Skip to Content

The perfect Christmas dinner

Ed Smith sets out his vision for turkey and all the trimmings


The Christmas turkey has a strange reputation in the UK. For a significant proportion of households, turkey is The Thing to have as a centrepiece on The Big Day. And yet, so many of us claim to fear the cooking process and feel (at best) ambivalent about the eating experience. “Takes too long”, “it’s dry and tasteless” and “there’s no room or time for the best bits – the trimmings”: all are common complaints.

It doesn’t need to be this way. Your meal will always taste best if you focus on high-welfare animals and seasonal fruit and vegetables. You will enjoy both the cooking and eating of the turkey far more if you can buy a slow-grown heritage breed turkey, such as those you will find at Wyndham House Poultry, Ginger Pig and Northfield Farm. They are almost totally different animals to the intensively farmed Broad-breasted White (there’s much more to be read on how the modern industrialised turkey came to be in Mark Riddaway’s Borough Market: Edible Histories).

At the bottom of this pages, you’ll find links to my Christmas dinner recipes, but before we get to the practice, let’s deal with the theory. When it comes to creating the perfect Christmas dinner, I suggest you bear in mind these five points:

Thoughtful sourcing

Source a high-welfare, slow-grown heritage breed turkey.

Minimal stress

Don’t panic about cooking the bird, nor assume that it’ll take all day – just follow the instructions I’ve set out here.

Restraint with the sides

Plan only a couple of ‘star sides’, such as my carrot and sprout recipes, one of which is virtually hands-free, the other easily prepared in advance. Beyond them, keep things straightforward: cranberry sauce and bread sauce, stuffing balls, roast potatoes, gravy.

Well-prepared spuds

For the potatoes, the most important steps are: a) par-boil the potatoes a day earlier in salted water with some garlic and a few sprigs of rosemary, drain, rough-up, leave to cool, then refrigerate overnight; and b) when you roast them, do so in a shallow-sided tray in which the potatoes sit with plenty of space around them.

Plenty of rest

Rest the bird for at least an hour – it won’t be cold! – and cut the breasts from the carcass before slicing across them. Both steps are helpful for ensuring tender, succulent meat.