Finally, it’s Christmas week! A time to finish the Christmas shopping, watch some cheesy Christmas movies and get in to the kitchen and bake or cook-up some festive treats.
If you’re a fan of cooking shows on the TV, or like to pick up a good cookery book, you’ll almost certainly be familiar with top Irish chef Rachel Allen.
Rachel is a regular guest on BBC’s Saturday Kitchen and is also host of Market Kitchen on Good Food Channel, as well as the author of some of the most popular cookery books of recent years. The most recent, Coast, was released in September and features some wonderful recipes inspired by Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Coast. (If you’re looking for a Christmas present for a loved one still, you can get it in most high street book shops as well online – the likes of Amazon will still deliver in time for Christmas!)
While we could talk in length about some of the amazing recipes in the book, we of course all about Christmas. We were lucky enough to speak with Rachel recently about all things Christmas food, and also the subject every chef seems to love – seasonal ingredients. So, what does the Irish winter present on the ingredients front?
“I absolutely adore the seasons and embrace each and every one when it comes round.” Rachel said.
“The weather and the shorter days of winter lend themselves so well to the slow cooking of comforting stews and casseroles and of course baking. I still love the excitement in the build up to Christmas and baking and preparing food to have in the fridge and freezer is very much part of this.
“I love root vegetables and dark leafy greens like kale and sprouting broccoli. Root veggies make great soups, gratins and are delicious roasted with olive oil, garlic and rosemary sprigs”
As Christmas is now just a few days away, folk everywhere are likely to spend an increasing amount of time in the kitchen this week, be it rustling up another batch of fresh mince pies, or getting the preparation for the big day started.
Many chefs we’ve talked to this year spoke of their early memories of food at Christmas time. So what of Rachel’s?
“My earliest food memories of food at Christmas are of baking with my mum and sister. I always remember the excitement of placing the little plastic Santa Claus on top of the freshly iced Christmas cake!
“During the festive season I love to eat a bit of everything that’s around, like pates, soups and cheeses – great for serving to impromptu house guests – smoked salmon on brown bread, mince pies with a glass of mulled wine, homemade chocolates and truffles. You name it, I love it!”
Every year there seems to be news stories about how the popularity of turkey as the main part of a Christmas meal is on the decline. This year is no different, in fact only this week the Guardian reported the rise in popularity of venison and veal. However, each of the chefs we’ve spoken to have said they’ll be cooking turkey this year, and Rachel is no different.
“A few years ago we decided to cook roast beef with béarnaise sauce and all the trimmings for Christmas Day, and while it was so delicious and would be my favourite meal every other day of the year, it didn’t feel quite like Christmas.
“So yes, this Christmas it’ll be Turkey and all the trimmings chez nous. My husband and I share the cooking and I just love the madness and excitement in the house with the cheesy Christmas music playing in the background and a bottle of bubbles open.”
And for dessert?
“Well I’m going to be making a recipe from my new book Coast for dessert. It’s an Irish whiskey crème brûlée (click here for the recipe). Rich, decadent and completely divine, just perfect for the big meal. Of course you could use Scotch instead, if you prefer.”
Tips for cooking Christmas dinner
We’ve had some excellent pointers and tips from our chefs this year for those cooking Christmas dinner themselves. We asked Rachel the same question. What tips would she pass on?
“I think it’s good to write down an order of work. Do this before the big day itself, sometime when you’re not hassled and stressed! This will be a great help for you in the kitchen as you will have written down in which order to cook things and at what temperature or for how long. It sounds obvious but on the day itself with all the excitement – and a glass of bubbles on top of all that – some things can get forgotten!
“I always think food looks better with a bit of old-fashioned ‘garnish’ on the plate. Something like a fresh small sprig of flat parsley, bay or rosemary sitting prettily on the plate – which, by the way, should be nice and warm and completely free of splashes or finger marks around the rim – will make the food look much better.”
What to do with those yummy Christmas leftovers then? We’ve had suggestions for all sorts of tasty treats, with Turkey Bubble and Squeak (with sprouts!) probably wnning it for us so far. So, what does Rachel recommend to use up all of those Christmas leftovers?
“Oh my goodness, I sometimes think that the leftovers at Christmas are nearly as good as the main meal itself!”
“I love the ham, turkey and stuffing sandwiches on Christmas night with lots of mayonnaise and tomato relish, and then the turkey and ham pie that we usually make on Boxing Day (St. Stephen’s day in Ireland), and then the gorgeous stock made from the bones that will be great for a soup.”
Thank to Rachel for taking the time to speak with us.
Her latest book, Coast, is available now.