Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Countdown to Cooking a Holiday Feast

My not-so secret method of getting Christmas dinner on the table, on time. 

Roast chicken and chipolata sausages

I think that one of the most daunting aspects of putting together a festive feat is working out how to get everything on the table at the same time, without making your dinner guests wait for hours.

Cooking a roast dinner each weekend has given me a bit of practice in timings, but when it comes to cooking a major feast for more than just the family, I start out by making a written list of what needs to go in to cook when. This helps me to keep on track, and makes sure I don't forget to cook the veggies.

These are the components of a typical roast turkey dinner when I cook it.
  • Turkey
  • Stuffing
  • Roast potatoes
  • Roast parsnips
  • Chipolata sausages
  • Bacon and mushroom rolls
  • Stock gravy
  • Bread sauce
  • 2 green vegetables
  • 2 desserts (British tradition says one of these should be a Christmas pudding)

Tip 1 Prepare everything that can be done in advance the day before. Peel potatoes and put them in cold water, prep your vegetables and put them in cold water as well. Make pies and cakes that are served cold. Most stuffings can also be made in advance and kept wrapped in cling film or covered with foil in the fridge.

Making a list

When making a list, start at the end and work backwards. You can always rewrite it in the correct direction.

A sample plan

2:00 - serve dinner

1:50 - put food into serving dishes to go onto the table

1:45 - put serving dishes in the bottom of the oven to be heated

1:35 - put vegetables on to steam or boil; move bacon rolls to the bottom of the oven if they're cooked
Make gravy and bread sauce

1:30 - remove turkey and sausages from oven. Place on or in warmed serving dish and cover over with foil to keep warm. 
The roasted joint or turkey ideally should rest about 20 - 30 minutes. Check the weight of the meat with any stuffing to determine the total cooking time. My general rule is 20 - 25 minutes per 500 grams (or per pound) + an extra 25 minutes. So a 10 pound turkey would need 25 minutes X 10 + 25, or 275 minutes, divide by 60 = 4.5 hours. This means it needs to go into the oven by 9:00am

Drain off stock for gravy.

Turn potatoes, parsnips, and bacon rolls.

1:10 - potatoes and pasnips go into the oven for roasting
Bacon rolls go into the oven to cook.

1:00 - place fat for roasting potatoes and other root vegetables into oven. Remember to parboil potatoes. 

12:45 - add chipolata sausages to roasting pan around turkey.  

12:30 - remove foil from turkey, baste it with the surrounding fat; Place pan of potatoes on heat to parboil. Drain as soon as they come up to boil.

Put the Christmas pudding on to steam as directed on the Delia website (2 1/4 hours. Timing from now will mean it is ready to eat by 2:45 or 3, giving you plenty of time to eat your dinner. 
To cook, fill a saucepan quite full with boiling water, put it on the heat and, when it comes back to the boil, place a steamer on top of the pan and turn it down to a gentle simmer. Put the Christmas pudding in the steamer, cover and leave to steam away for 2¼ hours.

You'll need to check the water from time to time and maybe top it up a bit.
10:00 - Infuse milk for bread sauce (recipe below)

9:00 - turkey into oven. The oven will need to be preheated for at least 20 minutes. You will want to remove the foil the final hour of cooking so the skin can brown.

8:40 - adjust oven racks and turn on oven to desired temperature.

Tip 2 - the temperature in the oven will vary depending upon the level. The upper 3rd will be about 1 gas mark higher (+25f) than the temperature set, while the lower 3rd will be about 1 gas mark lower (-25f). Use this to your advantage when adjusting the racks. Because I don't have anything on the floor of my oven I will use this space as well sometimes.

8:30 - Prep the turkey by adding the stuffing and pushing butter up under the skin if desired. Place in a large roasting pan and cover with foil. Some recipes suggest adding a bit of water to the pan. If you're wanting to get some stock for gravy from the pan, go ahead and do this. My own experience is that you can generally get a lot of fluid from a bird, (sometimes because of water injected into it before purchase unless you have an organically reared turkey) so adding water isn't necessary. I will also add a bit of chicken fat or lard to the pan to give me something to cook sausages in later.