Christmas dinner can be a source of stress to a lot of cooks, and I often hear people complaining that they had to spend too much time on Christmas Day cooking. Christmas Dinner should not be stressful; with practice, preparation and good timing, you can actually spend a very minimal amount of time in the kitchen.
Swaledale Butchers sent me a joint of topside beef, dry-cured pork and their pigs in blankets and I did a trial Christmas Dinner run. I’d like to share my tips for making it easy and delicious with you.
1. Choose your meat carefully
Picking the meat for Christmas Dinner can be challenging. You want to take everyones tastes into account, work out how many people you’re cooking for and how much they’re likely to eat, consider how you’ll cook it, and you’ll want to watch how much it costs too. With the cost of everything going up, this Christmas is going to make many people take a step back and consider how much they’re spending on Christmas Dinner. Swaledale Butchers are a Yorkshire butcher who supply native and rare breed meat, including the topsides and ham rumps that I was sent. They offer a lot of options for Christmas, and I want to put forward their topside of beef for consideration this Christmas.
Why beef? Beef has the big advantage to me of being very easy and quick to cook whilst also being tender and delicious. For example the 1.5kg joint that I cooked only takes 1 hour and 10 minutes at 160C (fan assisted) in the oven for medium rare, featured below. If you like it cooked a bit more, you only need to add an extra 10-30 minutes cooking time. It’s an affordable piece of meat that still tastes very high quality, and it doesn’t mean having the oven on all day or getting things in at 7am and worrying about their cooking time!
I’m also a big fan of pork cooked in the slow cooker. The slow cooker has the advantage of being very economical to run, and you can even leave things to cook overnight to have them extra slow and tender.
Turkey is traditional and I do love a turkey as well — but consider how big a turkey you go. Turkey gets wasted a lot as these are often big birds who serve more than people need, and everyone gets tired of turkey sandwiches every day for a week after Christmas! Buy the size carefully, and consider if you don’t want the dark meat, having a turkey crown for a much quicker cook time and a lot less waste if you have a small party.
There are other meat alternatives, for a small party you could consider a chicken, or a duck for something with more flavour. There’s also lamb options, or even just cooking a steak as a Christmas dinner treat!
2. Prepare what you can in advance
A remarkable amount of Christmas Dinner can be prepared in advance. I do things like cauliflower cheese, pigs in blankets, stuffing balls, sprouts and spiced red cabbage the day before. I also peel and chop the potatoes and carrots so I’m not spending much time at all on food prep on Christmas Day, freeing up loads of time to spend with the family.
I always prepare the dessert in advance, sometimes a few days in advance. I love a baked cheesecake for dessert as you can make this any time and freeze it! The more you can do in advance and just heat up or serve cold on the day, the better it will be for you as your time can be freed up on the day.
3. Work out your timing
The hardest part of cooking a large dinner like Christmas Dinner is your timings. It can be helpful to write down in advance exactly how long each item will need in what cooking appliance, and have a list of what you need to put in at what time. I use an Echo Dot for Alexa to them keep track of multiple timers, meaning I can pop things in and immediately leave the kitchen and get back to the family. There’s always really good deals on Echo Dots on Amazon and if you don’t have one I definitely recommend it – but your phone or any timer will be adequate, as long as it can track multiple timers at once!
4. Consider your cooking appliances
There are three cooking appliances I’d recommend, besides your regular oven, that I think make Christmas Dinner (and cooking in general) quicker, easier, and at cheaper costs.
Air Fryer – I now do a lot of my cooking in the air fryer. I have this Tower airfryer with 3 different levels. I do the pigs in blankets, my stuffing, my roast potatoes, roasted carrots and parsnips in there. It’s quicker and cheaper than an oven, and makes things crispy whilst being really healthy and not needing to use loads of oil. And it’s not just Christmas Dinner, I use it every single day – best oven chips ever! I honestly think every kitchen needs an air fryer.
Slow Cooker – I love my slow cooker and use it a lot, particularly in winter, for things like chilli, curries and stew. It’s great for meat for Christmas Dinner, and slow cooked pork is amazingly tender and just melts in the mouth and both duck and chicken also cook whole in a slow cooker.. Slow cookers use very low amounts of electricity, so even though they’re on for longer, they’re more economical than using your oven.
Steamer – A steamer will make perfect vegetables without you having to fuss over the stove. A three tier steamer will allow you to put vegetables at every level, set the timer on the bottom and leave it. This makes it quick and easy, and no wasted electricity.
5. Get the whole family involved
My final tip is to get the whole family involved. The chef should not be stuck in the kitchen whilst the rest of the family are elsewhere. Kids of any age can get involved in cooking and I have many fond memories of helping my grandmother (who we spent Christmas Day with every single year until she died). Growing up her kitchen was always bustling with chatter and I was always encouraged to help, even if it was just peeling potatoes!
I hope you have a wonderful Christmas Dinner, and find it relaxing as well as delicious.