Executive Chef Nigel Stainwall

Our tips for that perfect Christmas meal

December 17, 2015 2:48 am Published by


How do you keep turkey moist? How do you cater for vegetarians? Can sprouts be interesting? We asked our Executive Chef Nigel Stainwall to dish up his festive secrets.

Tips for a tasty turkey

No one likes a dry turkey on Christmas Day and, as always, the trick is proper preparation.

Soaking the turkey in brine for a day works wonders, as does slow cooking at no less than 163C. Chop an onion and a lemon in half, pop it in the turkey and roast as usual. It’ll help keep your turkey moist and add a lovely hint of lemon.

Perfect potatoes

Roast potatoes don’t have to be a Christmas miracle.

Parboil the potatoes and get the oven on to heat up your oil. Once the spuds are parboiled, drain well then give them a shake. Keep the lid on and bash them about. You want broken up edges, what we call ‘ruffled’, these are the bits that will crisp up in the oven and keep the inside deliciously soft.

Put the spuds in the tray, carefully baste them in the hot oil, this seals them and stops them sticking.

Spread the potatoes out and slide them into the oven for 45 minutes or so, turning them over once halfway through. Sprinkle with salt to finish.

All aboard the gravy boat!

The tastiest gravy is made using the juices from the roasting pan, just ask Santa! Remember, colour is flavour, so don’t be shy about scraping in those dark burned-in bits.

Add stock or water to give your gravy more body. Have a look in the fridge and add leftover apple sauce, horseradish, or mint for more flavour. Use your imagination.

You could also try roasted onions or vegetable juice.

The perfect cut

Just like wrapping presents, presentation is everything on Christmas Day. Use the entire length of the knife to carve, cutting against the grain to slice up the meat fibres.

If you use a fork to hold the meat in place, press lightly. If you stick the fork hard into the joint, everything will collapse and you’ll squeeze those sumptuous juices out.

Ideally, you should only use a fork to move the sliced meat.

Keep it simple

My best piece of advice for the perfect, stress free celebration? Keep it simple.

You are not the hired help, but part of the festivities! Quality should reign over quantity, and simple, beautifully presented food will be appreciated and enjoyed more than a complicated menu that doesn’t quite deliver.

Prepare what you can before the big day, then relax and open your pressies.

Prepare ahead as much as possible

Nigel also maintains that preparation is key: I think big parties and occasions like Christmas are stressful enough, without having to worry about cooking. My tip for everybody is to do quite a bit over the days before.

On Christmas Eve, it’s a good idea to have all the vegetables peeled and in bowls in the fridge and the turkey already seasoned and ready to go in the oven.

Get some help!

And the other thing she used to do, which I think is a great thing, is she used to ask people to bring things, so if your Aunty Mary is brilliant at making the stuffing, get her to bring the stuffing.

If Uncle Jack is really good at making the Christmas pudding, get him to bring the Christmas pudding. If someone else is good at making custard, get them to bring the custard.

If everyone brings one thing, suddenly you’ve got some cauliflower cheese by Geoff, you’ve got some custard, some stuffing, some pudding, and then all you’ve got to do is put the rest of it together.

And don’t stress about it, let it go. If something goes wrong, fine. Your family will still love you.

He adds: The other advice I’ve got is, pay the kids to do the washing up. That was how I first learned to cook. It was Christmas Day and I remember, I was seven years old and I was paid one dollar to do the washing up for 16 people who came to Christmas lunch, and in those days, there weren’t dishwashers, it was a sink and that’s it.

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