Deep and crisp and even
How to do Christmas like Delia Smith
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.