Top chefs reveal how they cook their Christmas turkey:

Put the turkey on the BBQ, add a dash of CURRY powder to your pud and shuffle roast potatoes every seven minutes: Top chefs reveal how to make the perfect Christmas dinner

  • Chefs have shared their top tips on making Christmas dinner with Femail 
  • James Cochran, owner of 12:51, recommends infusing turkey with cinnamon
  • Adam Byatt, of Michelin-starred Trinity London, asks his butcher to remove legs
  • Here, Femail reveals the tips from chefs including adding tinned pineapple and curry powder to Christmas pudding and roasting the veg and the turkey together

With Covid keeping large gatherings apart, many of us might be cooking a Christmas dinner for the first time – having normally been a guest at an extended family member’s table…

And whether it’s the best gadgets to cook with, how long to roast for or special ingredients to offer a more professional flavour, every chef and home cook has their own techniques for perfecting a delicious turkey dinner.

Speaking to FEMAIL, more than twenty top chefs from across the UK have revealed their top Christmas cooking tips, from covering the turkey in maple syrup to cooking it on the barbecue… 

The big day is nearly upon us…and if you’re tasked with cooking a Christmas dinner for the first time, there’s a raft of tricks to help you ramp up the flavour stakes 

‘Brine in lots of salt, oranges and cinnamon’: James Cochran, Chef, Owner of 12:51 and Around the Cluck:

James Cochran, who made his name at the two Michelin-starred Ledbury, told Femail: ‘Brining should be a given when it comes to any poultry – that’s what we do with our fried chicken to ensure succulence and roasting a notoriously dry bird like a turkey will ensure this goes down in food history rather than an Christmas dinner we’d rather forget.

James Cochran, who made his name at the two Michelin-starred Ledbury, told Femail: ‘Brining should be a given when it comes to any poultry – that’s what we do with our fried chicken to ensure succulence and roasting a notoriously dry bird like a turkey will ensure this goes down in food history rather than an Christmas dinner we’d rather forget. 

‘Plus, you’ll never turn back once you have a leftover Christmas sandwich with brined turkey. Insane!

‘To brine, submerge a 10kg bird in 10 litres of water and 1kg of salt then add lots of aromatics like the peel of a few oranges, cinnamon sticks, peppercorns, juniper berries, bay leaves and leave in the fridge overnight. 

‘The proteins are broken down in the bird via osmosis and the salt tenderises the meat.the next day, make sure you drain and pat dry as much as possible to ensure a crispy bird and juicy cuts. 

‘So remember, baptise the bird you’ll be a convert I promise!

‘Infuse in saffron’: Marwa Alkhalaf, Chef Patron, Nutshell, Covent Garden

 Owner of modern Iranian restaurant Nutshell Marwa Alkhalaf told Femail: ‘For a luxurious glow, infuse saffron into butter for the turkey rub and put some under the skin to give it a nice golden yellow colour when roasting. 

‘The saffron which will give it it’s golden hue, means you won’t need to leave the turkey in the oven for any longer than needs be and won’t be left with a dry turkey.’

He also recommended making Shekam Por stuffing: a traditional Northern Iranian dish made with sauteed onion, garlic, barberries, chopped walnut, prunes and dried golden plums or apricots and pomegranate molasses and clementine juice for a twist on a classic stuffing recipe and one that will keep a big bird like a turkey juice. 

‘Add couple of prunes to your baking tray under the turkey and finish your jus with pomegranate molasses for a nice sweet and sour flavour,’ he added.

‘Cook it slow and low on Christmas Eve’: James Toth, Head Chef of Cornerstone, Hackney

James Toth, the head chef at Cornerstone in Hackney, east London, told Femail: ‘People always worry about cooking Turkey on the day because time management is tricky. 

‘What I like to do is to put my Turkey in the oven overnight on Christmas Eve so it can start cooking gently. 

‘I put a Turkey for about five people on at 80 – 100 degrees, check it in the morning and to finish off the cooking and give it that roasted brown colour I whack the temperature up to 220 degrees for about 30-40 degrees. 

‘I’ll definitely be doing that this year because I’m also cooking a Vegan Mushroom Wellington on the day!

‘People always worry about cooking Turkey on the day because time management is tricky. 

