Carrots and parsnips
This root veg duo is a festive stalwart – but with everything else clamouring for your attention, they often don’t get the care they deserve. Instead of just bunging them in the oven with a drizzle of oil and a sprinkling of salt, make carrots the star of the show by braising them in mulled wine or toss parsnips in marmite and poppy seeds for an incredible umami flavour.
Get ahead: Peel and prep carrots up to 2 days in advance, then keep them in the fridge until ready to cook. Parsnips will discolour if peeled and left out, but you can toss them in lemon juice and prep them up to 24 hours in advance.
Most people regard roasties as the best thing on the Christmas dinner plate – get them right and any other oversights or errors will be more than forgiven. There are countless tips, tricks and hacks out there all purporting to help you attain the ‘ultimate’ roast potato, but it really boils down to ruffling and heat. Boil your potatoes until they’re soft throughout, then give them a good shake in the colander to fluff up their exterior. Allow them to steam-dry – ideally spread out on a wire rack – then make sure both the roasting tray and the oil in it are red-hot before the spuds hit them. Turning them a few times as they roast is vital; the side touching the hot tray will crisp up quicker than the others.
Get ahead: Peel, boil and ruffle your potatoes on Christmas Eve, then keep them covered in the fridge. Thoroughly chilled potatoes will crisp up even more when they hit the hot oil on Christmas Day.
For some, they’re little spheres of happiness; for others, they’re the bogeyman of Christmas past, conjuring up memories of bitter over-boiled mush. They key – as with many things in life – is to add lots of butter. Instead of boiling the brassicas, slowly caramelising them in butter until they’re crispy, golden and gnarled completely transforms the vegetable into something we promise everyone at the table will enjoy. Give them a regular baste (use a turkey baster if you have one) as they cook to ensure an even finish.
Get ahead: Trimming sprouts is always a bit of a chore – get them looking neat and tidy up to 3 days in advance and you’ll have one less mundane job to do on the big day.
If you ask us, a dollop of bread sauce on your plate at Christmas is a must – the comforting creaminess works wonders alongside everything else, adding just a hint of festive spice. You need to be accurate with your measurements to ensure it’s not too stodgy or runny, and pay heed to the sort of bread you use – an artisan sourdough is going to offer a lot more flavour and texture than a sliced white loaf. Infuse the milk with bay leaves and a halved onion studded with cloves for extra savouriness and festive warmth, and go big on the woody herbs and black pepper.
Get ahead: Bread sauce can be made, cooled and chilled up to 3 days in advance. Gently reheat it on the hob until piping hot throughout just before you serve Christmas dinner.
The element that brings everything together; the sauce to rule all sauces. Homemade gravy is a special treat but it takes time and attention to make – two things you’re always short of on Christmas Day. Gravies live or die by the quality of the stock they’re made from, so making your own in advance, then chilling or freezing it gets most of the work out of the way. To turn that stock into gravy, it needs to be combined with the juices of the bird and thickened – we prefer using cornflour mixed with a splash of cold water to thicken, as it reduces the likelihood of lumps.
Get ahead: Gravy freezes well, so you can make it as far ahead as you like. It’ll also keep in the fridge for 3 days. Simply defrost (if needed), then gently reheat and mix with the juices from your bird for an extra boost of flavour. (A slug of booze and dollop of cranberry jelly can help too).
A decent stuffing can steal the limelight from the turkey at Christmas, but a bad one can leave you with a dish of dry, crumbly stodge that needs rehydrating with buckets of gravy. A sausagemeat-based stuffing ensures it’ll stay juicy and moist; doubly so if it’s wrapped in bacon. We’re in love with James Cochran’s jerk-spiced pork stuffing this year, and you can swap out the flavourings for anything you like. Whatever stuffing you decide on, it’s always best to cook it separately from the bird (which technically turns it into a ‘dressing’).
Get ahead: You can mix and shape the stuffing up to 3 days in advance and keep it covered in the fridge, or freeze it if you want to really get ahead. If frozen, put it in the fridge on Christmas Eve to slowly defrost overnight, then pop it in the oven to cook through the next day.