Christmas: Let’s talk turkey for the best lunch of the year!

It’s that time of the year again – when all households have someone trying to turn out the perfect Christmas lunch. PAUL GEATER has served up Christmas lunch for his family for more than 20 years, but he was still keen to get a few tips from a professional, so he went along to meet Mark and Annie David of The Cooking Experience at Hadleigh.

IF YOU like cooking then Christmas lunch with all the trimmings is the ultimate challenge and there is nothing to beat the congratulations you get as you serve it up to your family.

But if you don’t enjoy creating the meal yourself, don’t force yourself. Major supermarkets do some excellent pre-prepared birds and vegetables and you can produce an enjoyable Christmas lunch with minimum effort.

However for those who do like to create a meal from scratch, it is a real delight.

Everyone has different tips and trade secrets. I have a special stuffing I developed from recipes from Delia Smith and Zena Skinner (remember her).

But there are elements I still struggle to get right – so I was pleased to get some tips from Mark David.

He recommends cooking the turkey very slow on a low heat – putting it into the oven at about 1am before you go to bed on Christmas Eve.

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As we’re having a smaller bird this year, I’ll probably stick with my own faster cooking method which sees it go in at about 8am on Christmas morning.

As Mark and I shared tips, it was good to hear him backing up my view that the turkey should be cooked on its back, breast up.

It helps retain the shape – making it easier to carve, looks better when you serve it theatrically at Christmas lunchtime, and if you cook it properly it should be just as full as juice as if you roast it upside down.

A good Christmas turkey can be made perfect with a great stuffing. Mark was cooking his separately. I always like to put mine in the crop of the bird (never, ever in the cavity because the hot air cannot get inside the bird and it might not cook properly).

Good gravy is vital – in previous years we’ve had a chicken (or, even better, a pheasant) whose bones I have boiled to make a stock for the big day.

This year I’m relying on the giblets and the meat juices. There are not so many of us this year so that should be fine.

I shall also be following Mark’s gravy tip on his own factsheet which is reprinted in full on our website at

For further information visit

Paul Geater’s stuffing:

1lb (500g) sausage meat.

One large onion.

One head of celery.

Half a pound (250g) chopped mixed nuts (packet from the supermarket is fine).

Four rashers of smoked streaky bacon (the fatter the better).

Bread crumbs from four thick slices of white bread.

Two eggs (if you want a ‘solid’ stuffing, one if you want a more crumbly consistency).

Herbs and salt/pepper to taste.

The trick is to Chop up the onion, celery and bacon and fry them gently until they are all soft (but not brown). Leave to cool and once cold mix with all the other ingredients.

Stuff the bird on Christmas Eve and prepare the turkey with a bacon crown and cover with foil before putting in the oven at about 8am on Christmas morning.

CHRISTMAS WITHOUT TEARS. 2011 by Mark David of The Cooking Experience, Hadleigh.

A sympathetic and practical guide to the Christmas Day Big Meal, achieving a victory rather than a massacre!!

Someone has to co-ordinate Lunch/Dinner on Christmas Day and produce it at a sensible hour, hot and edible! Follow my handy hints and a sort of timetable, clutching a glass of whatever you fancy, with calmness and a serene smile, and you won’t shed any tears!

Preparation before the day is the key and delegation follows a close second. You can do more in advance than you think. I will take you through each item, slotting each one into the right day, see below

I am assuming Christmas Lunch at approx 2pm

TURKEY. We choose a 25lb bird, (fresh of course). I advise you not to stuff the turkey with anything except 1 fresh orange and 1 apple, each cut in half. (I have to say this because of possible litigation if you get poisoned!) If you decide to stuff it, please make sure it is well and truly cooked when you carve!) Smear the bird generously with butter and season well. Put it into a pre-heated oven at 200oC roast for 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and double wrap in foil, just tucking the foil underneath the bird, ie not completely enclosing it. Pour � bottle cheapest port into the tin. Place the turkey into the oven turned down to 120oC for about 10 hours overnight. (Do this no later than 1am on Xmas morning). It comes out at approx 11am on Xmas morning and sits near the cooker to be blasted 20 minutes before the meal is served without the foil. So it can rest out of the oven for 2 hours. You can make the gravy once the turkey is out, and warm it up later.

(20lb bird needs about 9 hours at lower heat)

(12 to 15lb bird needs about 7 to 8 hours at 120oC). See the Itinerary for Gravy Method

Faster cooked turkey.

