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Four top chefs offer their Christmas dinner tips

Christmas is a busy time in the restaurant kitchen for our top chefs but how do they like their own Christmas dinner served?

© Dobson Agency Rhian Cradock of The Feathers Inn
Rhian Cradock of The Feathers Inn
 

Can sprouts be interesting? Is lump-free gravy possible? JANE HALL quizzes four top chefs about Christmas dinner.

Rhian Cradock runs the Good Pub Guide’s 2015 Northumbria Dining Pub of the Year, The Feathers Inn, at Hedley on the Hill in the Tyne Valley.

What’s your choice for the perfect festive dinner meat and why?

I like goose, although turkey suits everyone. I would love to have woodcock for lunch as they are at their best in mid-winter, but as they only serve one it’s not really a possibility!

If you opt for turkey, how do you ensure it doesn’t dry out?

Don’t over-cook it! It’s that simple. Don’t try and cook a turkey over 18lb whole as the breast will dry out before the legs are cooked. Keep the legs for a casserole or curry. Your meal will be much nicer if you cook two smaller birds rather than one huge one.

How do you cater for vegetarians?

Chestnuts are such a Christmas staple. I would make something that brings out the best in these, like a chestnut and wild mushroom pie.

Do you have a perfect and easy-to-prepare stuffing recipe?

Sage and onion stuffing: 500g pure pork sausage meat (I use Cranston’s from Hexham); 2 onions finely chopped and cooked in butter till golden; 250g white bread crumbs; ½ bunch chopped parsley; 10 chopped sage leaves; 1 egg; 2tsp salt; 2tsp ground white pepper; zest of 1 lemon. Mix and bake at 180C in a small casserole dish.

What’s the best way to roast potatoes?

Use Desiree or red King Edward. Boil in salted water till half cooked, drain and allow to steam dry. Roast in smoking hot duck fat or beef dripping at 220C for an hour until crisp. Season when cooked with salt.

Any tips for lump-free, show-stopping gravy?

Mine is made from a veal and beef stock that takes 24 hours to prepare. However, you can make gravy easily from a giblet stock and the juices off the roast, a little hot water plus a glass of port or sherry.

Can sprouts be interesting?

I really like sprouts. Mix them with crisp bacon and croutons fried in butter with lots of pepper and salt.

Is life too short to make cranberry sauce?

No! It’s easy: 500g fresh or frozen cranberries; juice of 1 lemon; 1 cinnamon stick; 300g caster sugar; 250ml of port. Simmer for 10 minutes, cool and serve.

Traditional Christmas pud or an alternative?

Christmas pudding. After a break, have a small portion with a glass of Pedro Ximenez.

Top kitchen tip for ensuring Christmas dinner goes well?

Get everyone to help, but it depends on your family!

Favourite left-overs recipe?

I think people should aim for no left overs and cook a smaller turkey. That’s my plan.

Who will you spend Christmas with and who will cook?

I will be cooking with my mum and 18 of my closest family. It’s always busy, crazy and lots of fun with ages ranging from my two-year-old to my grandma in her 80s.

Jesmond Dean House head chef Michael Penaluna
Jesmond Dean House head chef Michael Penaluna
 

Michael Penaluna is head chef at Jesmond Dene House. He is passionate about local, seasonal foods.

What’s your meat of choice for the perfect festive dinner?

Turkey. Christmas without turkey isn’t the same.

How do you ensure it stays moist and doesn’t dry out?

Don’t pick too large a bird. Before roasting, rub it all over with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Put the stuffing under the skin of the breast to increase its size and ensure it takes as long to cook as the legs.

How do you cater for vegetarians?

We create the perfect nut roast using a wide range including pistachios and fresh truffles.

Do you have a perfect and easy stuffing recipe?

Use the nicest sausage meat, some sweet onions, sage, breadcrumbs, dried cranberries and chestnuts.

What’s the best way to roast potatoes?

Pre-heat oven to 180C. Peel potatoes (Maris Piper or King Edward) and cut into crisscross quarters. Bring to the boil, cook for five minutes, strain and shake to ruffle up the edges. Allow to rest for 10-15 minutes while putting goose fat in a roasting tray and placing in oven. When hot, add the potatoes and roast for about 15 minutes before adding cloves of garlic, sprigs of rosemary and some jelly stock. Give the tray a little shuffle and carry on cooking until potatoes are golden brown and crispy. Finish with a sprinkle of Malden sea salt.

Any tips for lump-free, show-stopping gravy?

Cook slowly and cook longer.

Can sprouts be interesting?

Definitely. Boil for about seven minutes or until tender. Once cooked, remove from pan and place in iced water. When chilled, halve each one and keep to one side.

