With Christmas Day just around the corner, it’s time to start thinking about that all-important Christmas dinner. If you’re opting for traditional turkey, then Kerth Gumbs, head chef at Fenchurch Restaurant, recommends a butter-and-spice rub to keep things moist. If you’re looking to mix things up, then how about swapping turkey for roast goose on a bed of crispy sauerkraut, or pork shoulder with toasted fennel seeds, or a spiced game pie in a dhansak masala?
To help you nail the big day, we asked London’s leading chefs for their top tips for the perfect Christmas dinner. Read on to discover how to hone your roast potatoes, elevate your Brussels sprouts and take your gravy to the next level. You can thank us in the new year…
How to cook a turkey
Kerth Gumbs, Head Chef at Fenchurch Restaurant, Sky Garden
“As well as brining your turkey to avoid it being bland and dry, I also like to prepare a butter and spice rub (it can be any spice you like) to help the meat stay moist, tender and fragrant, with a nice crispy skin. Keep the butter cold and roll it out with a rolling pin then run your fingers under the skin of the turkey breast creating a gap to spread the butter mixture directly on the flesh of the bird.”
How about pork shoulder?
Tim Siadatan, Chef Owner at Padella
“Pork shoulder makes a great main dish for Christmas. A good-sized shoulder will feed between 10-12 people. You start the cooking the night before which frees up oven space for all the trimmings on the day. The drier the skin the easier it is to create the crackling.
“On Christmas Eve, score the skin with a sharp Stanley knife then rub with salt and toasted fennel seeds. Roast in the oven on the highest temperature setting for roughly 20 minutes to begin crackling the skin, then turn the temperature down to 140 degrees and leave overnight (roughly around 6-8 hours). Remove from the oven when you wake up, wrap in foil and rest for up to three hours. To reheat, use a fork to separate the meat into large chunks and flash in a hot oven for around 5 minutes or until it is warm through.”
Game makes a great alternative
Farokh Talati, Head Chef at St. John Bread and Wine
“I am an avid fan of game – a St. John background will do that to you! Over the years I’ve delighted the family with quails, pigeons, guinea fowls and partridge. You have some time before Christmas, so get down to your local butchers if you are lucky enough to have one close by. Some butchers do a wonderful game pie mix, this is all the good bits of the birds that they put together for you to concoct into a delicious lidded delight.
“My go-to is a Parsi style spiced game pie, marinating the meat in homemade dhansak masala overnight, then gently braising it with shallots, garlic, a touch of ginger and a crush of tomato, some apple cider vinegar, Worcestershire sauce and chicken stock. After it’s cooked I top it with a suet pastry lid, egg wash it and scatter over a pinch of cumin, caraway and fennel seeds before baking in the oven.”
Try a traditional goose
Luke Farrell, Chef Owner at Speedboat Bar
“For me, it’s all about roast goose. Serve it roasted on a bed of crispy sauerkraut to cut through the richness with roast potatoes cooked in the fat. I throw the neck, tongue, wing tips, and webs in a Thai metal pot called a ‘mor din’, then slowly braise with soy sauce, Thai numbing lemon pepper, rock sugar, star anise, clove, cassia, whole garlic cloves and ginger. It goes all sticky, and just before serving a big pile of bouncy egg noodles are pulled through it with some spring onions and Chinese celery. I usually prepare this before going to the pub on Christmas Eve, when we tumble back I heat it up all bubbly and fragrant and serve it with seriously sharp chilli sauce.”
How to make the best roast potatoes
Karan Gokani, Co-Founder & Creative Director, Hoppers
“Choose the best potatoes; Koffmann’s are great, else the muddy potatoes at ethnic stores work a charm. I boil my potatoes with some ground turmeric for extra golden goodness when roasted. And if I really want to go rough on a traditional roastie, I get a few tablespoons of neutral (veg, sunflower or rapeseed) oil in a pan, fry some cumin seeds, fresh curry leaves, minced garlic until golden. Then take it off the heat and add some Kashmiri chilli powder and ground coriander to it and give it all a nice stir. Then toss the freshly roasted spuds in it before serving.
You can use any combination of spices from here that you like and make the oil well ahead of mealtime. Just remember to warm it up lightly before tossing the potatoes so it’s runny and coats them evenly.”
Take your stuffing up a notch
Cyril Lignac, Head Chef at Bar Des Prés
“When it comes to my Christmas stuffing, I have found over the years it is really important to incorporate a variety of fruit and nuts into the mix, as well as spices, to add diverse textures. Adding this unique crunch will allow for the stuffing to pair nicely with the other main features of the meal, including the turkey and potatoes. Another suggestion of mine is to brine your bird.
In terms of elevating my overall Christmas dinner experience, it is most important not to stress about getting everything done in time. Cook everything you can ahead of time and then reheat when you are ready, as then you can enjoy the meal with your friends and family.”
Brilliant Brussels Sprouts
Liam Walsh, Executive Chef at Smiths of Smithfield
“Jazz up your sprouts with an interesting butter. Parboil, cut in half lengthways and fry flat side down on a medium heat. Then, when nicely caramelised, finish with ‘nduja & lemon butter, or my personal favourite, marmite butter with freshly chopped parsley.”
The secret to great gravy
Francesco Mannino, Executive Pastry Chef at Pan Pacific London
“One of my favourite tips when preparing Christmas dinner is to add a teaspoon of cocoa powder to your gravy. It adds a richness to the sauce and makes it taste so much better.”
Jack Stein, Chef Director at Rick Stein Restaurants
“Take your gravy to the next level. Once you’ve made your gravy base by mixing roasting juices, flour, butter etc in a pan, add a dash of acidity, sweetness and umami for a nicely balanced flavour. For acidity, add cider vinegar or lemon juice; for sweetness, mirin, honey or sugar. Finish with an umami-rich ingredient such as Marmite, soy or Worcestershire sauce – taste as you go to ensure you have the right balance.”
Level-up your leftovers
Oliver Marlowe, Owner Chef Director at The Apollo Arms, Ganymede & The Hunter’s Moon
“Leftover Christmas pudding calls for tiramisu! Substitute classic ladyfingers for leftover pudding, layer it with your mascarpone cream, then repeat until the dish is full, finishing with a sprinkle of cocoa powder, shaved chocolate and clementine zest – rest for three hours before serving!”
Vivek Singh, Executive Chef at The Cinnamon Collection
“With your leftovers separate them by categories (proteins, sauces, condiments, veggies, dairy) and make a food calendar/eating schedule to eliminate waste. Ideas include a goose/turkey toastie with blue cheese and cranberries, a stir fry or loaded omelette.”