When carving the turkey start on one side of the breast and cut down diagonally until you get to the centre, then repeat on the other side. Most people nowadays will just cut down the middle of the turkey and cut each breast off as a whole but this leaves you with just the carcass of the turkey at the end of the carving (if you spent that long cooking it you kind of want it to look as pretty as can be for as long as can be).
To take the turkey leg off, carve the meat down to the point when you can feel a joint in the middle. Put your thumb in the gap you have just made and pull away the meat, popping the joint out.
Different types of potatoes
King Edward or Maris Piper are both really good roasting potatoes, according to Giles. Both have a creamy coloured skin, but King Edwards also tend to have purple patches. Most importantly, they both have a high dry matter content, which means they roast well while maintaining that crucial ‘light as air’ fluffiness inside.
King Edward and Maris Piper are described as old potatoes (allowed to grow to their maximum size), unlike new potatoes, which are small and waxy. Traditionally you wouldn’t go for roasted new potatoes at Christmas. They are more for summer.
How to roast potatoes
At Leiths they use massive, chunky potatoes for their perfect Christmas dinner, chopping each potato into four chunks.
Begin by parboiling the potatoes, to begin to soften them up and add fluffiness on the outside that will ultimately crisp in the oven. Put the potatoes in enough cold, salted water to cover them, and then bring to the boil.
You want to pop the potatoes in enough salted water to just cover them and bring the water to the boil (don’t add them to already boiling water – this can shock the potato and cause it to lose shape). To test whether the parboiling is finished, poke the spud with a cutlery knife. Go no deeper than 1 cm into the flesh, as you don’t want to over soak the inside with water before roasting. The knife should slide out of the potato effortlessly.
Now put a lid on the pot and shake the potatoes. The outer part should fluff up nicely, but the potato shouldn’t lost it’s overall structure (if it does disintegrate, I’m afraid you’ve overcooked it). Now drain the pot and let the potatoes steam-dry for a few minutes. Again, this will help the outer crumbliness.
Roast the duck fat in a large tin for 20 minutes before the potatoes are going to join them in the oven. (You can buy this in nearly all supermarkets now.) Not getting the fat hot enough is one of the main reasons behind soggy roasts.
When you pop the potatoes in the fat, spread them out evenly and don’t overcrowd them. You want them to sizzle viciously, as if the fat is a snake trying to bite off your fingers. Put the tray in the oven and check on the potatoes two or three times during cooking, turning them each time.
A little Leiths tip is to roast the potatoes two hours in advance, then return them to the top shelf 30 minutes before serving, just so you can cope with the standard Christmas juggling act.
Best vegetables for Christmas dinner
Pick your colours wisely. The vibrant orange and green of carrots and Brussels sprouts spar well with the roasted brown of the turkey and potatoes. However, cauliflower cheese looks cloying.
Think about how many hobs you have. It would be unfeasible to cook more than three different trimmings in a normal sized kitchen.
As with everything about Christmas, the key is to plan ahead. Go back to that hob plan you made. How many hobs do you have? The answer will probably be four, so resist the temptation to make seven specialised sauces. Keep within your means.
In terms of what veggies to include, carrots are an undisputed standard. Leiths boil baby Chantenay carrots in their perfect Christmas dinner, which can look very elegant, especially when you’ve got monstrously chunky roasties on your plate at the same time.
The sweetness of the carrot depends on the fibrous channel that runs the length of its core. The smaller the carrot, the sweeter it will taste – which is maybe why honey-glazed baby carrots are so moreish.
Cook till al dente for a nice crunch and then glaze with melted butter, honey, lemon juice and a generous peppering of chopped parsley.
Some people would pick a cauliflower cheese with their roast but it’s a weird texture to have paired with your gravy and can be quite gloopy. Plus, the combination of cheese sauce and cauliflower requires hob space.
Sweet potatoes are popular with turkey thanksgiving meals in the US, but aren’t a part of the traditional British Christmas lunch. Also, if you’ve got sweet carrots then you’ll want to be careful not to overload on that flavour.
Broccolli requires another pan, but brings an interesting texture to the plate. However, the crunch of a tender-stem is quite similar to that of a (properly cooked) sprout, so Giles recommends you go for only one of the two.
Parsnips are a great option as they can be cooked with your roasted potatoes. “The taste is strong so I would just do a third of the quantity of parsnips to potatoes,” advises Giles. “so people just get one on their plate to spice it up.
“Another one a lot of people have is a braised red cabbage because you can make that in advance and re-heat it. That’s a helpful one so you’re not doing everything at the last minute.”
Christmas dinners can make for quite earthy looking affairs (it’s all that brown meat) so Giles recommends you think about the colours of the vegetables, to liven up the plate. A cauliflower is too close in colour to a potato for it to be a strong option, while the carrot’s vibrant orange makes it a Christmas heavyweight.
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