the Perfect Christmas Roast Turkey Dinner

The perfect Christmas roast turkey dinner. Most families in the United Kingdom traditionally sit-down on Christmas afternoon for their festive Christmas Dinner. Today you find the centerpiece is usually a roast Turkey served with stuffing, sausages wrapped in streaky bacon ( pigs in blankets ), crisp roast potatoes, parsnips, Brussel sprouts and lots of other vegetables, and cranberry sauce. This is followed by Christmas pudding and brandy sauce, maybe sherry trifle and mince pies. But how have we got here?

The perfect Christmas roast turkey

A bit of Christmas Dinner history

‘If he is to get on in life, he must get on umbly, Master Copperfield!’ In medieval England, if you were very rich you might have eaten venison for Christmas. Killed in your hunting grounds and the bits or umbles – the heart, lungs, liver, tongue, and kidneys would be chopped, mixed and baked in a pie to be given to the poor. The original [h]umble pie. Down the pecking order ( sorry ) you might find goose or woodcock covered in butter and saffron and roasted. For dessert, you would find frumerty a thick, spiced porridge. This was made with currents and enriched with egg yolks. Alternatively there might be a boiled plum pudding. The ancestor of today’s Christmas pudding made with suet and dried fruit. It would be flavoured with clove, ginger, and cinnamon. Plum is an old term for raisins.

A boar’s head would be the centerpiece of the Christmas feast for a Tudor nobleman. It is believed that the tradition is centuries-old. It came from pagan celebrations of the Norse god of the harvest. If you could not get hold of the highly prized head, you would have a ham which is now a staple of many Christmas meals. Sugar, spices, and nuts were considered highly exotic and very expensive. Highly decorated marzipan sweetmeats were a sign of your wealth and importance.

Gingerbread Men

Christmas Traditions

‘My name is Sherlock Holmes. It is my business to know what other people don’t know.’
During the 17th century, turkeys started to become part of the Christmas feast. Although goose would remain the most popular roast well into the Victorian era. It was common for goose “Clubs” to be set up, allowing working-class families to save up over the year towards buying a goose. Sherlock Holmes solves a tricky case involving the theft of a precious stone the blue carbuncle when it is found in a Christmas club goose.

Gingerbread has an incredibly long history, near to a thousand years. Originally it was often sold in monasteries, pharmacies, and markets. Gingerbread was prized for its supposed medicinal properties and was used to aid digestion. It became so popular its manufacture was highly regulated in Germany and supervised by a guild. The guild lifted the restrictions on who could bake gingerbread at Easter and Christmas. By Victorian times Gingerbread men were baked and hung on the Christmas tree.

A dickens of a christmas

In the 18th and 19th century, Twelfth Night, the fifth of January, was one of the most important dates in the festive calendar. Twelfth Night was the last feast of the Christmas celebrations ( Epiphany ). The centerpiece of the parties, which involved eating, drinking and playing games was a cake. A forerunner to today’s Christmas cake it evolved from an enriched fruit bread to a more familiar fruit cake decorated with almond and sugar pastes. A dried bean was included in the recipe. Whoever found it was crowned ‘Lord of Misrule’ or ‘King of the Bean’ and presided over the festivities.

The perfect Christmas roast turkey dinner

When Queen Victoria came to the throne in 1837, the turkey was still an expensive choice, only for the very rich, for Christmas dinner. A famous Christmas dinner scene appears in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, where Scrooge sends Bob Cratchit a large turkey. In northern England, roast beef was commonly served on Christmas Day while in London and the south of England, a goose was still the favourite. Those too poor to afford beef or goose made do with rabbit. However, by the end of the 19th century, most people feasted on turkey for Christmas dinner.

Mince Pies

Mincemeat was from Tudor times, when chopped meat mixed with dried fruits, sugar, and spices. This recipe continued right up to the Victorian era when less and less meat was included in the recipe. The mince tart you eat today is filled entirely with dried fruits, sugar, spices, and suet to keep it moist. Most premade mincemeat mixtures now use vegetable fats rather than the traditional suet in keeping with mincemeats origins.

Today’s Recipe

Traditional Roast Turkey Dinner

So today’s recipe is for the Christmas centerpiece a roast turkey. I have memories of my mum getting up at 6am to put the oven to prepare a monster of a turkey for the family. As in popular legend, it did seem that we ate turkey leftovers for days after. You should never put stuffing into a turkey cavity as it will not cook properly and could be a health risk but I do like to stuff the breast end of the bird which helps keep the meat moist. I have included my favourite stuffing recipe.