20lb. Same initial cooking for 45 mins (200oC) then cover the turkey with foil as usual with the port and cook at 160oC for between 3 and 3.5 hours. Rest under loose foil up to 2 hours.

15lb. Same as above then cook 2.75 hours (160oC) rest up to 2 hours


Weighing about 12lb with undercarriage carcasse still on. Same blast ij hot oven then the foil treatment + port, then 160oC about 2.5 hours

If you like the idea, wrap chipolata sausages in streaky bacon, and bake in advance, re-heating on the day. They are just as good!

GOOSE!! If you want this noble bird, remember that it was Henry 8th who decided to have turkey instead, you are reviving a very old custom!! Buy the biggest goose you can find, (14 to 16lbs), get it to room temp and prick it copiously with a sharp knife. Put it on a trivet (wire rack), salt and pepper it and pre-heat your oven to 210oC. Cook it uncovered for 1.5 hours, basting regularly, turn the oven down to 170oC and continue to cook for 2 hours. Remove and allow to rest for up to 2� hours lightly covered in foil. That leaves you enough time to cook the roast potatoes in goose fat!! You can always give the goose a quick blast just before lunch to crisp the skin.

MARK’S NAUGHTY TIP!!!! When I was a kid Mum used to give us bread or toast and beef dripping. Try it with goose fat. Ok don’t do it for long, but a little bit of what you fancy does you good!!


1lb fresh or frozen cranberries, zest and juice of 1 orange

1 heaped tablespoon white sugar, tablespoons cheap port

Chop the orange zest and add all ingredients to a small saucepan with lid. Bring to the boil and simmer 5 mins. Set aside to cool and re-heat on the day when needed

ROAST POTATOES. Choose a really good roaster. I use Maris Piper or Desiree. I allow 4 potatoes each. Peel and cut to size (not too small). Boil in salted water for 7 to 10 minutes until nearly cooked and beginning to fluff. Drain and shake gently to get a rough floury coating. Put into roasting tin and liberally coat each potato with veg/sunflower/olive oil. Just make sure that enough oil is in the pan to do this. There is no need to heat the oil first. Really coat those spuds! Cook at 190oC for 50 minutes until brown and crunchy. Turn twice during cooking. Don’t have anything else in the oven!. Remove from the oven and set aside out of the way until 20 minutes before the meal. At this point return them to the oven at 190oC and blast them for 20 minutes. Remember the turkey will be out and there won’t be much in the oven or it will be empty!

Believe it or not, you can do the potatoes early in the morning so they are out of the oven by 11am or earlier. You will have completely cooked them and they will go cold, but that 20 minutes in the hot oven will revive them and you won’t be able to tell the difference!

BRUSSELS SPROUTS (serves about 8)

2lb sprouts, larger size

salted water.

De-stalk the sprouts and cross them. Bring the water to the boil, simmer the sprouts 8 minutes, then strain off the water, return to the pan, add 2oz butter, put the lid on the pan, keep up to 4o minutes, then return to the heat, don’t add water, toss over high heat for about 2 mins, don’t let the pan sit on the heat without moving it around, then serve.


2lb large fresh chestnuts or ready peeled shrink wrapped. (These are brilliant and save you loads of time. Buy them in Sainsbury, Waitrose and some Tesco stores) Don’t use tinned or dried!

1 large red onion., 2 tablespoons fresh parsley

2oz butter, Nutmeg & seasoning, 1 tablespoon water

To peel the chestnuts, score each one all the way round, Place max 15 onto a roasting tin, place in a pre-heated oven at 200oC, cook for about 12 minutes. Remove and peel, The shells will burn and peel off easily. Have someone else with you to speed up the process! (Buy the ready cooked shrink-wrapped ones is the best option, look for Merchant Gourmet in the supermarkets)When all are peeled, chop coarsely (magimix will do but don’t overprocess). Finely chop onion and parsley. Combine all ingredients (except butter) and including generous seasoning, mix well. Line a small bread tin or cake tin with greased foil. Put in the mixture. Dot with small pieces of butter, cover with foil and bake at 190oC for about 35 minutes, until the stuffing is steaming and the chestnuts are cooked. This can be done the day before and re-heated in a simmering oven or (dare I say!) the microwave.


