Everything I know about Christmas Dinner

Dec 21, 2018 | Food and Culture

Every year around Christmas all these blogs put up all these posts about Christmas dinner. This blog is no different in that regard. It is kind mandatory in a way.

Last year I did the obligatory Christmas post and talked about organization and things like that. This year I am going to do something a little different.

This year, instead of just giving you some tips, or telling you what you should do, I’m going to tell you what I would do. Essentially, I am going to walk you through how I go about preparing Christmas dinner and maybe that will give you a few ideas of your own.

The Turkey

Without question the star of Christmas dinner is the turkey. Mess it up and the whole dinner is a disappointment. It’s a lot of pressure. Here is what I do to my turkey to make sure it is delicious.

The Rub

Turkey is a lean bird. When cooked, lean quickly becomes dry. One way to mitigate dryness is to add fat.

I make a rub with butter, bacon and herbs. Essentially, I take a block of room temperature butter and put it in a mixer with a 1/2 lb of minced bacon, 2 tbsp of thyme, and 2 tbsp of summery savoury. Using the paddle attachment, I beat this mixture together until it is completely mixed and homogeneous.

Before I put the butter mixture on the turkey I pat the surface dry with paper towel. Once the surface is dry I carefully lift of the skin on the breast. I stuff one third of the butter mixture under the skin and spread it evenly. The rest of the butter mixture gets rubbed all over the turkey.

Stuffing

Prior to roasting the turkey I put 1-2 onions, 1-2 carrots, 1-2 celery stalks, and some fresh herbs in the body cavity. I don’t pack this tightly. The vegetable and the herbs flavour the bird from the inside out.

Cooking

Now the turkey goes in the oven on 325°F until it reaches a temperature of 170°F. Depending on the size of the turkey this could take 4-8 hours.

Once the turkey is cooked I let it rest, out of the oven for at least 45 minutes. This is the key to a very juicy turkey.

The Gravy

Easily the second most important aspect of Christmas Dinner is the gravy. Part of the reason why it is considered so important is because the turkey is often so dry it can’t be swallowed without the lubricating qualities of the gravy.

The gravy should be creamy, rich and flavourful. It should not be thin or watery, or too fatty.

Where to begin?

I always start my turkey gravy with chicken stock. It can be either homemade or store bought. Generally, I will use the chicken stock as the base and then add some of the drippings from the turkey to bolster the flavours.

The thickener.

I always thicken my gravy with a roux rather than a slurry. What’s the difference? A roux is made with flour and fat. A slurry is made with water and flour. The roux gives the gravy a better flavour and texture.

After I collect the drippings from the cooked turkey I let them sit so the fat will rise to the top. I skim this off and use a portion of it to make my roux. The remaining liquid from the drippings gets passed through a sieve and added to my chicken stock.

Concentrated Flavour

Before I thicken my stock and drippings with the roux, I reduce the liquid. Essentially, I mean I boil it for a while. Usually, I will reduce it by half its volume. I do this because it intensifies the flavour. Now, I add the roux and make my gravy.

The key to using a roux is that it has to be cooked out. That simply means that you cook it so it doesn’t taste like raw flour. There should be sign that there is flour in your gravy other than the texture which again should smooth and creamy. Stir the gravy while it’s cooking to prevent sticking and burning.

Once the gravy is thickened and the flour is cooked out, I season the gravy to taste with salt and pepper. Then I pass it through the sieve again. Now, if it needs any fresh herbs or anything else I add them in and the gravy is done. Severe it right away or cover and let sit for up to 20 minutes before it need to be reheated.

Gluten-Free Just Like Me

Just a quick note. If you can’t have gluten like me, use all purpose gluten-free flour. It works the same way.

Mashed Potatoes

Mashed potatoes are another favourite on the Christmas dinner table. I really like them very smooth and very creamy with a lot of butter, cream, salt, and pepper.

Over Cooked Potatoes

One problem people often have with mashed potatoes is that they over cook the potatoes. This may seem impossible but it’s true. The potatoes are like little sponges especially when they are cooked. So, if they sit in the water for too long they will absorb it and become water logged. This leads to watery, gross potatoes.

Cook the potatoes only until they start to crumble. Drain them right away and let them steam in the strainer for 3-4 minutes.

Steam Dry

While the potatoes are steaming in the colander I put my butter and cream (I use whipping cream in potatoes and Christmas) in the potato pot and cook it until the butter is fully melted and the cream is hot. I add the potatoes back in and mash them with the hot butter and cream. I season the potatoes with salt and pepper, and then I pass them through a sieve.

This sieve business with the potatoes is admittedly a lot of work. It can be done much easier with a food mill. But no matter how you do it, you cannot beat the texture the potatoes once they have been passed through the sieve.

Sieve them

Once the potatoes are passed through the sieve I put them back in the pot, cover them and put them on the stove but off the burner. They can sit here for up to half an hour and keep their temperature.

If the potatoes go cold, I simply add a bit more cream and heat the potatoes back up on a burner while stirring them.

I know some people like to add sour cream, cream cheese, chives, and all kinds of other thing to their potatoes at Christmas but I like to keep it simple. There are enough flavours in the dinner that I prefer to keep everything relatively simple.

Carrot and Turnip

I usually have mashed carrot and turnip with my Christmas Dinner as well. I simply peel and dice equal amounts of carrot and turnip and then boil them until they are soft and then drain them.

I add butter, brown sugar, salt, pepper, and a touch of nutmeg and mash it all together. This too can sit on the stove covered for a while.

Brussels Sprouts

I know a lot of people steam their brussels sprouts but I prefer mine roasted.

Once the turkey comes out of the oven I jack the temperature up to 400°F. I cut the sprouts in half, toss with olive oil, salt and pepper and roast until they are tender. This takes about a half hour.

I serve them just like that.

Sweet Potato

I also prefer my sweet potato roasted as opposed to boiled. Very simply, I cut the sweet potato in half lengthwise, put it cut side up on a sheet pan, drizzle it with olive oil, salt, pepper, and brown sugar and roast it on 400°F for 35-45 minutes.

Dressing

I have never really been that big a fan of dressing. (stuffing that wasn’t ever in the bird). Despite that, I always have to make it because other people like it.

I just take a bunch of torn up bread and mix it with minced sautéed onion, sage, summery savoury, salt, pepper, and a pile of melted butter. I also generally add some of the drippings form the turkey.

I cover this with tinfoil and back it for about 30 minutes. Then I uncover it and bake for another 10-15 minutes.

Cranberry Sauce

This thanksgiving I made cranberry sauce out of dried cranberries and it came out really delicious. I think that is how I will make it from now on.

I sautéed a finely diced onion in a bit of butter and then added in 1 cup of dried cranberries. To this I added 2 tbsp of cider vinegar, 1/4 cup of sugar, the juice from 1/2 an orange, the zest from 1/2 an orange, a few sprigs of thyme and 1 cup of water.

I brought all of this to a boil, reduced the heat and simmered it until the cranberries were soft and the sauce was the consistency I wanted. I seasoned it with salt and pepper and it was good to go.

Conclusion

I hope that this gives you some ideas for your own Christmas Dinner.

What do you do that is your unique twist on Christmas Dinner? Tell me in the comments.

Also, I should say that this is my last post of they year. I am taking a few weeks off and will be back in full force on January 7th 2019.

I hope that you all have a fantastic holiday. I will see you in the new year and as always, thank you for reading.

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