Alternative Christmas dishes from Reading Hilton
December 07, 2011
Dan Smith isn’t fazed by Christmas catering. As the new Executive Chef at the Hilton in Reading, he’s used to cooking sumptuous feasts for large numbers.
But that’s with oodles of experience, a string of qualifications, a professional team and an industrial kitchen behind him.
On Christmas Day, Dan will be in a small kitchen at his mum’s house pulling together lunch for 25. The oldest guest is 75, the youngest is three.
A couple of guests don’t like turkey, one is a vegetarian, his mum is his biggest critic and who knows what his teenage son will/won’t eat on the day.
So, Mister Professional Chef, how are you going to cope? And what tips can you pass on to ensure the rest of us enjoy a stress free Christmas lunch?
Dan’s top 10 tips for a stress-free Christmas lunch
The key ingredient to a stress-free Christmas lunch is to plan it in advance with military precision. Create and write down a menu that allows you to prepare lots of dishes in advance. Make sure you have all the right equipment (does your turkey fit in your roasting tin?) and ingredients days before, organise the shelves in your oven so that everything fits. Write yourself a timing plan for the day. Pin it up, tick it off.
Prepare in advance
Get an early start on the veg. Peel potatoes the evening before and leave overnight covered with cold water. Par cook sprouts – cook them until they’re ¾ done and then plunge them into iced water to keep them fresh. They will keep perfectly until the big day when all the sprouts need is 2 minutes in boiling water to finish them off. Parboil parsnips the day before and then roast them for 30 mins on the day (brush with a bit of honey for the last 10 minutes of cooking for a great flavour).
Don’t try and do it by yourself
If you know someone well enough to spend Christmas Day with them; then you know them well enough to ask them to lend a hand. Those in danger of trashing your perfect roasties can be kept busy laying the table. Gravy is a great dish for delegation – if you tell one of your guests in advance you think their gravy is the best then they are likely to be only too happy to make it on the day.
The Perfect roasties
Many chefs’ favourite is goose fat, but be sure to check if you have vegetarian guests first. Whatever oil you use, the trick is to get it bubbling hot before you add the potatoes and then make sure they are well coated. For even crispier potatoes, par boil them first and shake them in a colander to rough the edges before putting in the oil.
Break with tradition
Don't be afraid to make changes. By doing things your way, you create family traditions for the future. If you have a good local butcher you can ask them to bone and roll the turkey for ease of cooking. It will then cook in half the time and wont take up to much space in your oven. And why not give something new a go? My family are going to be tucking in to duck this Christmas.
If you don’t have room in your kitchen for lots of pots and pans, roast rather than boil as many of the veg as you can in the same dish in the oven. To create more room in your oven you can also cook the potatoes for meat eaters in the same pan as the turkey but, as the meat is resting, put them back in a high oven on a wire rack to crisp them up.
Be sure to include family favourites
If there are vegetable dishes folk love, try to incorporate them. The more roasted root veg the better for the Smith family. And my mother would never forgive me if we didn’t have some pigs in blankets to kick off with.
Don’t forget the vegetarians
Butternut squash and sage is a marriage made in heaven and I’m going to be serving them in risotto form for my vegetarian friends this Christmas.
To make great vegetarian gravy, fry some onions very slowly to caramelise them, add a tablespoon of tomato puree and cook for about 10 minutes. Pour in a good glug of Madeira, bring to the boil and reduce to almost nothing. Add a good glug of red wine and some vegetable stock bring to the boil again and reduce by half. Either serve it with the onions or strain it. If you want it thicker, add corn flour (gluten free unlike normal flour) and whisk in a bit of cold butter at the end- it gives the gravy a beautiful glossy finish.
Ice ice baby
Have plenty of vanilla ice cream in the freezer. Brandy butter and cream is all well and good but most people love a bit vanilla to cool down their Christmas pud and it keeps the little ones happy.
While it’s easy to say, do remember it’s your Christmas too. People are there to have a good time together not to judge your kitchen prowess. If you enjoy dressing up for Christmas then make sure you factor that in to your timing plan, if it means the veg is a little softer for it, so what? If you enjoy a glass of wine while you’re cooking, go for it. Christmas comes but once a year!
Dan’s Family Menu
Celeriac and horseradish soup and/or Tea smoked duck breast with ginger jelly & pick led blackberries
Roast rib of beef, roast pork and roast turkey served with roasted winter roots, roast potatoes, braised red cabbage and sprouts and/or Butternut squash and sage risotto
Christmas pudding (shop bought by my mum) & vanilla ice cream and/or Dark chocolate tart with a clotted cream ice cream
Here are a few recipes to help you create Dan’s starters and vegetarian main at home. For step by step instructions on how to prepare the tea smoked duck breast, and to see him in action, visit www.getreading.co.uk:
Celeriac and Horseradish Soup
1 large onion
3 sticks of celery
1 large head of celeriac
1 litre of vegetable stock
Salt, pepper and horseradish sauce to taste
150ml of double cream
Olive oil or butter
Dice onions, celery and celeriac.
Sweat the onions in a little butter or olive oil until soft and add the celery and celeriac. Add the stock. Simmer till the celeriac is soft on a low heat.
