The prospect of feeding a dozen with the complicated traditional turkey roast can be daunting. Prudent cooks with plenty of time on their hands will probably do their preparation the day before. The sprouts will be prepared, the potatoes peeled, the turkey stuffed, its stock and the brandy butter already made and they will coast through the day itself on a triumphant wave of self satisfied efficiency.
If you count yourself among their number, read no more. Those of us, however, who are a bit more pushed – after all, many of us are travelling on Christmas Eve, and some of us are even working – will just have to get it together on Christmas morning. Here is my schedule that should make the experience a pleasure. I always enjoy smoked salmon as a starter an hour or two before the main meal: oysters, again with brown bread, or potted shrimps with toast are equally good.
9.00. Get the turkey and butter out of the fridge for the bread with the smoked salmon. Grab a quick breakfast. Prepare mentally for the battle. Have this schedule close to hand. Tune in to Radio 6 and Cerys Matthews.
10.00. Start cooking. Light the oven (Mark 6, 200C, 400F). Assemble the following:
A 5-6kg turkey, preferably a ‘bronze’ from a free range flock and hung for five days at least
Its neck, wing tips, liver, heart and crop
500 grams very lean sausages or sausage meat (the Italian luganegna are exceptionally good)
200 grams peeled, cooked chestnuts (the small vacuum packed type are excellent)
2 sticks of celery
Thyme, bay leaf
½ bottle dry white wine
75 grams butter
Place the sausage meat in a bowl and add the chestnuts. Break these up into smaller pieces and work into the sausage meat. Add the finely grated zest of the lemon and mix well to make a stuffing. Pull back the flap of the skin covering the neck and cram this stuffing into the front cavity. Cover with the flap and thread a skewer through the folds of the skin to secure the stuffing. Season the main cavity very well with salt and pepper but leave empty. Place the turkey on a metal trivet set in a large oven tray with sides at least 4 cm high. Smear the butter over the breasts of the turkey and season well with milled white pepper and a liberal scattering of sea salt.
10.30 Put the turkey in the oven and close the door. Chop up the giblets and the neck of the turkey into smallish pieces and place in a bowl. Wash the carrots and celery, peel the onion, slice them all thickly and place in another bowl. Prepare the bread sauce:
660 ml milk
Half a large white loaf
2 bay leaves
Good pinch of nutmeg
100 ml double cream
Cut the bread into cubes of about 2 cm and leave on a tray in a warm place to dry out a little. Stud the peeled onion with the cloves and place in a saucepan together with the milk, the bay leaves and the nutmeg. Bring slowly to the boil, simmer on a very low heat for ten minutes and then leave to infuse, off the heat, for twenty minutes.
11.00 Take a deep breath. Switch over to the Archers on Radio 4. Open bottle of Champagne (the good stuff). Pour yourself a glass. Now baste the turkey with the fat and butter that has collected at the bottom of the roasting tin, spooning it over both breasts and legs. Sprinkle the chopped up neck and giblets over the base of the tray, return the turkey on its trivet and put the tray back in the oven. Return to the bread sauce: add the bread to the milk infusion and return to the heat, simmering gently for a further twenty minutes. Whisk well and leave to cool. Keep the cream until later. Start the brandy butter:
150 grams unsalted butter
125 grams light brown caster sugar
125 ml average (3 star) brandy
Cut the butter into small cubes and beat (preferably with an electric whisk) until creamy. Continue to whisk, adding the sugar spoonful by spoonful until the mixture is light and fluffy. Continue to beat the mixture as you trickle in the brandy. Once it is fully incorporated, transfer the brandy butter to a small bowl and refrigerate.