Save the usual Christmas morning stress and put your bird on the night before, says chef James Toth

‘What I like to do is to put my turkey in the oven overnight on Christmas Eve so it can start cooking gently. 

‘I put a turkey for about five people on at 80 – 100 degrees, check it in the morning and to finish off the cooking and give it that roasted brown colour I whack the temperature up to 220 degrees for about 30-40 degrees. 

‘I’ll definitely be doing that this year because I’m also cooking a vegan mushroom wellington on the day!

‘You always have left over turkey so our family tradition is to use the left overs for a turkey curry on Boxing Day.

‘I always use the same fivespices as a base for a delicious curry. These are equal quantiles of garam masala, tumeric, curry powder, coriander powder and cumin.

Waitrose chefs reveal their top tips for cooking turkey

Martyn Lee, Executive Chef at Waitrose: Stick it on the barbecue 

 ‘I cook my turkey on the barbecue every Christmas. It never fails to impress and I predict many will join me in doing the same this year. It’s really easy, quicker than if you were to cook it in the oven and gives a beautifully succulent taste with a crispy skin. And it’s not just the turkey, you can cook the full Christmas feast on the barbecue – trimmings, desserts and all.’

‘I love to cook the whole bird on the barbecue as it gives everyone the option of white or dark meat, however I always remove the thighs and legs and cook them separately as the dark meat benefits from longer, slower cooking. Cooking both at the same time means the white breast meat will overcook before the thighs and legs – leading to the dreaded dry turkey! If you prefer to focus on the turkey crown – or are planning for a smaller gathering – then this will cook beautifully too. The Waitrose Medium Turkey Breast Crown with Prime Wing is perfect for this.’

‘Barbecuing a turkey calls for indirect heat – it’s very different to grilling a steak over hot coals. The best way to do this is to stack coals along one side of the barbecue and the meat on the other side. My tip would be to use foil to deflect the heat if necessary.’

Zoe Simons, Senior Development Chef at Waitrose: Brine the crown in smoked demerara sugar

‘I like to prepare my Christmas turkey ahead of time, which ends up saving me time on Christmas Day and means I get more time to spend with family. A few days before Christmas, I take off the turkey legs and confit them in duck fat and herbs. 

‘Then on Christmas Day, the turkey crown takes less time to cook and the leg meat is rich and full of flavour – the legs just need a quick reheat in the oven for about 25 minutes. I then use the fat from the confit turkey legs to roast my potatoes, this way you get all the flavour from confiting the turkey legs and you don’t waste anything!’

‘When it comes to brining my turkey crown, last year I used smoked demerara sugar in my brine which gave it a great flavour. It was so good and really popular with my guests so I’m definitely going to do it again this year.’ 

Paul Gamble, Senior Development Chef at Waitrose: Put thyme butter under the skin 

 ‘I like to go all out at Christmas and take a very ‘cheffy’ option with my turkey. I remove the legs, debone them, fill them with some of the Christmas stuffing and then tie them up and roast separately. For the crown, I brine it for 12 hours – submerging it in a solution of water, salt and sugar with plenty of herbs and garlic. I would always recommend brining a turkey as it helps to retain the moisture whilst cooking.

‘I then roast the turkey crown with thyme butter under the skin, basting every so often. The turkey legs and crown take a different length of time to cook, therefore separating them helps to avoid the breast meat over cooking and drying out. I would recommend investing in a temperature probe to know when the bird is ‘just’ cooked.’ 

Will Torrent, Consultant Pastry Chef at Waitrose: Cover it in bacon and maple syrup

 ‘While I’ve usually given up my Christmas Day to cook for approximately 40-50 guests at our church, this year we will be spending Christmas Day at home as we’re expecting a baby in January. 

‘I usually love to cook a turkey on Christmas, however this year we’re planning to go for an alternative centrepiece and opting for the Waitrose Easy Carve Duck with Pear, Chestnut and Rum.’

‘If I was to cook a turkey, I’d top it with some lovely smoked streaky bacon and pour over a good glug of maple syrup to add some sweetness. You can never go wrong with the ultimate bacon and maple syrup combo!’  

‘Ask the butcher to remove the legs’: Adam Byatt, Trinity 

 Adam Byatt, of the Michelin-starred Trinity in Clapham told Femail: ‘I love turkey and look forward to it every Christmas. 