Once the veg is soft and cooked carefully place the soup in a food blender and blend to a smooth puree adding the double cream and horseradish to taste. Remember you can add the horseradish but you can’t take it away! Add more stock or water if too thick.
Place the soup back into the saucepan and bring back to the boil. Season to taste.
Butternut Squash and Sage Risotto
1 large butternut squash
2 garlic cloves, peeled
2 tbsp olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
About 15 sage leaves, chopped
Flaked sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 large knobs of butter
1 large onion, chopped
400g arborio or other Italian risotto rice
2 glasses white wine
1 litre hot chicken or vegetable stock
Good handful of freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra to serve
75g pine nuts, to serve
Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6.
Cut the butternut squash into 6-8 wedges, remove the seeds and place in a roasting tray.
Pound or chop the garlic and add a generous glug of olive oil, half the sage leaves, sea salt and pepper.
Tip into the tray and rub over the butternut squash with your hands.
Roast in the oven for 40-50 minutes until softened and becoming golden in colour.
Once the squash has cooked, cool slightly, then scrape the soft flesh away from the skin into a bowl.
Lightly mash with a fork or potato masher until it is fairly chunky in texture. Scrape any sticky juices left in the roasting tray into the bowl and keep warm while making the risotto.
Heat the olive oil and a good knob of butter in a deep, heavy-based frying pan or sauté pan.
Gently fry the onion until softened. Add the rice and stir for about a minute until the grains are coated with the oil and butter. Pour in the wine and stir continuously until it has cooked into the rice.
Add a good ladle of hot stock and the remaining sage and season well with salt and pepper. Turn the heat down so the stock is simmering gently. Keep adding ladles of stock as it cooks into the rice, stirring and moving the rice around in the pan. After about 15-20 minutes the rice should be soft but still have a bit of bite left in it. The texture of the risotto should be thick and creamy, but not too loose. Add extra stock if necessary. It may seem tedious standing and stirring but the end result will be worth it.
Remove the pan from the heat and gently stir the roasted butternut squash into the risotto with the Parmesan, the remaining butter and seasoning to taste.
Add any extra stock if the risotto seems particularly thick. Cover with a lid for a couple of minutes as this will give the risotto an even creamier texture.
During this time, place the pinenuts in a fairly hot frying pan and toss around until golden. Spoon the risotto into warmed bowls and scatter with the pinenuts and extra Parmesan.
Tea Smoked Duck, Ginger Jelly and Pickled Blackberries
For the duck:
4 duck breasts, skin-on
salt and freshly ground black pepper
150g brown rice
150g dark brown sugar
100g Darjeeling leaf tea
Score the skin of the duck with the tip of a sharp knife, creating a diamond pattern (take care not to cut through to the flesh). Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Mix the rice, sugar and tea leaves together and scatter into the bottom of a smoking pan.
Alternatively, line the base of a lidded wok with a double layer of aluminium foil and set a rack on top.
Cover with a lid and set over a medium heat for about 5-10 minutes, or until the mixture begins to smoke (caution: this will generate a lot of smoke; keep the area well-ventilated by opening the doors and windows where possible).
Place the duck on the rack and cover with foil and the lid. Lower the heat and smoke for 18-20 minutes or until the duck is cooked but still slightly pink in the middle. Turn off the heat and set aside to cool.
When the duck breasts have cooled, place them skin-side down into a cold frying pan and place over a medium-high heat.
Cook for 6-8 minutes, or until the fat has rendered out and the skin is golden-brown and crisp, basting the meat with the fat as you go.
Turn the duck over and cook for a further 3-4 minutes (for medium), or until the duck is cooked to your liking.
For the jelly:
100g of stem ginger
1 star anise
2.5cm piece cinnamon stick
2 sheets of leaf gelatine
Warm the stem ginger and some syrup in a pan with the water and spices over a low heat. Set aside to infuse for 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, soak the gelatine leaves in a bowl of cold water for 5-10 minutes, or until softened.
Drain and squeeze out any excess liquid with your hands.
Strain the stem ginger syrup mixture into a pan and discard the spices. Place over a low heat and stir in the softened gelatine until dissolved. Pour the mixture into a small shallow dish and chill for at least 3 hours, or until firm.
For the pickled blackberries:
3½-4 cups blackberries (washed and picked)
¾ cup white vinegar
¾ cup cider vinegar
1tsp ground ginger
¾tsp ground cinnamon 1/4 tsp cardamom (ground)
¼tsp ground allspice
1 bay leaf
1 mace (one blade)
Add all ingredients except berries to a heavy bottomed sauce pan. Bring to a full, rolling boil. Remove from heat and remove bay and mace.
Place berries in a clean container or a glass jar if your going to store them for a long period of time pour over vinegar mixture leaving 1/4 inch head space.
To serve the dish
Slice the duck breasts to the required portion size.
Cut the jelly, into squares or circles.
Arrange the pickled blackberries on the plate.
Finish the dish with baby watercress and some toasted square bread croutons.
You can use a little of the pickled berry liquor as a sauce for the duck.