Richard Turner’s ultimate Christmas dinner

What’s the secret to the mother of all Christmas dinners?

Whether you’re a turkey traditionalist or totally anti all that wobbly-jowled stuff, if you’re the one that’s manning the stoves this year you’re probably on the lookout for tips to make your diners first swoon, then drool and chant your name with glee. We grilled (roasted?) Richard Turner, head chef at Hawksmoor and namesake of butchery Turner & George, for his advice on putting together the ultimate festive feast.

“Christmas! It’s my favourite time of year. Everyone eats and drinks too much and sleeps in front of the telly. Of course, I always cook the Christmas dinner. I like to do two things: a whole, salt-cured ham for the earlier part of the day, then a roast goose as the main event later on, which I like to have with a fruity red wine. If you’re the chef, make sure you prep before the day (especially if there’s a big group) and recruit a sous chef. You’ll need the extra pair of hands — get them on the sprouts.”

“If you’re going to have turkey, then get a free-range, properly hung, dry-plucked bird, and find a butcher who knows their supplier is rearing them over a longer period of time (around six months).
The intensely farmed ones are only ever between 10 weeks and two months old, and you can only do that through intensive feeding and bad practices. You’re buying water and cruelty. 

Salt the turkey the night before, seasoning it inside and out and then put it in the fridge overnight without a cover. You’ll need a big fridge. The following day, roast it at around 140°C for 2-3 hours depending on its size. Again, ask your butcher for timings. At the last minute, whack up the temperature to crisp up the skin and rest for at least 40 minutes for juicy, tender turkey. You’re looking for an internal temperature of 65-70°C, at which point you want to take it out and rest it for an hour.”

FOR THE WOW FACTOR: “If you really want to impress, use a smoker or large barbecue to smoke your turkey over good wood. Applewood gives it a delicious, smoky flavour. Cook it low and slow at around 110°C for a long period of time, aiming for an internal temperature of 65-70°C. It definitely makes for an impressive result.”

“I like a stuffed goose, cooked slowly the English way — that means falling off the bone and with salty, crispy skin, rather than cooked pink like the French do it. Look for a goose that’s free range, has had a good life, and is carrying a reasonable amount of fat – but fat that’s creamy or yellowish rather than white. You can easily have too much fat on a goose, but they’re all fatty so try and get a leaner one. It should be cooked for a long time at a low temperature so that it virtually confits in its own fat.

Like with the turkey, at the last minute, whack up the temperature to crisp up the skin. The exact cooking times will depend on the size of the bird, so ask your butcher for their advice. You should be aiming for an internal temperature of 89°C, with the meat falling off the bone. Because it’s been cooked low-and-slow, it doesn’t need to rest particularly, so just take it out the oven and let it sit while you get everything else ready.”

The Christmas Veg
“The secret is not to go overboard – keep it simple and classic.”

Roots – “I like a mixture of turnips, carrots and parsnips, braised in Madeira gravy. It’s called a Navarin of Roots.”

Potatoes – “If you’re cooking goose, scoop the fat that drips from the bird as it cooks into your tray of roast potatoes. If you’re not, buy a tub of goose fat to roast them in. I also like mash.”

Greens – “It’s got to be brussels sprouts at this time of year. Either boil them in salted water and fry off with bacon lardons or cut them in half and fry cut-side down until they go crispy and brown.”

Trimmings – “I think stuffing balls are a bit silly. If you’ve got a goose, stuff the cavity with a good sausagemeat stuffing and pull it out at the end of cooking to serve. Pigs in blankets are a bit twee, but people love them.”

Saucing – For a turkey… “You can’t go wrong with a good bread sauce, just make sure that it is a good one. I’m also a big fan of a Madeira and onion gravy. Simply sweat down chopped onions until they’re sweet and caramelised, add some Madeira, reduce by half and then add some turkey gravy (or the juices from the roasting tray) and giblets, if you have them. Let it thicken and serve with the bird.”

For a goose… “You’ll need something sharp and acidic to cut through the salty, fatty meat. I like to make an apple ketchup by cooking down apple with vinegar and pureeing, or you could make a gravy with wine and a sharp fruit, with a splash of vinegar to amp up the acidity.”

RECIPE: Richard Turner’s Navarin of Roots with Sourdough Dumplings

The perfect way to serve your veg with your Christmas dinner. Or any hearty roast, for that matter.

200g small turnips,
with tops
200g Chantenay
carrots, with tops
100g button onions, peeled 500ml Madeira gravy
50g miso
50g beef butter
200g raw Kamut sourdough dumplings
(or any type of dumpling)

Peel the vegetables and set aside the turnip tops. Melt the beef butter in a large skillet. Add the vegetables and cook over moderately high heat until lightly golden brown. Add the Madeira gravy and the miso, cover and place into a preheated oven at 160 degrees until the turnips are tender. This should take about 30 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the vegetables to a bowl. Reduce the pan juices over a high heat for a couple of minutes until they thicken slightly. Add the turnip tops to the pan and let them wilt. Taste and correct the seasoning if necessary, then pour back over the cooked veg before adding the dumplings. Cover and bake in the oven until the sourdough dumplings are cooked through.