Being a restaurant chef can involve working under extreme pressure to punishing deadlines in often cramped and sweaty conditions — which is not unlike the scene faced by many home cooks in their kitchens on Christmas Day.
It doesn’t have to be this way, however. Below we have asked 10 of London’s top chefs for their failsafe Christmas tips, sharing their own Yuletide memories and family traditions along the way.
So from perfect prepping to spicy stuffing, boozy elevenses and mushy peas and mash with the roast lunch — and, of course, the ultimate turkey and trimmings — discover how to transform festive cooking from a kitchen nightmare into a Christmas miracle. It might just be the best present you receive all year.
I have an eight-year-old-son who wakes up at 6am on Christmas Day, which makes things a bit manic, but it’s a joy to see how excited he is. I’m from a large family and Christmas has always been an important occasion for everyone to get together. The bigger your family gets, the more special Christmas becomes. My husband and I have croissants for breakfast with our son on Christmas Day and then I go into work to check everything is ok and come home for a big family dinner of turkey with all the works. Once we’re stuffed, we play games and watch all the old Christmas shows like Only Fools and Horses.
Roast the turkey low and slow for an even cook and to keep the meat juicy — around 120/130 degrees in a home oven. Remove the legs and slow-cook them separately from the crown. This can be done a day or two in advance and then reheated on Christmas Day to save time. To keep the crown moist and give extra flavour, mix brioche breadcrumbs, butter and festive herbs under the skin before cooking. Soak a muslin cloth in melted butter and then place over the bird and cook as normal. The muslin will keep the meat moist and the butter will help to crisp up the skin perfectly.
The Stafford, 16-18 St James’s Place, SW1A 1NJ, thestaffordlondon.com
I usually work on Christmas Day, but I get home early in the evening to spend time with my family. My brother organises the desserts and roast potatoes (he has become a bit of a master), mum does the starter and I usually cook whatever has been requested for the main course. It always works well and means I can relax without cooking too much.
Decide on your menu early and choose something which is achievable in the kitchen that you have. Write a prep list of everything that you want to do the day before and on Christmas morning. On Christmas Eve, blanch the roast potatoes — cook them in boiling water and refresh in iced water — so you only have to pop them in the oven, and make your gravy so you just need to finish it with the roasting juices on the day. Blanch all your vegetables so you only have to reheat them in the oven or finish in a pan with butter and fresh herbs. When the turkey comes out of the oven, let it rest for at least 45 minutes, cover loosely with foil and use this time to finish everything else in the oven.
150 Piccadilly, W1J 9BR, theritzlondon.com
I always go for stupid amounts of food at Christmas. For brunch, I’ll make Scotch eggs, sausage rolls, chocolate brioche and then finish up with a huge cheeseboard. A few years ago, I cooked Christmas lunch for my dad and my brother. I popped the cheeseboard down on the dining room table while we ate the rest. When I went to get the cheese later, my dad’s dog had eaten it all.
Spice is at the heart of everything I do, and I think it’s a useful tool to help cut through much of the richness and samey-ness the festive season can bring. Pack a punch with your Christmas dinner by adding a little jerk seasoning into your stuffing. It matches really well with the gamey flavours of a turkey but it’s even better with a pineapple-glazed ham, mash and pickles. Pair it with a lovely crisp riesling — the fruitiness of the wine works nicely with the jerk seasoning but is also light enough for the other components in the dinner.
107 Upper Street, N1 1QN, 1251.co.uk
Christmas is a very special time of the year and I do so enjoy spending Christmas Day at home with my family. We’ll roast a goose and use all that lovely fat to cook the roast potatoes. Gravy is, of course, homemade, along with an apple and cranberry compote. There will also be a steamed gammon joint filling the air with its wonderful scent. At 11am, we serve Champagne and blinis with Bentley’s salmon, which we smoked on the roof of the restaurant. This happens every year and is a Corrigan Christmas tradition I love dearly.
A tip for a calm kitchen at Christmas is to keep it simple with your vegetables. Just one or two root veggies will do — it saves on hob space and washing up, it makes plating up so much easier and you can concentrate on the main event. Throw some whole carrots in with your roast potatoes along with olive oil, thyme, salt and pepper; the caramelisation brings added flavour. Also, a Christmas pudding soufflé is a great way to use up any leftovers. Crumble Christmas pudding into a bowl and add port or Grand Marnier to make it softer, along with grated orange zest.
11-15 Swallow Street, W1B 4DG, bentleys.org
We have a few Christmas traditions in my family, including serving mushy peas with our Christmas dinner, and we have mashed as well as roast potatoes. That’s what I’ve grown up with, and I like it. We do a joint of ham and beef to eat cold in the evening and to make sandwiches for the following days — I think I enjoy that more than Christmas dinner itself. A sweet and chocolate tray is another massive tradition in our house. After Eights, Chocolate Orange, fruit jellies and more, all displayed on the most random, elaborate and stored-away-never-to-be-used-other-than-Xmas-Day plate.
