flake the soaked salt cod. In an oven tray, put a layer of potatoes, onions, cod flakes, seasoning, olive oil and repeat, finishing with potatoes. Bake this for 35 mins at 180C. Serve warm, garnished with quality black olives, slices of boiled eggs and loads of chopped parsley.

Hayden Groves, demo chef and blogger
It’s all about trying to de-stress Christmas morning, so look to get as much done on Christmas Eve as you can. Get your vegetables prepared and blanched, par boil your roasties and chuff them up so they are good to go. Make your pigs in blankets and stuffing. And a really big must: get your turkey out of the fridge at bedtime and leave it somewhere cool so it starts coming up to room temperature slowly to aid even cooking the next day. Also, resting your bird after cooking it is so important—and no, it won’t go cold! When the turkey comes out, the heat of the oven goes up and the roasties go in, so it’s like a natural timer.

Ensure you get the plates hot and the wine cold—and remember, it’s only food. Merry Christmas and bon appetite.

Hayden’s top tip for shopping at the Market: The Market is going to be very popular as discerning shoppers look to fill their larders in advance of the big day, so check out the website and plan your route to your favourite stalls with your list. However, as you wander through the stalls be on the look-out for something new!

Luke Mackay, Demo Kitchen host and food writer
Call me an old Scrooge, but I can’t wait for the day when my wife and I get rid of everyone else and have Christmas alone together. And I’ll tell you why: goose. Goose is the best meat that there is, but unfortunately will only feed (and provide leftovers for) two greedy people (like me and my wife). A roast goose knocks the spots off any turkey in the land, brined or not.

Set the oven at 220C. Put the goose in a large roasting tin, roast for 30 mins, then lower the heat to 180C and continue cooking for about 2½-3 hours, until the skin is dark and crisp. Chuck your par-cooked potatoes around the bird so that they roast in the lovely goose fat. Red cabbage and sprouts go well. If you must have guests, then a sausage-based stuffing (with apricots or apple or cranberries) will bulk things out nicely. Leave the goose to rest for a good 15 mins before carving.

Luke’s top tip for shopping at the Market: Spend your cheese budget wisely. I always think one superlative cheese—a whole one or a big chunk—is much better than lots of miserly slivers.

Jenny Chandler, food writer and demo chef
A quick word on sprouts—you just can’t celebrate Christmas without them. Unlike most children, I loved them from the word go. In my book a perfectly steamed, whole sprout is a wondrous thing and always will be.

If there are any sprout doubters in the family then try slicing them finely and stir frying with slivers of smoky bacon and a bit of orange zest. Roasting sprouts is another option (roll them in olive oil and cook them for about 10 mins in a very hot oven) and then of course any leftover sprouts of any description will play the starring role in the best bubble and squeak imaginable on Boxing Day.

It’s always good to have an almost instant festive pud in store and you can’t do better than some home-prepared boozy prunes. Just squash plenty of soft, pitted prunes into a jar and cover with dark rum, leave for at least a week and then serve with vanilla ice cream. Try piling this on top of a slice of toasted panettone and you have a fantastic dessert. A couple of prunes could be added to your Boxing Day porridge to put a spring in your step too. If prunes aren’t your thing then try soaking raisins in pedro ximenez sherry for a truly indulgent alternative.

Angela Clutton, demo chef, Cookbook Club host and author
I always try to maximise any time I have in the build-up to Christmas by laying in store some make-ahead dishes—the sorts of things that I know will be quick Christmas wins, on the Big Day itself or any time over the holidays. Many of them are disproportionately impressive, because they barely take any time at all to do.

It’s a repertoire that includes candied peel for smothering in chocolate or coating in sugar; mincemeat that with filo pastry can become the speediest of scrummy homemade mince-pies; and best of all, gravadlax.

Making your own cure for salmon somehow never fails to wow any guest. The basic idea is to just sandwich pieces of the very freshest salmon fillet with lots of chopped dill, sugar, salt, coriander seeds, some slices of orange zest and a shot bourbon. It’s ready after two or three days of doing nothing more strenuous than sitting in the fridge and will keep for a week or even freezes well. Slice for canapés, a Christmas day starter, or sandwiches any time the meat-fest gets too much.

Paula McIntyre, chef and director of Slow Food Northern Ireland
Christmas and stress often go hand in hand—but it doesn’t have to be like that. We’re often held captive to tradition. If the thought of cooking turkey, ham, several vegetables and accompaniments intimidates you, then make your own rules. This year I’m doing a slow roasted shoulder of lamb with lemon, golden raisins, vermouth, almonds and parsley because quite frankly, turkey leaves me cold. It might be controversial but I’m replacing sprouts with cavolo nero cooked in guanciale and roasting my potatoes in olive oil instead of the obligatory poultry fat. There might be a riot, but I’m ready for it!

When guests arrive, greet them with some snacks and a decent bottle of bubbles. Some smoked salmon or mackerel on crispbreads with pickled cucumber and dill yoghurt is perfect and on the sensible side of decadent. I’m partial to a devilled egg and top them with Cannon and Cannon chorizo and some celery leaves roasted in oil until crisp. I find that if you feed people immediately, you can pace the rest of the lunch at your leisure.

The most important thing is to cherish the company and make good memories that last.