Just the thought of having to shop for a Christmas dinner – yes, shop till you drop! – is enough to make one’s heart rate rocket! Never mind the cooking, laying the table, washing up afterwards – it can all put quite a strain on the festive spirit. But it doesn’t have to be that way with these Christmas dinner tips from a top chef.
For chef and food blogger, Tamsyn Wells, preparing complicated meals for large groups is all in a day’s work. She is the Executive Chef at the African Pride 15 on Orange Hotel in Cape Town, and often prepares a number of courses for a few hundred people.
“Being organised and planning things beforehand is crucial if you want to make this a far easier time,” she advises.
Here are her suggestions to help you have a less stressful Christmas:
- Work off check lists that you write up in advance. That way, there’s little chance of a panic on the day when you realise you’ve forgotten to make one course.
- Start your food preparations the day before Christmas, and shop the day before that. There may be things on your menu that you can get ready even earlier. By getting much of the cooking done in advance, you can relax with your guests and also enjoy the meal.
- Draft your shopping list in advance, and make it comprehensive. There’s nothing more frustrating than having to stand in long queues at the supermarket each time you go back for a forgotten item.
- Go for flavours that are generally popular – berry, lemon, fresh herbs or chocolate – and avoid those that have a more limited appeal, like strong chilli, coriander, fennel and gorgonzola.
- Put different condiments on the table – pesto, chutneys, relishes and preserves. These can add incredible flavours to food, and your guests can choose what they like.
- December is a great time for seasonal fruits and vegetables – use what’s in season and locally produced. The flavours will be fresher, and you’ll avoid buying expensive, imported items.
- If you plan on cooking a turkey, first brine it. That involves putting the turkey in a bath of water. It will keep the meat soft and moist as it cooks, and the salt seasons the bird both inside and out. You can then serve it either hot or cold.
How to make the brine:
Mix 4lt cold water, 2 cups salt, 1 cup sugar, 2 sprigs rosemary, 5 sprigs thyme, 2 bay leaves, 1 Tbsp whole black peppercorns.
Place the turkey in a bowl containing the brine mixture and weigh it down with a plate with a weight on top. Lay in the brine overnight in the fridge. Rinse the next morning and prepare the turkey as desired. Do not add salt – just butter and flavour additions like herbs and garlic as well as a tasty stuffing.
- Consider buying a turkey that comes with a Temperature popper. This device measures the Internal temperature of the bird as it cooks and will pop out when the meat is cooked.
“Above all,” Wells says, “enjoy this special meal. Considering the effort and the cost involved, you should get some pleasure from it!”