Cumbria Crack

The best made plans for catering for large numbers at Christmas

English Lakes Hotels chef Michael Wilson has top tips on preparing Christmas dinner

[I]f you are hosting Christmas for family, friends, in-laws and various other guests this year, you might be getting into a bit of a pickle about the preparation and timing of Christmas dinner for multiple numbers.

Never mind the rush to get all the necessary ingredients and the last minute dash to the shops to find that all important seasoning for the turkey, many hosts find themselves in the position of head chef within their household, with the rising expectation that Christmas dinner will all come together perfectly.

Help is at hand with some top tips on catering for large numbers over the festive season from an experienced Cumbrian chef.

Michael Wilson, a head chef with English Lakes Hotels Resorts & Venues, is well versed in providing a wide variety of dishes to order in a busy restaurant, but he says you don’t have to be a master chef to deliver a sumptuous Christmas dinner on time.

“Of course a lot of this is about preparation and being organised,” he explains.  “But there are bound to be key pinch points on the day and the biggest challenge for any host is to get the timing right with the roast, trimmings and vegetables.

“One of the most important things to do is to make a plan and delegate tasks.  We’re lucky to have a team in the kitchen and an environment where everyone knows their job.  So pull the family in and divide up responsibilities.  If you are doing the cooking, get others to peel the sprouts and spuds and prep the parsnips while you take care of the more pressing issues.

“The second key point is to concentrate on the bigger challenges like the turkey. Getting the turkey right is difficult, so don’t be hard on yourself.  For example, legs take longer to cook than the crown, so why not roast them separately?  You can cook the legs more slowly in duck or goose fat for succulent results.

“Much of the work with roast potatoes can be done on Christmas Eve.  Part boiling and fluffing them in a colander gives them extra edges for crisping up, and they can go in the fridge until the next day.  Cooking them in sizzling goose fat or beef dripping can produce great results.  Carrots can also be par-boiled before roasting, and grated parmesan on your parsnips provides a crispy finish too.

“And if you’re making your own stuffing, bacon can make the real difference to its flavour, along with herbs and lemon and all the juices from cooking inside the turkey.”

There is a lot which can be done in advance and with good planning. Michael’s other top tips to remember are:

1.    Make a plan and finalise your menu.

2.    Consider the size of your oven and pans, as well as the hob space you need.

3.    Do as much as you can in advance.

4.    Delegate tasks on the day – but beware not to overcrowd the kitchen.

5.    Gravy is a winner if done well, so make it in advance with a proper recipe, ingredients and care – and freeze it.

6.    Avoid over stretching with too many vegetables – fewer dishes will be better prepared.

7.    Serve dinner later in the day to buy you time

8.    Home-made isn’t always the solution – classic, tasty condiments and sauces can be bought.  Making your own bread sauce or cranberry sauce may be a stretch too far.

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