‘A turkey can be a daunting bird to cook, but if you remove the legs (or ask your butcher to do so), remove the thigh bone and fill the cavity with a flavoursome stuffing, roll the legs up in tin foil and roast them with the crown of turkey you will find the whole process far more manageable.

‘The crown should be seasoned well, brushed liberally with butter and placed into a fan oven at 180c – ten minutes per pound is the rule of thumb but take the temperature of the thick end of the breast – 70c internal temp should be reached.

‘But the key stages to a great turkey is to have it stand out of the fridge for an hour before cooking it and to rest it with a little foil over for an hour after cooking.’ 

‘Cook your carrots with the turkey’: Francesco Mazzei, Chef Patron Sartoria, Fiume & Radici

Carrots roasted alongside the turkey ensure they pick up the meat’s flavour, says chef Patron Sartoria

Calabrian-born Francesco Mazzei, one of the top Italian chefs currently working in thee UK, told Femail vegetables are his festive favourite.

‘One of the highlights of Christmas dinner for me is always the carrots. I cook them with the turkey at the start, so they absorb lots of those gorgeous juices from the meat, then I add toasted caraway seeds, a good spoon of honey so they get lovely and caramelised, finishing with a big scattering of flat leaf parsley. 

‘Honestly, I know you may think they’re just carrots, however they’re some of the best carrots you’ll eat, so delicious. 

‘Add a touch of marmite to the brine’: Jack Stein, Chef Director of The Rick Stein Group  

Love it or hate it, Jack Stein, of the Rick Stein group, recommends adding Marmite to the turkey (pictured left).  Owner of modern Iranian restaurant Nutshell Marwa Alkhalaf told Femail: ‘For a luxurious glow, infuse saffron into butter for the turkey rub and put some under the skin to give it a nice golden yellow colour when roasting, she is pictured right

Jack Stein, of the Rick Stein group, recommended adding Marmite to the turkey. 

He told Femail: ‘Buy some good quality fresh stock (either from a deli or butchers) and make the gravy the day before. 

‘Cook down some onions, garlic and thyme with a good glug of red wine. 

‘Allow this to reduce by around half and then add the stock, usually sold by the pouch. 

‘Let it simmer down for half an hour, then add a tablespoon of marmite and soy a sauce for an umami hit and a splash vinegar to taste. On the day, add all the pan juices from roasting your meat at the end and serve!

‘Brine your turkey overnight in a brine of 10 per cent  salt so 10g per 100mm water. 

‘Take it out in the morning and wash off and excess brine then it will always be lovely and soft flesh. 

‘Finally buy a digital probe, it will take the stress out of timing the turkey – simply remove it from the oven when it reaches 68 degrees. 

‘Shuffle potatoes every seven minutes for perfect roasties’: Tom Westerland, Head Chef, Crockers  
Tom Westerland told Femail: ‘Christmas dinner wouldn’t be Christmas dinner without yorkies – whether you’re having beef, turkey or sit in the nut roast camp.

‘Make your batter the night before – it yields a fluffer, bigger, better Yorkie. Just cling film it and leave it to rest in the fridge overnight. 

‘Top tip to get that picture perfect, classic Yorkshire pudding shape (and stop them going wonky) is to heat the oil/fat properly and pour the batter directly into the very middle of the tin.

Seven-minute shuffle…ensure potatoes don’t stick to the roasting tin, says Crockers chef Tom Westerland

‘This is my trick for our roasties. I call it the seven minute shuffle. The first important factor is choosing the potato. 

 ‘You need a dirty potato like a Maris Piper or a King Edward. 

‘Dirty potatoes have a lower sugar content in so they crisp up better without burning. We peel them and cut them into what I call ‘roast potato shape’ – this is basically as many edges as possible. 

How to save money on drinks at Christmas 

Charlie Stein, Drinks Director of The Rick Stein Group told Femail: ‘If you’re on a budget then look out for Crémant de Bourgogne in the supermarket, it’s made exactly the same way as Champagne, with the same flavour, but doesn’t carry the premium price.

‘All of the supermarkets run incredible deals on all their Champagne so make sure you stock up before the big day.

