Annabel Langbein’s latest cookbook Essential (her biggest yet) includes recipes for roast turkey, roast chicken and glazed ham. She gives some advice on how to rustle up a last-minute Christmas feast.
The lead-up to Christmas is often a busy and stressful time of year – presents to organise, work projects to finish up, relatives on their way – that organising a full Christmas dinner can feel like the last thing anyone wants to do.
Langbein’s latest cookbook Essential (her biggest yet) includes recipes for roast turkey, roast chicken and glazed ham.
A couple of her easy tips for a Christmas feast include making a batch of meringues beforehand, “because they keep for weeks and always look festive”, and making dips like hummus, which are cheap to make and freeze well.
She also recommends silly hats and treats like nuts, chocolates, figs and cherries on the table.
“Little bowls of things or big piles of things on the table make it feel really bountiful and if you’re on a budget, things like figs are actually really cheap”.
"You want to come away from the table feeling like you’ve overdone it, otherwise it isn’t Christmas.”
Cooking a turkey
“The whole key about a turkey, which is a life-changing thing if you haven’t discovered it, is brining it. What happens is… your salty brine (and I always put a bit of sugar in mine) goes into the cells of the turkey and plumps them up with flavour, so it’s got that nice slightly salty, slightly sweet… Sometimes I put bay leaves and lemons and peppercorns in the brine. It makes all of the difference in the world.
“Because fridge space is always such a premium [at Christmas time] what I tend to do is I get a chilly bin and pour boiling water into it to sterilise it and then I fill up the chilly bin with the brine and put ice cubes in as a percentage of the water. Sometimes I put the turkey in there frozen and then [over] the 24 hours it will slowly thaw in the liquid (in a cool place). You’re not worrying about any hygiene things because it’s cold enough because you’ve got the ice in there to start with and then it comes up beautifully brined. Pat it dry, and have the stuffing ready-made the night before.
“Don’t stuff it until the morning, because you can actually get food poisoning by putting stuffing in too early because often the stuffing is warm. Then I always French roast mine, which means there is some liquid in the bottom and as it evaporates it steams and then you’ve got this lovely base for a gravy.
“A very good trick to know for gravy is if you throw a few onions in the bottom of the roasting pan, as the liquid evaporates out and the onions start to caramelise, they give you the basis for this most fantastically rich-flavoured and coloured gravy.
“I think gravy is a big deal. I like gravy. My mother always said, make sure you don’t have too many chardonnays otherwise you will fall into the gravy!”
Cooking a chicken
Langbein says chicken is a cheaper alternative to turkey and also recommends brining. “When you bine it, you’re going to get that succulence you wouldn’t otherwise.”
Her recipe for French chicken breast with cherry tomatoes can be found here.
“Just get a couple of punnets of cherry tomatoes, maybe a whole head of garlic… some Kalamata olives and if you don’t like olives you could leave those out and put some capers in instead. At the end you’re going to put some parsley on the top, maybe a sprig of thyme. Just make sure the chicken is quite dry before you roast it, so pat it with paper towels inside and out. Season it, squeeze a lemon into the cavity and then I put the lemon halves around the chicken because they’re another good thing for the gravy. Then I mix cherry tomatoes, olives and the garlic and the parsley and I put half of that into the cavity and then sprinkle the rest around.
“The trick is, you don’t want any of the juice coming out pink, so you need to get a skewer into the really thick part at the bottom of the thigh where the chicken is at its thickest and if the juices run out clearly, you’re good to go.”
Cooking a ham
“The hardest thing with glazed ham is getting the skin off so you can glaze it and if you just chuck the whole ham into an oven at 180 degrees for 10, 15 minutes, just until it’s warm and what you will find when you go to touch the skin is it moves and you can suddenly slide the skin off really easily.”