As a nation obsessed with Christmas, the festive season is a time for jolliness – spending quality time with the family and eating great food – with many particularly excited for their annual Christmas dinner feast. Whether you opt for traditional turkey dinner or something a bit more unique, foodies across the nation can’t wait to indulge in their favourite festive flavours this December.
To get some expert advice into the best festive flavour combinations, we questioned Sal Dhalla – The Food Witch, Chantelle Nicholson – restaurateur and chef at Tredwells, and Jo McDonald from Traeger, on how to take your classic Christmas dinner items to the next level; weird and wonderful flavour combinations that people can try in their Christmas dinner cooking this year; and how to accommodate different food diets, intolerances, and allergies. Read on to find out more…
How to Take Your Classic Christmas Dinner Items to The Next Level, Plus Weird and Wonderful Flavour Combinations to Try This Year
Sal suggested that “there’s a lot of scope to combine sweet and savoury at Christmas, because it’s something we already associate with the time of year – whether it’s turkey and cranberry, or parsnips with honey – so it’s definitely a great well for combinations that work in that genre”.
Here are some festive flavour combinations to try, alongside some expert advice on how to prepare the dish:
– Pair with: cranberry, quince, herbs (such as parsley, sage, rosemary)
– Advice: rather than using a conventional oven, why not try cooking with a wood pellet grill, smoker, or barbeque. When ready to cook, set temperature to 160C and preheat, lid closed for 15 minutes. Put the roasting pan with the turkey directly on the grill grate. Roast the turkey for 3 hours. Insert the probe from the meat thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh, but not touching bone. Cook until internal temperature reaches 75C. The turkey should also be beautifully browned with crisp skin. If the temperature is less than that, or if your turkey is not browned to your liking, let it roast for another 30 minutes, then check the temperature again. Repeat until the turkey is fully cooked. When the turkey is done, carefully transfer it to a cutting board and let it rest for 20 to 30 minutes. Do not tent it with aluminium foil or the skin will lose its crispness. Carve the turkey and serve.
– Advice: take the time to get the potatoes that work best for roasting. Steam, or parboil and fluff up, your potatoes the night before, and then leave them uncovered in the fridge overnight to chill. If they’re cooled, fluffy on the outside and dry when they go into the hot fat, you will achieve maximum crispiness. Whether you love it or hate it, glazing roast potatoes with Marmite can also help create perfect crispy potatoes!
Sal explained that “brussels sprouts are great with salty and sweet ingredients that balance the bitterness of the sprouts”:
– Pair with: bacon, goat and sheep’s cheeses (pecorino, parmesan, or Berkswell), caramelised onions, nuts (such as chestnuts), fresh pomegranate seeds
– Advice: Don’t boil your Brussels! Roast them whole in the oven at around 200C for 15-20 minutes until deep golden (even a little charred) on the outside, and lovely and soft on the inside. For maximum deliciousness, toss in a few spoonfuls of miso paste which you’ve thinned down to a ketchup like consistency with water, just for the last few minutes of cooking.
To create brussels sprouts that are smoky and seasoned to perfection, Jo suggests cooking them on a wood pellet grill, smoker or barbeque using maple wood – “when ready to cook, set grill temperature to 180 C and preheat with lid closed for 10 to 15 minutes. Place 500g thick cut bacon directly on grill grate and cook for 15-20 minutes, or until lightly browned. Remove from grill and set aside on paper towel lined plate. Slice 1 medium onion in half and then slice into 1 cm moons and add to large mixing bowl. Slice 1kg brussels sprouts in half lengthwise and add to bowl. Cut the cooked bacon into 3 cm pieces and add to bowl. Drizzle with 2 tbsp olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Toss to coat and pour into baking pan. Turn the temperature on grill to 190 C and place baking pan on grill. Roast for 30 minutes mixing halfway through cooking. Serve immediately”.
Sal added that “spices have to be one of the most Christmassy aromas out there. Nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, and ginger tend to be the ones most widely used. They each offer a different aroma and a lovely combination of sweetness and smokiness that is so connected to the season. Whilst we may associate them with Christmas baking, in the parts of the world that they are produced they’re used more widely in savoury cooking, and that’s a great way to jazz up your Christmas veggies”.
– Pair parsnips with: honey, nutmeg
– Pair carrots with: ginger, cinnamon
– Pair cauliflower with: nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, cumin, coriander seeds, hazelnuts
– Advice: put the same effort into the vegetables that you do with the turkey, and source the best and the most flavoursome produce you can find – it will be worth it
– Advice: Using rich, roasted bones to create the stock base will always make it more delicious, and you can make this in advance and freeze it, giving you more time on the day to enjoy yourself. You can also use the drippings that have accumulated in the bottom of the turkey roasting pan to make gravy
– Advice: quince is a great seasonal star in the UK and makes a great savoury accompaniment, usually as a paste or jelly. It’s also great simply roasted and caramelised with sugar and spices, and served as a side dish or even a dessert – so versatile!
Sal recommends that you put things you like into your dishes – “I replace things that I like less in the traditional versions with some of my personal favourites – instead of currants, cloves, and brandy in mince pies, I use dried figs, cardamom, and rum, as well as sweet marsala wine”. You can also reduce waste by using leftovers in clever ways – Sal shared that she “made an apple crumble using leftover mincemeat last year, a regular crumble with a layer of homemade mincemeat at the bottom – and it was game-changingly good”!
How to Accommodate Different Food Diets, Intolerances, and Allergies
Chantelle commented that “there are many great recipes available now that support most dietary requirements – be it plant-based, gluten-free and other allergies. Vegetables really can be the star of the show, you just need to put the same effort into them as you do with their meat counterparts. If you have to cater for a few different dietaries, then the simplest way is to go with something that can work for everyone. For example, plant-based food is dairy free too.
“A few easy switches can help ease the workload too – for instance, cooking your roast veggies in oil instead of duck fat or butter will have great results, and for pudding; make something that also ticks all the boxes – a plant-based trifle is delicious and will be enjoyed by everyone”.
Sal added that “whilst nut roast may by the stereotypical vegan option, nut allergies are more and more common, but you can put a vegetable at the centre of your Christmas dinner instead, such as whole roast cauliflower with a few seasonally appropriate spices. For perfect vegan roast potatoes use cold-pressed rapeseed oil – you can get it nice and hot to achieve lovely crisp roast potatoes without using butter or animal fat”.
We hope the advice in the article inspires you to be more creative with your Christmas dinner this year, and for those looking for tasty gifts, our wide range of Christmas hampers capture the very essence of Christmas Day, no matter your tastes or budget!
Disclaimer: The information in this story is accurate as of the publication date. Virginia Hayward are not liable or responsible for the accuracy of the advice provided by third party experts, nor for the content or operation of any third-party websites, webpages, or resources which have been linked to within this article.