So today’s recipe is for the Christmas centerpiece a roast turkey. I have memories of my mum getting up at 6 to put the oven to prepare a monster of a turkey for the family. As in popular legend, it did seem that we ate turkey leftovers for days after. You should never put stuffing into a turkey cavity as it will not cook properly and could be a health risk but I do like to stuff the breast end of the bird which helps keep the meat moist. I have included my favourite stuffing recipe.
Crispy oven roast Potatoes

Christmas Dinner -Potatoes

Whatever roast Turkey, Ham or Beef you have chosen for your Christmas Dinner you will need some potatoes to help mop up the delicious gravy and I am going to give you three recipes. The first is guaranteed to give you a plate full of Perfect Roasties to serve up on the table. The second is for luxurious butter and stock braised Fondant Potatoes, packed full of flavour, and the final recipe is for my new favourite that doesn’t even need peeling and are really, really, crisp. You need a fluffy, floury potato such as a King Edward or Desiree for the first two recipes and Charlottes are perfect for the third.

Crispy oven roast Potatoes
Classic roast potatoes

Perfect Roast Potatoes

Some people will consider it a tragedy to put anything on a roast potato to make it crispier, but I have tried both flour and cornmeal and you do get an extra crunchy texture. The greatest heresy is however what you cook the potatoes in. I am from the North of England and only Beef Dripping will suffice, the chef’s choice is Duck or Goose fat. There is a sensible reason for both of these choices, the high temperature both of these fats can reach without burning helps achieve an excellent crisp potato. You can, however, achieve perfectly satisfactory results with a quality vegetable oil.

1 kg Potatoes, peeled and halved or quartered if very large

2 tablespoons Flour or fine Cornmeal ( entirely optional )

6 -8 tablespoons Beef Dripping or Duck Fat

Sea Salt and freshly ground Black Pepper

Heat your oven to 220 C / 425 F / Gas Mark 6-7. Put the potatoes in a large saucepan, cover with water and to the boil. Cook for five minutes, then remove from the heat. Drain the potatoes well, then return to the pan and shake in order to rough up the edges a little. Sprinkle with some salt and freshly ground pepper and the flour or cornmeal if you or adding it. Place the dripping or duck fat in a large roasting tray and heat in the oven until it is hot ( about five minutes ).

Remove the tray from the oven and very carefully add the potatoes, stirring with a wooden spoon to make sure they are totally covered with the fat. Roast the potatoes for fifty to sixty minutes then give them a stir and cook for around another fifty to twenty minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon, drain and serve.

Allergens in this recipe are;

Flour

Please see the Allergens Page

Butter and Stock Fondant Potatoes
Delicious braised potatoes flavoured with butter, thyme in garlic

Fabulous Fondants

Fondants are often cooked totally in butter and are very indulgent, this recipe uses a mixture of butter and stock to give the finished potatoes a lot of flavour. This recipe is flavoured with garlic and thyme but you can use fresh rosemary, sage and bay leaves.

4 medium sized Potatoes, peeled and cut into barrel shapes

150 gr Salted Butter

100 ml quality Chicken or Vegetable Stock

2 Garlic cloves, peeled, slightly crushed

2-3 sprigs fresh Thyme

A grate of fresh Nutmeg

Sea Salt flakes and freshly ground Black Pepper

Heat your oven to 220 C / 425 F / Gas Mark 6-7. Heat the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over a medium heat. When the butter is starting to foam, add the potatoes and fry on one side until deep golden-brown, then turn and cook on the next side. Continue until the potato is golden-brown on each side, do not be tempted to move the potato whilst it is browning as it may stick.

Remove from the heat and carefully pour in the stock, then add the garlic cloves and thyme sprigs. The fat will spit, and splutter so make sure your arms are covered when you do this. Generously season and place in the oven. Cook for around thirty-five to forty minutes or until the potato is soft when pierced with a skewer or small sharp knife. Carefully transfer to serving bowl or plate.

Allergens in this recipe are;

Milk

Please see the Allergens Page

Crushed crispy baby potatoes
Crispy crushed baby potatoes flavoured with garlic.

Crunchy Crushed Spuds

This recipe is flavoured with garlic and thyme, but you can use fresh rosemary, sage and bay leaves.

2kg New Potatoes

A good Slug of Olive Oil ( around 4 tablespoons )

A large knob of Butter

6 Garlic cloves, unpeeled and bruised

A small sprig of Thyme

Sea Salt and freshly ground Black Pepper

Preheat the oven to 200 C/ 400 F / Gas Mark 6. Place the potatoes in a pan of salted water, and bring to the boil then simmer for ten minutes until just tender. Remove from the heat and drain. Heat the oil and butter in a roasting tin in the oven until the butter has melted and it is starting to bubble in the meantime lightly crush the potatoes with the back of a wooden spoon or a fork. Carefully remove the tray from the oven and add the potatoes, garlic, and thyme and turn in the hot oil and butter. Sprinkle with sea salt and plenty of black pepper and roast for twenty minutes until golden and crusty, then turn the potatoes and roast for a further twenty minutes. When the potatoes are crisp remove with a slotted spoon, drain and serve.

