Consumer: Prep is key to avoiding festive frenzy

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With a little planning, anyone can rustle up a festive table fit for (three) kings. Andy Welch does his prep and asks some top chefs for their tips.

Few meals seem as important as Christmas dinner.

There’s a table full of hungry people to feed, and it’s impossible not to feel a certain amount of pressure when putting it all together.

But whether you’re cooking for two or 22, the rules are the same.

Firstly, plan ahead. Sit down and think about what you’re going to cook, bearing in mind cooking times, how many hobs you have and oven space.

Prep will always help - even a day before the big day. When you’ve decided on your menu, work out how long everything needs to cook for and make a plan, working backwards from what time you want to eat.

Do as much chopping, peeling and prep as you can, get out all the pots, pans, roasting trays and utensils you’re going to need, and finally, clean as you go - a tidy kitchen makes for an easy kitchen to work in,

Here are some more tips from a few of the biggest names in the food world...

YOTAM OTTOLENGHI

“I’m Jewish but I celebrate Christmas with my partner’s parents every year. My top tip is to roast your sprouts. Boiling just makes them lose flavour and go all mushy, so I put them in a roasting dish with salt, black pepper and olive oil, nice and simple.

Cook on a high heat for 20-30 minutes until tender but still with a bite. You’ll never boil them again, I promise.”

RACHEL ALLEN

“Planning really is crucial, just for an easy life. I always make a list two weeks before Christmas, and that makes me sound like a schoolteacher, but it helps so much. It doesn’t matter if you’ve had a few sherries then. Think about the days after too - maybe make extra roast potatoes, so you can make tartiflette (roast potatoes with ham and melted cheeses) on Boxing Day.”

SIMON RIMMER

“I always cook my roast potatoes in olive oil, rather than goose or duck fat. This way they’re suitable for vegetarians - Christmas isn’t just for meat-eaters. Just before you serve them, toss them in a little butter and paprika and they’ll take on a really smoky flavour.”

HESTON BLUMENTHAL

“The most important thing about Christmas dinner is the roast potatoes. You can cook the meat and rest it for an hour, you can cook the veg and reheat when needed, but when roasties are ready, they’re ready. Work out the time you want to eat and how long they’ll take, and work everything else out around that. The secret to the perfect roastie is boiling them until they’re about to fall apart before roasting. This breaks up the surfaces of the potato and allows a crispy, glass-like crust to form around a very fluffy interior. Be careful not to let them completely fall apart though!”

GORDON RAMSAY

“Before cooking a turkey, mix lemon, parsley and garlic into a block of softened butter. With your hands, loosen the skin on the breast from both ends of the bird so that you’ll be able to stuff the flavoured butter underneath it, making sure you keep the skin intact. Repeat with the legs. From the lower side of the breast, feel your way under the skin and out towards the leg, loosening the gap.

Stuff half the butter mix into the opened spaces under the skin. On the outside, massage the butter around the breasts so the meat is evenly covered. Place the bird in a large roasting tray, breast side up. Spread the rest of the butter all over the skin. Season well, drizzle with a little olive oil, then roast.”

MARCO PIERRE WHITE

“I like sprouts cooked in a little water, butter and a stock cube. Steam the sprouts first for around eight minutes, until they’re slightly soft. Then in a frying pan, heat a few tablespoons of water with a few good knobs of butter and a stock cube. Throw in the sprouts and toss in the liquid for a few minutes.”

GOK WAN

“We always have two Christmases at my house: a Western day, which is traditional with all the trimmings, and on Boxing Day we have a Chinese banquet that my dad cooks. With both, it’s always about the preparation. A feast like that takes effort. My tip is to remember to enjoy the meal yourself. If I’m cooking, I always make sure everything’s ready, and then I leave it half an hour to get freshened up and sit down for five minutes before eating. It’s your day too, remember.”

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