When the turkey comes out of the oven to stand, drain off the juice and fat into a saucepan. Allow the fat to rise to the top (2 mins), skim with a ladle and then place a single piece of kitchen roll onto the fat, lift it up, the fat will stick to the kitchen roll and leave the juice behind. Repeat until all the fat has gone. Mix 1 tablespoon of plain flour with 3 tablespoons water until like double cream, add to the simmering gravy, and whisk, then strain into another saucepan and simmer 10 mins, there is your gravy!!

BREAD SAUCE (Makes about 8 portions)

3 slices any old bread, cut into small cubes

1 medium onion, 1oz butter

Approx � pint milk

Fry onion in butter, add milk, bring to boil. Add breadcrumbs, season well and leave to soak overnight. Re-heat and add more milk if necessary. Its as easy as that!

Because the turkey is cooked in a simmering oven overnight, I advise you not to stuff the turkey with anything except fruit. To keep traditional, I stuff the bird with the cooked stuffing just before the meal. The consistency of the stuffing is free flow, so easy to transfer!

CHRISTMAS PUDDING. Provided the pudding has been cooked, just place it in 2” water in a pan with lid, bring to the boil and simmer for 2 hours with lid firmly on! Keep topping up the water. Serve with Brandy Butter and Double Cream (ouch!)


Here is a timetable for you to follow. It really works and reduces stress. I know! I always mastermind Christmas Lunch! Remember, delegation is vital. Let others do the boring jobs!

Christmas Eve

Prepare & cook stuffing, chill. Use hangers-on to do the chestnut peeling, the more the merrier!

Prepare sprouts and keep cool., Peel potatoes, and cut to size. Keep cool.

Prepare Carrot & Parsnip ingredients, and keep covered and cool, in water.

Get turkey ready for the oven. Start cooking process at about 11pm or after. Add the port etc and transfer to the simmering oven, sleep in peace!! (Ha-Ha).

Do Cranberry Sauce. Cool and re-heat on the day., Prepare & cook sausages. Re-heat on the day.

Christmas Day

9am Cook potatoes and set aside

10.25 Heat up Xmas pudding.

Pour off most of the turkey fat but not the juice! If you find this

Difficult, use a ladle to spoon some of it out, then place a piece of kitchen roll onto the fat. It soaks it up leaving the juice. Continue until the fat has gone. To finish gravy, combine two tablespoons plain flour with enough water to give the consistency of double cream. Gradually pour into the boiling turkey juice, whisking continuously until desired thickness. Sieve if lumpy. Set aside and re-heat last minute.

10.45 Remove turkey from simmering oven and loosen foil. Remove from roasting tin and place in another one. Keep near cooker. Provided the turkey is properly cooked, this process is quite safe. In 3� hours the turkey (particularly a large one) will not cool down significantly.

11am Cook carrots etc, remove and set aside.

1pm Re-heat sausages and the Chestnut Stuffing in a moderate 160oC oven for 20 minutes, remove ans set aside in a warm place.

1.15pm Cook sprouts as directed.

` Blast turkey for 20 minutes.

1.40pm Remove turkey and re-heat potatoes for 20 minutes.




1 kilo Bag of Strong White Bread Flour or � White and � Granary

2 Sachets Easy Bake Yeast

1 Heaped tsp Salt

2 Heaped tsp Sugar

1 tbsp Olive Oil

700ml Warm Water

Put all dry ingredients into a large mixing bowl. Add liquids, stir with a wooden spoon until dough begins to form. Use hands to bring it together. When all the flour debris is incorporated into the dough ball, knead for 8 mins The bread will be slightly less elastic but just as good! Prove uncovered on the simmering ring chrome top, protected by kitchen roll or suchlike for 45 minutes until doubled. Remove dough from bowl and knock it back, knead for a further 30 seconds. Shape into 2 oblong loaves and place in a large roasting tin close to each other. Prove again for about 45 mins until double in size. Bake in the aga top oven/200oC in the middle for 35 mins, turn out onto a rack and hide it!!! They will all want it straight away.

AVOCADO & TOMATO MARSCAPONE BAKE (Serves 4 individually)

1 Ripe Avocado, de-stoned, peeled and diced

2 large Fresh Tomatoes, skinned and de-seeded

250g Marscapone Cheese

Pinch Curry Powder.