Allergens in this recipe are;

Milk

Please see the Allergens Page

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Perfect Roast Beef and British Roast Dinner Week

Roast Dinner Week

My waistline will attest that I love food and I adore eating almost anything, apart from desiccated coconut and the dates you get in those little wooden boxes at Christmas. Feed me Chinese cuisine, Italian cooking, sticky-icky smoky barbecue food and I’m a happy chef but the food I think I love most and would be my death row last meal choice, although at this moment in time that is not an option I’m considering, is the classic British roast. Succulent roast chicken with crispy skin; chunks of tender lamb flavoured with garlic, rosemary, and anchovy; melting, fatty pork with salty crackling or medium rare roast beef with rich red wine gravy, it is very difficult to choose which I prefer most.  Which is your favourite? Which is the most popular roast in the country? Well, the roast that everyone worldwide knows is as British as roast beef, well is er….. roast beef.

Roast Beef - Copy.jpeg

So if the king of the British roast is a joint of beef, in my humble opinion it is the equally aristocratically sounding Sirloin* that is the best beef to roast. There are moderately cheaper joints such as a corner cut topside that make for an excellent roast, if you can afford it a rib on the bone is perhaps the most show stopping roast to present at a table, but I prefer is the sirloin. The meat itself is very lean, however, that lovely layer of fat will help keep the meat moist when cooking. The taste is terrific, there is a minimal waste and it is fantastically easy to carve at the table if you feel like impressing your guests.

*You are perhaps aware of the story that an effusive monarch was so taken with his beef dinner he knighted the remains of the joint on the spot. It has been attributed to Henry VIII, Charles II and the host of English kings in between and was so popular it was referenced by Jonathan Swift and Samuel Johnson, but the origins of the word sirloin are much less regal. The old English word would be originally written as ‘surloyn’ or ‘surloine’, and was derived from French word ‘surlonge’, sur meaning over and longe meaning loin, the sirloin was then quite simply a cut of beef taken from above the loin. Interestingly most of our words describing cuts of meat or the name of the meat are from French origins, the names of animals or livestock are more often of Anglo-Saxon descent.

Now as a family we sit down about one o’clock for a traditional roast on a Sunday, just as I did with my parents and grandparents, this week, however, is National Roast Dinner Week* encouraging you to eat a roast when and where ever and I am all for that. I have posted the recipe for Yorkshire Pudding, the classic accompaniment to roast beef previously, so here is my recipe for the perfect roast beef. A good local butcher will be able to provide you with a great piece of beef from a reputable, quality supplier. If you can find grass fed, mature beef, hung for three weeks it will be simply delicious, and I promise you won’t be disappointed.

 *I have a theory about space and time and alternative universes that postulates the somewhere in a never-ending series of multiverses it will always be a named something day or week, Free the Herring Day, Shred more Paper Week alternatively this is just the creation of canny marketers to get you to purchase something you neither want or need.

Roast Sirloin of Beef and Rich Red Wine Gravy         serves 6-8

1 ½ to 2 kg center cut Sirloin, rolled and tied

( Ask your local butcher to do this )

250 gr Beef Dripping or Lard

1 tablespoon fresh Thyme leaves

½ tablespoon English Mustard Powder

1 teaspoon Salt

¼ teaspoon ground Black Pepper

For the gravy

350ml red wine

200ml beef stock

75ml port

1 small White Onion, peeled and roughly chopped

1 Carrot, peeled and sliced

1 stick of Celery, washed and sliced

1 clove of Garlic, peeled and crushed

2 tablespoons of Vegetable Oil

1 heaped tablespoon Plain Flour

1 Bay leaf

A few sprigs of Thyme

Heat your oven to 400 F / 200C/ Gas Mark 6 and weigh your joint of beef. Put the dripping into a roasting pan and place in the oven. Mix the thyme, mustard, salt and black pepper and rub all over the beef and when the dripping is melted and hot, place in the beef fat side down and return the roasting pan to the oven. Roast the beef for thirty minutes, then remove from the oven and turn the piece of beef over before placing back in the oven.

Turn the heat down to 360 F / 180C / Gas Mark 4. For every 450 gr of raw weight, cook your joint for ten minutes per 450 gr for a rare piece of beef and for fifteen minutes per 450 gr for well done. When the beef is cooked to your particular preference, take it out of the roasting pan, cover with foil and allow to rest somewhere warm for thirty minutes.

To make the red wine gravy, place the roasting tin on a high heat with the onion, carrot, celery, garlic, bay lea, and thyme. Fry the vegetables for a couple of minutes then add the flour, cook for a couple more minutes stirring continuously. Pour in the port, scrape with a wooden spoon to loosen any debris from the tin and add the red wine. Continue to simmer and reduce by three-quarters before adding the stock. Bring to the boil, reduce by a quarter and season to taste. Pour any juices from resting the meat back into the tin, warm and pour the gravy through a sieve into a warm jug. Carve the meat and serve with the gravy and Yorkshire puddings.