Borthwick Castle, photo courtesy of Celtic Castles

How to master the festive season like an award-winning chef

We asked the real experts for their secret ingredients, seasonal recipes and handiest shortcuts...

With five short days left to go until the Big Day, the pressure is hotting up to ensure that the main event runs as smoothly as possible. And, if you have been tasked with the loftiest of all festive responsibilities to produce the Christmas lunch this year, we know that the challenge might seem unscalable.

Between basting, binding and baking (and somehow finding time to share in the merriment of the morning), cooking up a rollicking roast is not for the faint of heart. 

Fortunately for you, GJ are on hand to ensure that your roasties stay crisp and your Yorkshire puddings don’t fall flat.

We asked Michelin starred chef Gareth Ward and award-winning ‘Chef to Watch’ Alex Bond to give us their top tips on how you can keep your cool as the ovens heat up, and put together the superlative seasonal spread…

For rollicking good roasties...

Surely the best loved of all roast dinner staples, few dishes promise to give as much unadulterated pleasure as a bowl of crispy roast potatoes. Yet, make one false preparatory move and you could end up with a scattering of lack-lustre carb parcels or, worse, charcoaled crisps.

Alex’s advice? “For the best roast potatoes peel, cook and rough the potatoes by shaking them in a colander. Do all this the day before and lay them flat on a tray to dry out. On the day, when you’re ready to cook, put duck fat or vegetable oil (just don’t use olive oil) in a tray and get really hot in the oven at 200 degrees.”

How to master the festive season like an award-winning chef

“Once the oil is hot, add the potatoes and give the tray a shake to cover them in oil. Leave them a good 20 minutes before turning. Towards the end of cooking throw in some smashed garlic cloves and thyme into the skin.”

For terrific turkey...

As the real scene stealer and inevitably the most commented upon element to your culinary performance, roast turkey is basically the Meryl Streep of the Christmas table.

Should he ever be faced with choosing his death row meal, Gareth says without hesitation that his last supper would be a roast. Christmas, then, is a big deal.

So what’s his refined routine? “I brine the turkey for 24 hours and then cook it incredibly slowly. All the trimmings make an appearance, my favourites being a good bread sauce and braised red cabbage. All of this, of course, fills sandwiches the next day!”

How to master the festive season like an award-winning chef

Alex’ also recommends getting ahead of the curve when it comes to meat preparation, “I usually cook just a breast and a leg on Christmas Day rather than a whole turkey. I brine the breast in 5% salt and sugar solution for 12 hours.”

“You can also add some Christmas spices like cinnamon to the brine mix. Then I bone the leg and staff it with sausage meat. We go really classic with sides – roast potatoes, carrots, Brussel sprouts with bacon, stuffing, pigs in blankets.”

For a savvy secret ingredient...

Much like any other long-term love affair, we can neglect to spice things up in our comfortable routine with the Christmas dinner. This year, our experts recommend that you show your table a little extra love and throw in a few surprises.

For Gareth, the secret ingredient is tofu, and his technique for making the perfect stuffing is as follows:

“I cook lots of diced onions really slowly in lots of butter and then adds loads of chopped garlic. Next, take a couple of packets of silken tofu and whisk it up so it makes a mince like texture.”

“Then, fold the tofu with the onions, garlic and sage. Bake in breadcrumbs and you’ll have a delicious, light stuffing to pair perfectly with turkey.”

How to master the festive season like an award-winning chef
Tofu, Gareth Ward's secret ingredient for the perfect stuffing

Alex’s must-have ingredient is a little more straightforward: “Sauerkraut! I love to make a turkey Reuben on Boxing Day. It’s just the best sandwich ever! I use sourdough bread, leftover turkey and top it with Emmental and sauerkraut.”

For a choice cheeseboard...

Everyone knows that the staple of any festive soiree is the cheeseboard. And, as far as Gareth is concerned — stocking up the fridge with dairy will always take priority.

How to master the festive season like an award-winning chef

“I just love it — I ordered all the cheese for my house last week. I always have it with bread, not biscuits and I love red onion marmalade or quince cheese.”

Further Reading