Our best Christmas dishes ever!
CHEERS! IT’S TIME TO TUCK INTO THE HAIRY BIKERS’ MOUTHWATERING NEW RECIPES
Sometimes the best pieces of Christmas dinner advice come from personal experience. Dave Myers, one half of the Hairy Bikers, has a corker of a festive tip – albeit one that’s firmly in the ‘what not to do’ category.
Dave, 57, warns that if you have trouble getting flames to dance on the Chr istmas pudding, you shouldn’t reach for a brandy substitute unless you’re happy factoring in either a trip to A&E, or a visit from the fire brigade. He learned this, he says, during a seasonal break in his wife Lily’s native Romania, where he insisted on setting the Christmas pud alight, even though it’s not a tradition in those parts. ‘The brandy wouldn’t catch, so someone helpfully fetched some “pálinka”, which is the local spirit. It’s potent stuff – raw alcohol, basically – and the whole thing went up in a sheet of blue flame. I can say categorically that it’s not one to try at home.’
It’s a double miracle, then, that the Hairy Bikers are still with us and serving up their delicious new recipes for a traditional Christmas dinner in TV Week today. Fans of the pair will know it’s been a challenging year for Si King, at 47 the younger (and hairier) biker, who suffered a brain aneurysm earlier this year, underwent emergency surgery, then spent a terrifying time in hospital waiting to see if he’d be permanently disabled or brain-damaged.
Mercifully, he was neither. The road to recovery has been long and he’s spent much of the year recuperating, but he’s fit and well again and looking forward to a better 2015. ‘It’s been a hell of a year,’ he admits. ‘To be honest, it’s nice to actually be around for Christmas because it was touch-and-go for a while. I’m ready for the buffet, because that’s what Christmas is about, isn’t it? It’s basically a three-day buffet.’
When he talks about Christmas being a time to have the family around you (he’ll spend his at home with wife Jane, sons Alex, 24, James, 21 and Dylan, 13, as well as numerous other relatives), Si’s words have more significance than usual. The usual King family Christmas means cramming as many people as possible into the house – ‘we have to use the emergency chairs’, jokes Si – and making each person responsible for part of the meal. ‘Jane’s in charge, but everyone chips in,’ he says. ‘There are generally at least 18 of us, but it’s going to be even more chaotic than usual because my niece is getting married just after Christmas so we have a wedding in the mix too. The more the merrier, though.’
Before Dave married Lily in 2011 he was a frequent guest at the King Christmas bash too – a seemingly riotous Geordie affair. ‘When I was single I used to spend a lot of Christmases with Si’s family. His mother-in-law did all the trimmings but Si’s mum always did the turkey, and when I lived in Scotland I’d come down with smoked salmon and prawns to do a starter.’
Dave is a stickler for the traditional Christmas dinner. ‘I like a good bronzed turkey covered in butter, with stuffing, roasties, mash, Brussels sprouts with bacon, cabbage, giblet gravy, cranberry sauce, bread sauce, and little sausages wrapped in bacon.’ It’s all a bit crazy, he admits, but ‘it does kind of work as a meal. Your plate’s so full you’re like a pigeon picking at corn, not quite knowing where to start.’ Come Christmas evening, he says, you can’t beat turkey sandwiches, ‘with white pepper and lashings of butter’. Lashings of butter? Can these really be the same Hairy Bikers who are now also known as the Hairy Dieters, following their famous weight loss a few years ago? Life, they insist, is too short to count calories on Christmas Day. ‘This isn’t a time for dieting,’ says Si. ‘For the rest of the year we do advocate cutting back, but Christmas is Christmas.’
Dave nods. ‘One of my favourite things is having some Christmas pudding on the day, then a bit more on Boxing Day, then the day after that going to the fridge and discovering the brandy butter at the back has gone nice and hard. Lovely.’
His traditional Christmas has faced a challenge in recent years, though – in the form of Lily’s own family traditions. Romanians don’t do turkey, never mind pigs in blankets, on Christmas Day. Instead the tradition is for a smoked pork and polenta dish served with porcini mushrooms and, er, pig’s trotter in jelly. This has led to some strange looks at the butcher’s. ‘They have their big celebration on Christmas Eve and my wife does this amazing meal, a proper feast. I’ve been sent out to find pork ribs, though, which is a bit unusual.’ Things get even more interesting when they spend Christmas with his wife’s family in Transylvania.
‘ We were there last year and we had 41 people for dinner. There were endless cousins. The whole village seemed to turn up. It was a Dickensian Christmas – with a Romanian twist.’
Professionally, there was less travelling for Si and Dave this year than they’d planned. The filming of a TV series in Russia had to be postponed because of Si’s illness, but once the festivities are over they’ll be back on to that project. ‘It’ll be great to get on the road again,’ says Si. ‘Dave picked up a lot of the slack this year because I had to take it easy. But next year is looking exciting.’
This time last year, of course, Dave was appearing in Strictly Come Dancing – which has led to yet more showbiz opportunities. He’s about to take on his first ever panto role, as Baron Hardup in Cinderella in Reading. Ironically, it means that for the first year ever, he won’t actually be able to cook his own Christmas dinner. ‘I’ve got two performances on Christmas Eve and one on Boxing Day. My wife’s also working in the panto as a tailor, which means it’s the first year we’re not actually doing Christmas ourselves. We’re booking everyone into a hotel, so someone else will be doing the cooking.’
No pressure on that chef, then.
Si and Dave with wives Jane and Lily