The final countdown

Categories: Expert guidance

Katherine Frelon shares her guide to spending only 60 minutes in the kitchen at Christmas

As a chef, I cook every day of the week—that does not mean I want to spend my entire Christmas in the kitchen! I love my job, but Christmas is family time. So I have devised a plan that means spending 60 minutes, tops, in the kitchen on the day. This is how you do it.

You MUST make an action plan and stick to it! You will need a check list—boring as it may be to some, believe me it works. Lastly, think of it as a military exercise—DO NOT get distracted! You can look at some of my top tips for making Christmas stress free in my previous post here.

This plan is based on a 7.5kg turkey that is stuffed (which requires three and a half hours’ cooking, 45 mins to an hour of resting) with the aim of sitting down at 3pm.

One week to go
What still needs to be done? Delegate—you don’t have to do it all. Give a responsible person of your choice a list of all the drinks you'll need over the festive period and send them off to get it, or pick up the turkey. Don’t be tempted to go Christmas shopping! Stick with the presents you've got or made. They will be loved.

Five days to go
Make a tick list and check you have everything you need in stock: from tape to wrap the presents, matches to light candles, hangover tablets, cough medicine for the kids, don't forget the cat biscuits—nothing should distract you!

Four days to go
Take your turkey out of the freezer if it is frozen—it always takes longer than you think to defrost—and buy all the fresh veg or have them delivered.

Wrap your pressies up.

Two days to go
Take out the turkey giblets and make the gravy, if you haven’t already done so. Make the stuffing if making fresh, or take it out of freezer. Make the cranberry sauce, if you haven't made ahead, as well as some delicious spiced red cabbage.

Make up the nibbles—bacon wrapped dates with goat's cheese, for example, or sausages in filo ready for baking. A batch of spiced nuts would probably go down really well, too.

Leave the bread out to go stale for the bread sauce and prepare ingredients for a simple supper, like risotto—something delicious but easy, no fuss and minimal washing up.

If you can, why not lay the table? If this isn't possible, get all the china, cutlery, glasses and everything you need all in one place ready for you to DELEGATE a table layer, with kiddie assistance. For the control freaks, you can tweak it at the last minute!

Top tip: If you have a spare table/garden, one or two trestles and a piece of wood, set it up and use it as a Christmas planning table as close to the kitchen as you can—garage, shed, spare room. Most of us run out of fridge space pretty quickly at this time of year so I have a cool place to defrost food, store napkins, pile up the biscuits/ cheese, veggies, stuffing, crackers. If you know where everything is, you can just send in your helpers for the cranberries on the top right-hand corner or send them in with the spuds peeled and plunged into cold water in the saucepan until tomorrow. Keep it an animal free zone, though!

Christmas Eve
Take out your supper from the freezer for this evening. Get all the veg prepped, soak your turkey in a spiced brine, if that's what you do, and keep it in a cool place, but avoid the fridge. Lay the table. Crackers should be put up high to avoid little fingers getting hold of them before the big day.

Light the fire, put some Christmas carols on, take a glass of mulled wine and soak up the spirit of Christmas. Now put the glass down and crack on preparing muffins and brioche for Christmas breakfast—that's my tradition, but obviously your own is up there too! Muffins are great as if you prepare a wet mix bowl and a dry mix bowl, you can combine it at the last minute the next morning while the coffee is on. Brioche is fab, the smell is totally divine, and the time it takes is minimal. You really will be crowned queen when you serve them up with homemade jam and salty butter.

Peel and prep ALL the veggies—the kids, grannie, aunts and friends can peel a spud or two—and finish off the gravy.

Weigh out all the ingredients for bread sauce, cover with clingfilm, label, stick the recipe on top and set aside for tomorrow.

Get all the baking trays out, organise the oven and hob so you know what is going where. Get the serving dishes and place in the warmer, if you have one.

If you haven't already, lay the table and prep the mulled wine. Before going to bed, make a final plan for Christmas Day. Better get to bed early or Father Christmas won't come.

On the day

6:45 am (15 mins)
While the coffee is on...

Preheat the oven. Take out the brioche dough from the fridge, mould, and leave to rise for 40 mins, then cook for 15. Mix the muffin ingredients together, divide between cases and bake until firm. The muffins and brioche are part of my Christmas tradition and as such does not come under the 1 hour in kitchen plan, so add on an extra 20 mins.

7:15 am (5 mins)
Take the turkey out of the brine, drain, stuff and rub with softened (not melted) butter. Place upside-down in a foil tray, cover with foil. Depending on its size and what time you are eating, put it in a preheated oven or wait—either way, leave out at room temp.  Get this done as soon as you can, because the secret to the whole theory of a reduced cooking time is getting the bird (this applies to ALL meats) to room temperature before it goes into the oven.

Have breakfast and open pressies, if this is your tradition!

Pre-heat the oven.

Put the turkey in the oven.

11am (5 mins)
Baste and check the turkey. Warm through the mulled wine and check from time to time.

1:30pm (5 mins)
Take the turkey out and turn up the right way round, then remove the foil covering and cook for another 30 minutes.

Put the potatoes on to par boil for two minutes, drain, then keep warm in a pan with a lid on.

2pm (5 mins)
Take out the turkey, cover and keep warm, then leave to rest for 45 minutes to an hour. Put a foil dish with goose fat in the oven, ready for potatoes.

When the goose fat is smoking hot, add the potatoes, baste with fat and roast for 45 minutes. Put the Christmas pudding on to steam.

2:05pm (15 mins)
Cook all other veggies, make the bread sauce and warm the gravy through.

2:30pm (5 mins)
Drain the veggies and keep warm in serving dishes.

Roast pots out at 2.45pm and keep warm

Call everyone to the table and start carving the turkey!

4pm (5 mins)
Warm the brandy to flame the Christmas pud, pour over, light, and serve with your favourite accompaniments.

Total time in the kitchen: 58 mins

As you can see this is a very tight schedule but remember, even if you do go over having this plan will keep you focused, so if it takes you 1hr 30, it doesn't matter, just enjoy the day. The reason I wanted to share this with you all is to prove you don’t have to spend the whole day in the kitchen if you plan well and stick to it.  

I wish you all a very merry, festive Christmas and a healthy happy new year.