Your festive food preparation guide

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Christmas is a time for good cheer, exchanging gifts, reflecting on the year… and food. Lots of it

With so much to make and so many options to choose from, deciding what to buy and when to prepare can be a little daunting.

In our festive food preparation guide, we explore some of the best ways to make your meal in advance and take the hassle out of cooking on Christmas Day and the rest of the yuletide period.

Turkey

The key ingredient in the Christmas dinner for anyone who is not a vegetarian, but also the most intimidating. Over-cooking the turkey can be disastrous on Christmas Day, while undercooking it could result in a long wait and even be dangerous to health. Avoid the risk of both by preparing in advance. This could involve cheating slightly by an oven-ready turkey. However, if you want to do it the traditional way, consider deboning and washing the bird the night before, so only the cooking needs to take place on Christmas Day itself. Chef Paul Rankin has some great tips on how to cook a turkey.

Gravy

Gravy is to roast meat what Robin is to Batman, albeit with fewer gadgets. Unlike turkey, it can actually be prepared weeks in advance and still taste just as good on the day. Simply freeze a batch and defrost it on Christmas Eve, then warm it up and add the turkey juices on Christmas Day. Jamie Oliver has a ‘get-ahead gravy’ recipe that can save valuable preparation and cooking time.

Stuffing

Although freezing can ultimately affect the taste of some products, stuffing is not one of them, so consider making this well in advance. If you have enough room in your freezer, freeze it in the oven dish itself to avoid even having to transfer the container on Christmas Day. You can then microwave it to warm it up, saving precious oven space. Baking queen Mary Berry has a unique, fruity stuffing recipe.

Brussels sprouts

Love them or hate them, Brussels sprouts are an integral component of any Christmas dinner, but you can save plenty of hassle by blanching them and refreshing on Christmas Eve. Boil them, drop them in a pan of cold water to halt the cooking process, and simply warm them up the next day to complete the job. This can work with most vegetables, including parsnips, carrots and swedes, so consider stockpiling your veg on December 24th.

Potatoes

Whether you prefer roast, mashed, sweet or a combination of the three, potatoes can make or break a Christmas dinner, so getting them right is important. Lumpy mash or bullet-had roasters can result in sad faces,which is why some people parboil and freeze their potatoes to give them a headstart. By peeling and chopping them the night before and storing the potatoes in a water-filled container overnight, you can stop them browning and avoid the tedious process of peeling on December 25th. Nigella’s tips on cooking roast potatoes for up to 16 people could come in particularly handy.

Yorkshire puddings

The debate over whether to have Yorkshire pudding with Christmas dinner will never end, but if you are in the group in favour - which includes Martha Stewart - then this is something else you can prepare in advance. Prepare the batter on Christmas Eve and store it in the fridge overnight, or even cook the entire puddings days in advance and store them in the freezer, before giving them a quick five-minute blast in the oven to defrost on Christmas Day.

Dessert

While Christmas pudding can be made weeks or even months in advance, and is often all the better for it, many other desserts can be prepared ahead of time. If you know time will be at a premium, then think about constructing a menu that includes plenty of cold desserts. Trifle, chocolate mousse and ice cream may not be traditional Christmas fare, but they will be a far more appealing prospect for the people making and serving the Christmas dinner when the main courses have been finished.