I love having a starter at Christmas but cooking one more thing can make people panic and there’s a risk it will be too filling. A simple seasonal soup, such as Jerusalem artichoke, can be made the night before. Peel and chop 1kg of Jerusalem artichokes, simmer for 30 to 40 minutes in a pan of half water and half milk, then strain softly and blend with 50g of butter and 200ml of double cream and water until it’s a nice soupy consistency. Season with salt and pepper and enjoy!
58 Penton Street, N1 9PZ, hicce.co.uk
My family is majority Jewish, and although we do celebrate Christmas — most often with a Hungarian accent, and probably goose — we always have a Hanukkah party. One year, my mum made a 12-gallon bucket of punch, which involved macerating pineapples and strawberries in a bath of rum and kirsch. Everyone brought their kids, who were very well-behaved and healthily ate the pieces of fruit that were floating in the bucket. Before we served the main dishes, there was a line of drunken children sitting in a neat row, asleep against the living room wall.
Whole beast cooking is always celebratory at Christmas. Try a whole large wild sea bass, bream or grey mullet baked in a salt crust, or poach a whole salmon in a fish kettle. And salsa verde is the perfect sauce for just about anything — certainly whole fish, turkey, goose or beef. Pound or blend a large amount of flat-leaf parsley with a bit of stale bread, pine nuts, garlic, fennel seeds, anchovy, capers, red wine vinegar and olive oil to the texture of dribbly pesto. It’s also the garnish of champions for leftovers and sandwiches.
12 Archer Street, W1D 7BB, boccadilupo.com
One of the greatest Christmas traditions we have in our family is that everybody brings something. Share the load this Christmas and get all the family to bring one dish which just needs to be finished off on the day. This way you don’t have to be glued to your kitchen days before the big event.
I am obsessed by good gravy. There are now lots of great store-produced liquid stocks that you can use as a base and prep ahead of the big day. Sautée off some bacon, onion and carrot in a pan, add some chopped garlic and a tablespoon of tomato purée, and slightly colour. Add the stock to the pan and reduce to a quarter over a medium to low heat. Pass through a sieve. On Christmas Day, warm your gravy up and add the pan juices from the turkey or meat. Bring to the boil and reduce to a simmer again and enjoy. This is the quickest way to get a restaurant-quality sauce at home and totally worth it.
E14, EC2 and SW1, mrestaurants.co.uk
My grandma cooks Christmas lunch every year, and the best bit is always the homemade pigs in blankets. Everyone loves them. Another classic family tradition is setting the Christmas pudding on fire with brandy. One year, though, I rocked up to my dad’s side of the family for the celebrations expecting the full Christmas meal… and we had bangers and mash.
Guinea fowl is a delicious alternative to turkey; it’s more tender and more delicate in flavour. You essentially roast it like you would a chicken and you can put stuffing inside to keep it nice and moist. My number one Christmas tip, though, is to make the Yorkshire pudding mix the day before; it has time to rest, the flour hydrates in the milk and it works so much better the following day. That’s how we do it at the The Harwood Arms — we make the Yorkshire mix on Saturday and then cook the Yorkies on Sunday morning for lunch service.
Walham Grove, SW6 1QJ, harwoodarms.com
My wife is Irish so we like to do an Irish breakfast on Christmas Day, then have some mid-morning oysters with Sriracha and Champagne, followed by a classic English roast for lunch. We also love drinking G&Ts before we tuck into our roast. We do all our prep the night before to make Christmas Day easier; we crack open a bottle of wine, put on some Christmas music, set the table, parboil the veg and cook and fluff the potatoes ready to roast the next morning. The whole family gets involved, dancing, drinking and cooking.
I love a fish Wellington or fish en croûte as an alternative to turkey. Get some salmon belly or a nice chalk stream trout from the fishmonger, roll in your crepe, add mushroom duxelles and wrap in pastry. I often do a zero-waste caramelised cauliflower cheese, which uses the skins, roots and leaves. And any other veg trimmings (onion skins, carrot tops, celeriac skins) can be chopped up and boiled with a bit of sugar for two hours. Strain it off, reduce to a treacle and add to gravy for a hit of umami.
2 St James’s Market, SW1Y 4RP, fallowrestaurant.com
On those days between Christmas and New Year when you have no idea what day (or date!) it is, my mum would cook us all a hearty soup, made with the cooking liquid from a joint of ham. She added pearl barley and any leftover ham and veg. This was always a great lunch served with heavily salted buttered sourdough, usually in front of a puzzle by the fire. She still makes a joint of ham on Christmas Eve to go with the turkey but now we also have eggs Benedict for breakfast on Christmas morning.
Brining the turkey was not part of my family Christmas traditions growing up, but it will forever be part of them in the future, as it infuses the meat with lovely Christmassy flavours. I add salt, honey, cloves, orange, cinnamon and thyme to water and ensure the turkey is fully submerged. I usually do this for up to 48 hours, but 24 hours would suffice. You can add whatever herbs and spices you like, but the Christmas classics are always a winner.
41-43 Mount Street, W1K 2RX, mountstrestaurant.com