The image accompanying this page’s header is one of a bird whose ability to resist the inexhaustible apathy towards has seen it firmly placed at the heart of any traditional Christmas dinner. I’ve yet to meet anyone whose favourite element of a Christmas dinner is turkey. Often lamented for its propensity to overcook easily, resulting in a dry, chalky and bland meat (especially the breast) that is made just about palatable by copious ladles of gravy, the turkey should be overshadowed by superior complementary side dishes. Cooking a turkey is a laborious task that inevitably disappoints. I’d be perfectly contented with a plate of (in this specific order) roast potatoes and parsnips, mashed potato, buttered carrots, all lubricated by a well-reduced, sticky gravy. Bread sauce would be a welcome addition but as far as my perfect Christmas is concerned, that exercise in dull, beige and tasteless turkey breast meat can join the Christmas pudding in being consigned to the Christmas scrapheap.
If you’re of a similar inclination and think there’s no place for turkey at your Christmas dinner, you might appreciate these recipes for the holy trinity of any good Christmas dinner (all recipes serve four people):
Roasting a potato but not a parsnip at Christmas but would make you a neg- ligent host who denies their guests of the real reason Christmas dinners are so popular.
• 1kg of potatoes (King Edwards or Maris Pipers)
• 350g parsnips
• 1 clove of crushed garlic
• 5 tablespoons olive oil (a jar of goose fat would be the hedonic ideal but alas, you’re a student, give it a miss)
Pre-heat your oven to 190. Peel and quarter your potatoes and place them in a pan of boiling salted water. Blanch for around seven minutes (be confident but don’t let them break up too much otherwise they’ll become saturated with water), drain and gently shake in the pan. (This creates little fissures on the potatoes exterior, enabling them to take on a crisp, glass-like outer texture when roasting.)
(For the parsnips, peel and cut in to halves. Boil for three minutes and drain.)
Meanwhile, put your oil in a roasting tray and place in the oven. Add the potatoes to the tray, season liberally with salt and some crushed garlic before carefully combining with the oil. Cook for an hour, adding the parsnips after 15 minutes (in a separate tray, repeating the exact same process – oil, garlic and salt).
I know carrots probably aren’t the most exciting element of a Christmas dinner but they’re one of the parts I look forward to most. Separate your mind from tinned carrots as far as possible. Cooking them in this way produces the sweetest carrot you’ll have ever eaten.
Alternatively, especially if you’re short for oven space, cover with water, a knob of butter, a pinch of sugar and salt and cook down until soft and glazed with buttery juices.
• 500g carrots, peeled and halved lengthways
• Two tablespoons honey
• Salt and pepper
Mix your carrots with the olive oil, honey, salt and pepper and cook for 45 minutes until they’re sticky and cooked through.
Now, I’m going to be a real snob here and attempt to persuade you to reject gravy granules. They are absolutely minging and even though, as one of my friends contends, there’s a real art to achieving the right consistency, taste pretty bad (there’s no beef in their beef ‘flavour’ gravy). I know making gravy seems like a bit of a pain in the arse, especially when there are instant alternatives but if you’ve gone to all the effort of scorning the turkey and preparing all these beautiful side dishes, it would be remiss to make a half-arsed gravy.
Chicken wings cost pence and add a real depth of flavour to your gravy base. It’s tempting to leave them out of the recipe but I wouldn’t (unless you’re a vegetarian, of course): the end result is significantly better through their addition.
Make the gravy well in advance so that the oven’s free for later.
• 1kg chicken wings
• Two white onions, peeled and roughly chopped
• One carrot, peeled and roughly chopped
• Two sticks of celery, roughly chopped
• Half a bottle of apple cider
• 2 litres of chicken stock
• 1tbsp plain flour
• 1tbsp tomato puree
• One sprig of thyme
• Salt and pepper
Pre-heat your oven to 200. In your largest oven tray, add the chicken wings and vegetables and roast for 20 minutes, turning every so often so they colour evenly and don’t stick.
Add the tomato puree and flour, stir and return the pan to the oven for 10 more minutes.
Remove the tray and immediately add in the cider and 200ml of the stock, stirring vigorously to remove any of the sediment from the tray’s base.
Transfer everything to your largest saucepan, add in the rest of the ingredients (including the remaining stock) and simmer for around an hour, skimming the top occasionally to remove any scum.
Strain the gravy and if adjust the seasoning. If it’s watery, add to a pan and reduce on a high heat until the desired consistency is reached.