‘There’s so many different flavours on the festive table that there isn’t one wine that works better than other, just make sure there’s enough weight and body to so it’s not overpowered but the various trimmings. 

‘For me Christmas is a celebration so I open the best wine I can afford and get stuck in. 

Wines that work: Bordeaux, Rhone, White Burgundy, Languedoc red, and Italian reds. If you have a decanter, decant for extra theatre.

Go large: Buying a bigger bottle – or a box – ensures Christmas theatre at the dining table…

‘I’m designated wine pourer at our family Christmas and end up spending the whole day opening bottles of Champagne and wine. 

‘Do yourself a favour and buy in bigger format and save opening times. It also looks far more impressive and adds some festive theatre to the big occasion.

‘Boxing day is left-over meats and turkey sandwiches and a hangover, in this case you have to reach for some aromatic Pinot Gris or some honeyed South African Chenin Blanc. 

‘If you have gammon, jacket potatoes, and left-over goose like we do, then something light, red and crunchy will, Pinot Noir or Beaujolais will do the job perfectly. 

‘It’s the trick to maximising your crispy edges! We then cover them with cold water and a good handful of salt. Bring them to the boil and then rapidly boil them for seven minutes. Drain them off, ruffle them in the colander with some rock salt. (This is the seven minute shuffle) We then preheat an oven tray with beef fat at 200 degrees c and plunge the potatoes into it. 

‘Roast them at a high heat until golden and crispy. Finish with some smoked rock salt (everything’s better with some smoke)! 

‘Roast the veg alongside the turkey’: Paul Leonard, Head Chef Forest Side 

Paul Leonard, who found fame as Head Chef of Michelin Starred Isle of Eriska and The 4 AARosette Burlington at The Devonshire Arms told Femail:  ‘Roast your veg with your turkey! 

‘Don’t be afraid to do this – it’s such a winning shortcut. 

‘I always put all my veg underneath the turkey so that all the delicious juices roast the veg while the bird is cooking. 

‘Also add your classic aromatics like garlic, and some thyme, bay and rosemary. 

‘Add curry powder and tinned pineapple to your Christmas pudding’: Oli Martin, Head Chef, Hipping Hall 

Oli Martin, head chef Hipping Hall, had an unusual tip for making Christmas pudding.

He told Femail:  ‘If you sit in the Christmas pudding camp, this one’s for you. I came across this recipe while working in Australia which used tinned pineapple and a teaspoon of curry powder and honestly I haven’t looked back since!

‘My secret Christmas tip is one for unbeatable mince pies that I came across a few years ago. 

‘Simply put an over ripe banana into your mince mix, and it makes them extra gooey and super sticky!

‘Use brioche to make bread sauce’: Tom Aikens, Chef Patron Muse 

 TV chef Tom Aikens, told Femail he uses a french bread to make the perfect bread sauce.

He said: ‘Part of the problem with a big Christmas lunch is the space issue – it is very difficult to cook everything and get it all already at the same time! To battle this, you can roast your carrots and parsnips in frying pans on the stove instead of in the oven.

‘Add little extras to your vegetables to give them a zing: chestnuts and bacon lardons to Brussel sprouts; lemon, thyme and tarragon to roast carrots; honey and thyme sprigs to roast parsnips.

#An easy way to make your bread sauce extra lux – whether you’re cooking for 2 or 20 – is to use brioche crumbs rather than a normal white loaf crumbs to enrich it.

‘And always finish it with a dash of double cream.

TV chef Tom Aikens, told Femail he uses a french bread to make the perfect bread sauce

Love those leftovers! Don’t throw anything out… 

Will Blank, Chef Top Cuvée  told Femail: ‘Don’t throw anything away, left over sprouts and potatoes make a good colcannon. 

Chop up your sprouts and roasties, add some stuffing and gravy and bake in the oven until golden – delicious!’

‘Always roast your sprouts – the oven is on and ready anyway, and it brings out the best earthy flavour. 

‘Blanch them in boiling salted water for just 30 seconds, then roast whole in a very hot oven (210C) oven with goose or duck fat.

‘Shake the tray every five mins and five mins before they look done, drizzle with honey to caramelise, and top with sliced chestnuts.

‘If you’re doing turkey, you can’t beat a cold turkey sandwich – and always condiment heavy with Branston pickle, extra cold cranberry sauce and a little mayo. 

