Wednesday, 23, December 2015

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Written by
Nicola Brady

How to Cook the Perfect Christmas Dinner

Chefs from The Croke Park and The River Lee share their tips

Christmas Table

There are only a few days left before the biggest meal of the year, and there are undoubtedly a few frazzled nerves thinking about putting a feast on the table for extended family. But whether you’re cooking the turkey for the first time or the fortieth, a few tips from the professionals always come in handy. We sat down with chefs from The River Lee and The Croke Park to find out their tips for cooking the perfect Christmas dinner.

Rest the Roast

Resting the turkey (or any other meat) is an extremely important step in the cooking process. This is when the juices redistribute back into the meat, meaning you’ll be left with a super succulent roast.

John Sheridan, Head Chef at The Croke Park, is well used to serving up roasts to huge quantities of guests on match days.

“For us, the roasts work really well because they hold well. The biggest tip I’d have is to cook it early enough. We start service at 12pm on a match day, but breakfast finishes at 10.30am, so we’ve quite a tight turnover time. We’re just finishing breakfast by 11.30am and we’re trying to turn over the rooms and the kitchen to get ready for the lunch service so it’s fairly tight. So the thing I’m always on to the guys about is “Let’s get the roasts on early enough that we can let them rest”.

“The skin of a turkey won’t lose its crispness if you don’t cover it. A lot of people put tin foil over it and that moisture coming from the steam goes back into the turkey and that’s why you lose the crispiness. We tend to rest ours under warm lights in the kitchen so the skin stays crisp on the top, but the meat is still getting a chance to rest, and the juices will go into the meat to keep that nice and moist.”

John Sheridan, Head Chef at The Croke Park

Get the cooking time right

A lot of people overcook their meat, particularly when it comes to turkey, but if you leave it in the oven too long then you’re going to find yourself with a dry bird. Philip Morrissey, Chef de Partie at The River Lee, has come up with the following timings for the perfect turkey…

4-8 lbs 1 ½- 3 ¼ hours

8-12 lbs 2 ½ -3 ½ hours

12-14 lbs 3-3 ¼ hours

18-20 lbs 4 ¼ - 4 ½ hours

Be sure to rest the bird for 45mins - 60mins.  Add a half an hour to times if the turkey is stuffed.

Cook as much ahead of time as possible

John Sheridan is an expert when it comes to cooking in advance.

“We tend to do our roast potatoes in batches, so there would be one load ready for 12pm, another for 1pm, again for 1.30pm and then we would keep them hot. So they’re constantly fresh and kept going, but don’t cover them while they’re waiting to be served.

“You can keep them warm in a very low oven or flash them under the grill before serving. We do all our roast potatoes in duck fat and sea salt, which we find helps a lot with the crispiness. The larger salt flakes draw out a lot more moisture, so you get a nicer, crispier outside and a fluffier inside.”

What about the veg?

The vegetables are just as important as the main dishes, but can give the most stress at the last minute. John Sheridan has the answer…

“We always do roast root vegetables, again because they hold really well. They actually improve over time. We find that if we make them in advance, even the day before, they actually taste better the next day. Everything’s had a chance to get together in the fridge overnight! Then it’s just a matter of reheating them the next day. Broccoli, beans, delicate vegetables? They just won’t hold. We season with salt, pepper, then with fresh, hardier herbs like thyme, rosemary, as opposed to delicate herbs. I particularly love using butternut squash and sweet potato.”

The perfect roast turkey

How to cook the Perfect Honey Baked Ham

Philip Morrissey gives us the foolproof recipe for his gorgeous baked ham.

Boil a leg of ham in water for 3 hours until just cooked, then carefully remove from water and allow it to rest for 1½ hours.

When it’s rested, score the fat making a crisscross shape.

Stud the leg with cloves and glaze with a mixture of equal quantities of honey, whole grain mustard & Jameson whiskey.

Bake until golden brown & caramelized.


Whatever you’re doing this Christmas, we hope you have a wonderful day (and a stress-free time in the kitchen!)