Deep and crisp and even

How to do Christ­mas like Delia Smith

The Guardian - Cook - - Front Page -

Christ­mas is hered­i­tary; you get it from your par­ents. When I was grow­ing up, Christ­mas meant get­ting to open one present af­ter mid­night mass and hav­ing to wait un­til af­ter morn­ing ser­vice for the rest. It meant hop­ing that no one would de­cide they wanted to talk to the vicar – my mother – af­ter church, fur­ther de­lay­ing both presents and food. On some oc­ca­sions, it meant an ex­tra guest round the ta­ble and not be­ing able to open your presents un­til they had left – those were the worst Christ­mases.

It also meant any­thing other than turkey, which my mother saw as an un­nec­es­sary faff. But for my part­ner, Christ­mas means turkey, stuff­ing and cran­berry sauce. For­tu­nately, Delia is on hand to help this year – the first time we are host­ing Christ­mas – with an hour-by-hour guide to the fi­nal 36 hours of the per­fect fes­tive din­ner.

I start with the stuff­ing. Now, there are some in­gre­di­ents that al­ways fill me with dread, and stale bread is one. Hap­pen­ing to have bread that is nei­ther fresh nor furry feels like a level of prepa­ra­tion that I have yet to man­age. Hav­ing eaten the last of the bread for break­fast, I head to the shops and use a fresh slice, with no no­tice­able prob­lems. Delia’s recipe for stuff­ing is easy – make bread­crumbs in your pro­ces­sor, add the sage and onion, then take it all out and mix it with the sausage meat. And there you have your stuff­ing, which you can bung into the fridge un­til you need it.

Delia rec­om­mends that you make the cran­berry sauce the night be­fore, but it keeps well for about a fort­night, so you can make it when­ever. It’s sim­plic­ity it­self – just cran­ber­ries, sugar and port in a pan and hey presto!

What is not sim­plic­ity it­self is the turkey. Delia’s recipe pro­vides an hour-by-hour break­down of ex­actly how to cook your turkey. It is when I see that the first time on the timetable is 7.45am that my heart sinks. I’m aware that, at this point, any­one with a child un­der 10 will have bro­ken into mirth­less laugh­ter at the idea that a 7.45am start on Christ­mas morn­ing is ex­ces­sively early. I know this be­cause I made the mis­take of com­plain­ing about the early start to my mother. No power on Earth could move me to start cook­ing lunch if I have to face outer scream­ing from small chil­dren. The whole thing is stress­ful enough when all I have to drown is my own in­ner scream­ing.

Ac­cord­ing to Delia, the im­por­tant thing is to get both turkey and stuff­ing to room tem­per­a­ture by leav­ing

I spend the meal hop­ing some­one will no­tice I have done some­thing spe­cial to the sprouts. No one does

both in a cool, dry place, which, con­sid­er­ing the size of our flat and the turkey, is trick­ier than it sounds. Even get­ting it in the fridge re­quires a whole­sale re­order­ing of the in­te­rior to ac­com­mo­date the thing. Af­ter much fret­ting, I leave it, cov­ered over, in the bath­room. At the time of writ­ing, none of my guests have keeled over, so I’m go­ing to say it has been a suc­cess.

I pre­heat the oven, then stuff the turkey. Then, as per Delia’s in­struc­tions, I start peel­ing the pota­toes ready for roast­ing, be­fore leav­ing them in a pan, just cov­ered in wa­ter, to boil later. “At this point, ev­ery­thing should be un­der con­trol,” Delia writes, “so you can take time out of the kitchen to help the kids un­wrap their presents, have a cof­fee or tidy the house.” I must ad­mit that if, hav­ing got up at hor­ri­ble o’clock, stuffed a turkey and peeled pota­toes, my part­ner ex­pected me to tidy the house, I would con­sult a di­vorce lawyer. Hap­pily, the mat­ter doesn’t arise, so, rea­son­ing that it’s Christ­mas, I help my­self to a drink.

“Pop the plates into the warm­ing oven,” Delia writes. Not for the first time, I con­tem­plate the gulf be­tween the kitchen in my flat and the kitchen that Delia thinks I have. The turkey is so large that there is barely room for it and the roast pota­toes in the bot­tom oven, so Delia’s all-in-one baked veg­eta­bles (of which, more below) are go­ing in the top oven – which, to be hon­est, I’m not 100% cer­tain is in work­ing or­der. My part­ner, with the con­fi­dence of a woman who hasn’t used the oven since David Cameron was prime min­is­ter, as­sures me that it does work. Still, I rea­son that any­one who com­plains about cold plates can leave the flat via the bal­cony – and I elect not to warm my plates.

I spend the next hour fret­ting about whether the top oven works, and help­ing my­self to in­creas­ingly larger glasses of port as our guests ar­rive. The more cun­ning of them ask if they can help out at all, while the more trans­par­ent ones con­tent them­selves with ask­ing flatly what it is they have to do to be namechecked in the Guardian.

I take the turkey out to rest and whack the pota­toes in the oven, be­fore turn­ing to the all-in-one baked veg­eta­bles. This is one of Delia’s clever tricks to avoid hav­ing to put the veg­eta­bles on the hob at that crit­i­cal junc­ture when ev­ery­thing else – turkey, roast pota­toes, sprouts – need to be ei­ther taken out of the oven, basted, par­boiled or in some way in­ter­fered with. In other words, it saves on hob space. Sim­ply add a lit­tle vi­nai­grette, salt and pep­per, cover the veg­eta­bles in foil, bung them in the oven at the time you take the turkey out, and they’ll be ready when you take the pota­toes out of the oven.

That done, all that’s left is to saute your chest­nuts for the brus­sels sprouts. This is a recipe where in­stead of us­ing one item of cook­ware for your sprouts, you first par­boil them in one pan be­fore sautéing them in an­other with chest­nuts and shal­lots.

I spend the meal beam­ing every time some­one says some­thing nice about the turkey, fret­ting about whether I re­mem­bered to put all those pans in to soak, and hop­ing that some­one will no­tice I have done some­thing spe­cial to the sprouts.

No-one does. So there you are, folks: that’s what you’d have had to do get a shout-out in these pages. Still, a very happy Christ­mas – it wouldn’t have been half as fun with­out you.

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