‘Chuck in a few lettuce leaves too. The other tradition is a baked pie with puff pastry. 

‘Here’s a simple one which will work with whatever leftover Christmas meat (turkey, ham even goose) you’ve got in the fridge. 

‘Make a basic bechamel, add some leeks and mushrooms, a dash of cream, grainy mustard and parsley. 

‘Then add all the white & dark meat, cut up into smallish pieces. Pop into a pie dish, cover with defrosted puff pastry, brush with egg yolk and bake at 200C for 20 mins. 

Bin the turkey! Chefs reveal to Femail the best alternatives… 

Ben Tish, culinary director of Norma and The Stafford: Ditch the turkey and roast pork instead

‘If you forget to buy turkey and they’ve run out, Go for a pork roast if you’re doing a more low-key Christmas this year and don’t need a whole turkey! 

‘Don’t fancy a large turkey this year. This slow roast pork belly is a winner, with roasted spiced quince and seasonal cabbage steamed and finished with orange, chilli and marjoram and potatoes roast with thyme and garlic.

‘Salt your pork overnight along with thyme and garlic and roast in a very hot oven (220C) to get the skin very crispy. After 25 mins turn the heat down to 160c and finish cooking for a couple of hours until tender. 30 mins before taking it out, throw a quarter quince studded with cloves into the roasting tray to soften and soak up the pork juices. 

‘I always cook turkey on Christmas day – I’m quite old school about that. Mostly because the meat can be used in one of my favourite sandwiches of the year – the leftover Christmas lunch sandwich.

‘This year I’ll also keep to tradition in cooking a gammon on 23 December and use the cooking liquor to make a brine for the turkey. The liquor – full of porky flavour – makes the turkey meat moist and flavoursome. Gammon keeps well in the fridge – ideal for carving yourself a midnight slice – so even for a smaller group I’m sure it’ll be gone in no time.

‘A good way with sprouts for fewer people is to slice and sauté them – it’s harder to do this to perfection when cooking a large amount for a crowd. So slice sprouts and sauté in olive oil, getting them nicely caramelised and soft, and then finishing with dices smoky bacon and a squeeze of orange juice and a little sage.

‘Cook the potatoes the day before in boiling salted water for 10 mins or until fully cooked and let them dry in the fridge. 

Once dry, put them in the freezer. Next day, roast them in hot fat and salt at 180 degrees for around 40 minutes for super crispy and fluffy potatoes in a flash.

Cesar Garcia, Group Head Chef Iberica: Cook up prawns 

In Spain, we often have some nice prawns from Andalucia on the south Spanish coast, such as Gamba blanca de Huelva or Langoustines. Boil them in saltwater for 1-2 minutes in the morning and then keep them in the fridge. You can do a quick homemade mayonnaise; it takes less than 2 minutes to prepare it and goes great. We like to enjoy them around the table peeling them and chatting at the same time.

For the main plate, it’s usual to have a good fish baked in the oven with some nice salad or roast baby potatoes. These tasty and simple options take away the stress as you just need to check the oven while you are prepping the table and lighting some candles. 

You can finish it with a quick sherry sauce; either wine or vinegar aromatising some oil with garlic and chilli and adding the sherry and adding it on top of the fish to finish it off nicely. 

The other key centre piece dish is a nice lamb shoulder, simply popping it in the oven 2 hours before on a medium temperature, while you are preparing yourself for dinner, mid-way through just throw some small potatoes in, and use some nice sweet peppers like the piquillo peppers in our online shop; softly frying some sliced garlic in good extra virgin oil and then add the piquillo a low heat till they turn bit shrink and caramelised.

Richard De La Cruz, Head Chef Arros QD: Make soup

In Majorca, we tend not to make a pie or curry as you do over here with the leftover meat. We mix it with onions, garlic and herbs to make meatballs or use it as a ravioli filling. We serve it in a traditional Christmas soup, made a lot lighter with a broth base made from the bones.

Also using the poultry bones, we roast them down, add fresh vegetables and make a rich stock for a paella for a Boxing Day lunch. 

Boxing Day in Spain is for spending time with friends rather than family, so we all get together and share a big paella between us, it’s delicious and a very easy one pot dish to make

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