2 Cloves finely chopped Garlic

1 Spring Onion, chopped,


1 dessertspoon Fresh Grated Parmesan Cheese

Divide the avocado and tomato between 4 ramekins. Mix curry powder, garlic, chopped spring onion into the marscapone, season well. Dollop a quarter of the marscapone mixture into each ramekin. Sprinkle with a little parmesan. Bake for 7 minutes close to the top of the roasting oven. Serve with fresh granary bread.


(Serves 4)

1lb Fresh gnocchi (Sainsbury) or any fresh pasta, particularly Tortellini

250 grams fresh spinach, or 2 bunches watercress, or q25 grams fresh rocket

1 small tub Mascarpone cheese

4oz blue cheese (St Agur, Danish Blue or Rocquefort)

Cook the pasta in generous boiling water, well salted and with 1 tablespoon veg oil added, timed according to the packet. Drain & set aside. Melt the two cheeses slowly over a low heat in a saucepan, breaking them up with a spoon. When melted and bubbling set aside. Wash spinach and shake dry. Return cheese to heat add spinach and simmer stirring about 2 minutes. Set aside. Run hot water through the drained pasta, shake and add to the cheese mixture. Re-heat slowly for about 3 minutes, serve with a simple salad.


For the Basic Risotto:

500g Wild and Long Grain Rice (wash under cold tap)

2 small Red Onion, finely sliced

2 teaspoon Turmeric

4 Cloves Garlic, finely chopped

2 small Red Peppers, finely sliced

1 teaspoon Dried Oregano


Pinch Curry Powder

Water to cover Rice

2 dessertspoon Olive Oil

Heat oil in a medium saucepan (when rice is in, it should come � way up the pan). Add onion and garlic, cook 20 seconds on high heat, remove from heat. Add rice, turmeric, oregano, red pepper, seasoning and curry. Cover with water and leave about a fingertip width of water on top. Return to heat and as it begins to boil put lid on and place pan in simmering oven and leave for 30 mins. (Other cookers, add water, stir & turn heat down to absolute minimum, cover with tight lid, simmer without stirring for 15 mins. Check if all the water has evaporated, if so switch off heat and let stand for 10 mins.) Turn out into a warm dish, dot with butter and keep warm in oven for up to 30 minutes.

VEGGIE CRUMBLE (serves about 10)

1lb courgettes

1 Aubergine

1 Large onion thinly sliced

4 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 tin tomatoes

2 fresh tomatoes (roughly chopped)

1 large carrot

1 tablespoon sun-dried tomato puree

8oz mushrooms roughly chopped

1 red pepper roughly sliced

1 teasp brown sugar


2 oz butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

8oz grated mature cheddar

6 Tablespoons oatmeal, fried 1minute in 2oz butter or 2 tablespoon olive oil.

Heat butter & oil in frypan until browning. Add onion, garlic and pepper, fry 2 minutes and transfer to large saucepan. Add other veg to pan all mixed up in several lots to cook 2 minutes, transferring to saucepan. Finally add tinned tomatoes and tomato puree and seasoning, and sugar. Stir mixture in saucepan well and simmer 20 minutes. Lay cooked mixture into a shallow oven-proof dish. Top with the oatmeal and then the grated cheese, cook in oven at 180oC for approx 25 minutes until top is brown.


2 Eggs

4oz Plain Flour

8 fl.oz Milk

Vegetable Oil

Sift flour into a mixing bowl. Break 2 eggs into the bowl and slowly add milk, beating. Sieve the mixture into a jug. Meanwhile heat 2 tbsp veg oil in a good quality frying pan (non-stick) over high heat (Aga boiling plate), until beginning to smoke. Pour excess oil into a jug. Pour in enough batter to thinly cover the pan base. Tilt the pan on all sides as you are doing it. Cook approx 30-40 secs. Loosen the edges and toss. Repeat on the other side. Remove to a plate. Use up all the mixture.


5 dessertspoons caster sugar

2oz butter

8 floz orange juice (any old!)

Melt sugar in a frying pan on the boiling plate until golden brown and beginning to froth. Don’t use a utensil, just tilt the pan and roll the sugar around until it all melts. Add the butter and allow to melt, move pan to sommering plate and add the juice all together. It will look awful and lumpy, don’t worry, within 4 minutes it will all meld together and reduce to a caramel. If it hasn’t reduced enough move it over to the boiling plate again to give it a blast!. Chill and keep overnight and re-heat or use it straight away

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