Warm a saucepan, add a knob of butter and some diced bacon and chestnuts. Cook for two minutes, add sprouts and a few sprigs of thyme. Cook until you get a little colour on the sprouts, season with salt and pepper and serve.

Is life too short to make your own cranberry sauce?

Never. Everyone should make their own sauce which they can then personalise.

Traditional Christmas pudding or something easier?

Christmas pudding.

Christmas pudding
Christmas pudding
 

Top kitchen tip for ensuring Christmas dinner goes well?

Prepare as much as you can the day before.

Favourite left-overs recipe?

Turkey sandwiches with local chutney on Christmas Day evening; turkey curry on Boxing Day.

Who will you spend Christmas with and who will cook?

Twenty chefs and 30 waiters and waitresses at Jesmond Dene House during the day, when we will serve lunch to 200 guests! Once they are happy, I will join my fiancée and our dog Bailey for our own special dinner at home.

Jesmond Dean House head chef Michael Penaluna
Jesmond Dean House head chef Michael Penaluna
 

James Close is head chef at the North East’s only Michelin-rated restaurant, The Raby Hunt at Summerhouse, near Darlington, and a Journal Taste columnist.

What’s your choice for the perfect festive dinner meat and why?

Beef sirloin. I always find turkey too dry.

How do you cater for vegetarians?

There are some really good alternatives out there and if you cook your veg and accompaniments correctly, the meat isn’t always the best thing about a Christmas dinner anyway. Vegetarians are always welcome. I really enjoy cooking vegetarian food.

Do you have a perfect and easy stuffing recipe?

I use some great pork mince and chestnuts to keep it festive. But if you’re cooking turkey it’s so important to get a good stuffing to go with it.

What’s the best way to roast potatoes?

Duck or goose fat and lots of it! They can be made in advance and warmed through in the oven again. They will only get crispier and that’s the idea, right?

Michelin rated chef James Close
Michelin rated chef James Close
 

Any tips for lump-free, show-stopping gravy?

Gravy is possibly the most important thing on the list. Take your time, do it yourself and pass it through a sieve. But the best way to avoid lumps is not to use gravy granules!

Can sprouts be interesting?

Not really, but I love sprouts anyway. Don’t overcook them and they are great.

Is life too short to make your own cranberry sauce?

Hmmm... tricky one! I think so. Again, this type of product is readily available and there are some great ones out there.

Traditional Christmas pudding or something easier on cook and stomach?

Who doesn’t love lighting the brandy after you have poured it over the pud! It has to be traditional every time with some brandy cream or Chantilly on the side.

Top kitchen tip for ensuring Christmas dinner goes well?

Timings and planning in advance. I think I spent about three days preparing my dinner last year. It’s worth it.

Favourite left-overs recipe?

Who doesn’t love a cold meat sandwich with condiments and pickles on Boxing Day?

Who will you be spending Christmas with and who will cook?

I can’t let anyone cook – and even if I try I end up taking over. I will spend quite a bit of time in the kitchen where most of the family helps – only this time, unlike work, I can do it with a glass of wine in my hand!

Dave Coulson
Dave Coulson
 

Dave Coulson reached the final of the BBC’s Masterchef: The Professionals in 2010. He is chef/owner at Jesmond’s Peace and Loaf.

What’s your choice for the perfect festive dinner meat?

Turkey, because it’s traditional, and pork belly, because it’s my favourite.

How do you ensure turkey doesn’t dry out?

For a turkey crown, cook it and seal it at 220C for 90 minutes.

How do you cater for vegetarians?

I don’t. I don’t know any!

Do you have a perfect and easy stuffing recipe?

Two onions, eight sausages, skins removed, a block of butter (dieters look away now) and add breadcrumbs and chopped sage. Delicious.

What’s the best way to roast potatoes?

Par boil, dry off completely then cook in beef dripping at 220C for an hour. They’ll be lovely and crispy and mealy on the inside.

Any tips for lump-free, show-stopping gravy?

Can’t give away that secret because we’re famous for our delicious gravy – especially on our Sunday lunches!

Can sprouts be interesting?

Yes, but don’t just boil them. Add chestnuts, bacon, butter and chopped parsley.

Is life too short to make your own cranberry sauce?

Yes, the stuff in jars is just as good.

Traditional Christmas pudding?

Something chocolately for me. Can’t beat a chocolate gateau.

Top kitchen tip for ensuring Christmas dinner goes well?

Mise en place, which means preparation – the only way to ensure the day goes smoothly.

Favourite left-overs recipe?

Turkey curry or plain turkey and stuffing sandwiches with plenty of butter.

Who will you spend Christmas with and who will cook?

As I am single again now, I will spend Christmas with my parents and – shock, horror – I’ll be cooking, just for a change!

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