11.30 Baste the turkey again. The turkey should now be a nice golden brown and should now be covered, especially the breast, with aluminium foil. Scatter the chopped up onion, carrot and celery over the giblets which should also be well coloured. Do not adjust the oven, but put the turkey back in whilst you prepare the vegetables:
3 kg floury potatoes
750 grams swede
300 grams carrots
1.5 kg Brussels sprouts
Peel the potatoes and cut them up into roasting size pieces, with a mixture of flat and rounded sides. Rinse thoroughly and place in a large pot of cold water. Put to one side. Peel the carrots and swedes, cut them into small chunks and put in another pot of cold water. Trim the bases of the Brussels, remove any tired outer leaves and mark a cross in the stalks
12.00 Refresh your glass. Check the turkey. Make sure the vegetables are not burning and turn down the oven to Mark 4 (180C, 350F). Continue to cover the bird and return to the oven.
Put the Christmas pudding in a pan half full of water, cover securely with foil and place on a gentle heat. Watch it periodically over the next three hours, making sure it is genuinely steaming but not drying up. Prepare the first course:
100 grams smoked salmon per person
3 lemons cut in quarters
1 loaf brown bread, cut very thinly
Unsalted butter, softened
Lay out the smoked salmon on a large serving plate with the wedges of lemon. Butter the bread and cut in triangles on another plate. Have a full pepper mill at hand.
12.30 Pour off the fat from the turkey tray, saving it in a small bowl and leaving the giblets and vegetables behind. Add a stock cube, (or add fresh chicken stock later), and pour in the white wine. Return to the oven. Break for more champagne, presents, and the first course.
2.00 Back to work.
Put the potatoes, in fresh, cold, salted water on to the boil. Put the swedes and carrots on to boil, likewise in fresh, cold, salted water. Make the cranberry sauce:
250 grams cranberries
50 grams light brown caster sugar
Juice of half a lemon
Combine the ingredients in a small saucepan with a tablespoon of cold water. Simmer very gently until the cranberries start to break up. Stir well and remove from the heat.
2.15 Take the turkey out of the oven and leave to stand in a warm place. Raise the oven temperature to mark 9 (240C, 475). Remove the potatoes when they are parboiled, i.e. soft on the outside but still a little firm in the middle. Drain them in a colander, sprinkle with two tablespoons of flour and toss gently to distribute the flour and to rough up the edges. Heat a large oven tray in the oven and then add the fat from the turkey together with some fresh oil. Once very hot, add the potatoes, making sure they are evenly distributed across the tray. Baste them a little with some of the fat and
2.30 Put the potatoes in the oven. The clock is now running. Leave the potatoes to roast without turning, prodding or even basting for a good twenty minutes. Drain the carrots and swedes. Put them back in the saucepan for a moment and stir them, dry, on a gentle heat to get rid of any excess moisture before sieving them through a mouli-legumes. Add a liberal couple of dollops of butter, plenty of black pepper and a smidgeon of sea salt, and keep warm in a serving dish, covered with a buttered paper, in a luke warm oven. Turn the roasting potatoes, making sure they are well basted in fat. Leave them to cook.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil and add the sprouts. Boil them vigorously for five minutes – they should remain bright green and slightly al dente – and then drain. Heat a large frying pan, add a large dollop of butter and add the sprouts – they should be in a single layer on the bottom of the pan. Season them well and let them colour slowly to a lovely golden brown, turning them occasionally. They should end up with a deliciously nutty flavour and cooked all the way through. Let them join the swede puree in another covered serving dish in a warming oven.
Pour any juice from the turkey into its gravy in the tray and put the turkey back in the hot oven under the potatoes. Strain all the gravy into a saucepan and bring gently to the boil. Turn the potatoes. Remove the onion and the bay leaves from the bread sauce and reheat it gently, whisking in the cream. Reheat the cranberry sauce at the same time. Drain the beautiful golden brown potatoes in a colander and sprinkle them with sea salt. Put them in a serving dish in the warming oven.
3.30 Treat yourself to another drink. You have stuffed and roasted a turkey, prepared three sauces and three vegetables, and the privilege of the cook is that someone else should, with luck, be doing the washing up. All that remains is to bring out the brandy butter, turn out the Christmas pudding and set fire to the thing with a couple of tablespoons of warmed brandy.