02 Oct 2022

Preparing Christmas Dinner - plan of action to make sure it all goes without a hitch

Christmas Day dinner or lunch can be a daunting task for any experienced cook so it is best to have a plan to .

To celebrate 30 years in business, The Butler's Pantry wants to help you by sharing their tips and expertise for a Christmas Lunch without a hitch

It does not matter how many times you have cooked a perfect Sunday roast, Christmas Day is totally different and a new level of pressure.

As Christmas Day is a time for spending family and friends, the trick is to alleviate stress by following a few simple guide lines so that you can have a relaxed and delicious lunch.

Be Organised

Be one of those super-organised people who writes the menu at the start of December, and starts preparing right away. Make a Shopping List and a To Do list on your phone or in a notebook that you keep handy, and keep updating them.

Defrost your freezer at the start of December, using up whatever’s there or throwing out anything that’s past its best. This clears space for when you’ll need it most and means that your freezer will use less energy and work more efficiently.

Writing the Menu

When writing the menu, be conscious always of what can be made in advance, and don’t be overambitious. Designate jobs to guests – if you trust them! Everyone likes to help.

Decide what can be made in advance. The Christmas Cake and Pudding are obvious, but Mince Pies can also be made ahead (though not baked) and kept in the freezer.

Niall’s Christmas Lunch Menu

Smoked Salmon with Fennel, Cucumber and Red Onion Salad, Caper Dressing.

Roast Turkey with Thyme Juices

Honey-glazed Gammon

Sage and Thyme Stuffing

Cranberry and Balsamic Sauce

Duck Fat Roast Maris Piper Potatoes

Honey Roast Parsnips

Creamed Leeks with Smoked Bacon

Sweet and Sour Braised Red Cabbage

Christmas Pudding with Brandy Butter

Mince Pies

Cranberry and Apple Eve’s Pudding



Niall’s Plan of Action

December 1st  : Menu done, ingredient list done and checked twice. Turkey ordered, gammon ordered from Fingal Ferguson at Gubbeen. Those are the two most-important jobs done!

December 3rd  : Make the Christmas Pudding.

December 10th  : Make the Christmas Cake. Remember to give it a good drink of your finest brandy while still warm. Make the mincemeat and put it into Kilner jars.

December 13th : Make the Mince Pies and pop in the freezer, ready to be baked.

December 15th : Make Roast Chicken Stock, chill and freeze. This is the base for the turkey gravy.

Check that the carving knife is sharp

December 16th : Ice and decorate the Christmas Cake.

December 21st : Clear out the fridge to make room.

December 22nd : Do the big shop, with a proper list with all quantities worked out in advance. There is an awful lot of food waste at Christmas; don’t add to it.

December 23rd : Braise the red cabbage, and cook the gammon. 

December 24TH : Peel and prepare the vegetables and potatoes.  Make the Eve’s Pudding and the stuffing. Marinate the fennel salad, and prepare the cranberry sauce. Set the table and polish the glasses.


Christmas Eve – Get Ahead

December 24th will be your busiest day in the kitchen. At this stage, all your shopping and running about should be done and it is time to concentrate on the serious business at hand. Enlist help and write a new To Do list, planning to do as much ahead of the Big Day as possible.

If you are serving soup on Christmas Day, make it on the 24th and just reheat it on Christmas Day.

With all the jobs done, it’s time to relax and enjoy Christmas Eve.

Christmas Day – Have A Plan

Have a timetable for the big day so that you don’t forget a crucial step.  And delegate, delegate, delegate – it’s time to rally all the troops and give them jobs to do. 

The first thing to decide is the time you would like to serve lunch, and work back from that. The most common problem is that most households only have one oven, which the turkey will fill leaving no room for anything else.

If lunch is being served at 2 o’clock, plan to have the turkey coming out of the oven at 1 and let it rest for an hour. That leaves plenty of time to roast the potatoes and parsnips. I par-cook my potatoes in boiling salted water until just about cooked, and then roast them in duck fat until crisp. I treat the parsnips the same way, but toss them in honey and thyme before roasting.

If you find yourself with the same problems each year, have a think of how you can fix them. Some of the most common downfalls are the turkey being dry, and the vegetables over-cooked.

To keep the turkey breast nice and moist, lift the skin before cooking and rub with a herb butter (herbs, salt, cracked pepper).  Place the bird on a bed of root vegetables (carrots, onions, celery, thyme and garlic) with a glass of wine thrown in for good measure. Rub with olive oil and season, cover with tin foil and place in a preheated oven at 180C/ 160C fan/gas mark 4. To calculate the cooking time, allow 20 minutes per 500g and remove the tin foil for the last 45 minutes, so that the skin has a chance to brown.

To make the gravy, remove the bird and the vegetables from the roasting tray, add a tablespoon of flour and some chicken stock, and bring to a boil. Strain into a saucepan and keep warm.

The best way to avoid over-cooking your vegetables is to pre-cook them and refresh in iced water. When serving, simply re-heat them in boiling water with a drop of olive oil and salt.

If you like me are not a huge fan of Brussels sprouts, try braised red cabbage instead. It can be made a couple of days in advance and will benefit from a couple of days in the fridge to let the flavours develop.

A good breakfast and a little bubbly set the mood for the rest of the day. Then follow your timetable and get cracking on the job in hand. The challenge is to manage your oven, anything that can be served at room temperature goes in first - mince pies, Eve’s pudding and the cooked ham for glazing. Then it’s in with the turkey.

While the bird is in the oven, you can par-cook the vegetables and potatoes and have them ready to roast.

To check that the turkey is cooked, probe with a fine skewer; the juices should run clear and the skewer should be hot.

To get nice crisp roast potatoes, heat the roasting tray and the duck fat first, before adding the potatoes and sprinkling them with salt. 

If the starter is cold, it can be plated a good half hour before serving and dressed at the last minute.

It’s easier to serve lunch family-style with the potatoes, vegetables and stuffing in large bowls or on platters and passed around the table, leaving you to concentrate on carving the meats.

When the meal is finished, it’s time to retire to the fire and let the others clear up.

Christmas in a box

And if you would like to take the stress out of Christmas Dinner, you can always get The Butler’s Pantry “Christmas in a Box”

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