For me, hall Christmas dinner was one of the highlights of first year. It made sense we’d pay homage to our newly adopted family and celebrate Christmas together with the basting of an oversized bird and a vat full of mulled wine. A good excuse to reminisce about the first term’s antics (with much naming and shaming), get a little snozzled and eat pig wrapped in pig; hall Christmas dinner is not to be missed. Staircases seven and eight of Selkirk Hall came together and our twenty strong team of culinarily challenged, blurry eyed students actually produced a feast of a meal (despite my meagre contribution of peeling approximately three whole root vegetables) .
To test some of our recipes we did a dry run of Sunday lunch inviting fifteen of our closest friends. The main learning points were as follows:
It is not normal to look well turned out and completely in control when cooking for this number of people; Delia Smith and Nigella Lawson lie.
It is probably important to have a glass of wine to hand, particularly for the last hour or so of preparation.
There can never be too much meat. Meat wrapped in meat is a particular hit with all. Except vegetarians.
Once everything is cooking and when everyone’s together it is well worth the effort!
Here’s our guide to preparing Christmas dinner. I hope the recipes and tips serve you well!
Citrus and Thyme Turkey
Of all the things to be prepared for our hall Christmas dinner, the turkey (chicken in our case because it worked out to be cheaper!) was the thing that scared everyone the most. After a term of partying hard and sleeping little, our palates were more familiar with Kentucky Fried than home-roasted, and our culinary skills hadn’t quite reached their full potential. Nevertheless someone on our staircase took on the Delia challenge and made an amazing job of it. Once you’ve worked out the correct time to cook the bird given its weight, it’s actually not that scary. Here’s a flavour packed recipe that is easily adapted to chicken:
2 Bunches of thyme or lemon thyme
8 tbsp Olive oil
4.5-5.6kg/10-12lbturkey, thawed if frozen, giblets removed
4 Bay leaves
4 Carrots, halved lengthways and cut into chunks
1 Large onion roughly chopped
Stuffing (homemade or bought)
Chop the leafy tops of the thyme (set aside the woody branches for later). Finely grate orange and lemon zest into the same bowl. Add olive oil and seasoning, mash the mix with a spoon to active the flavours and set aside to infuse.
Heat the oven to 190C/Gas5. Put the stuffing into the neck of the bird and push it towards the breast. Stuffing will expand when cooking, so don’t overfill! Secure the neck flap with a skewer.
Weigh the stuffed turkey and calculate the cooking time (18 mins per 450g).
Season the turkey generously inside and out. Halve the orange and lemon and put it in the cavity, (squeeze the fruit as it goes in) along with the remaining thyme branches and 2 bay leaves.
Put the chopped carrots, onion and remaining bay leaves into a large roasting tin. Sit the turkey on top of the vegetables and smear the butter over the skin. For a really tender turkey you can add the same amount of butter under the skin from the neck.
Cover with a loose tent of foil. Roast the turkey for the calculated time, basting with the pan juices every hour. Half an hour before the turkey’s ready remove the foil and leave to brown. After 15 mins drizzle with the thyme oil.
How to know if the turkey is cooked: Insert a skewer into the thickest part of the thigh. The juices should run clear. If they’re still pink, then cook for a further 20-30mins and test again. A turkey of this size should take about 3 ½ hrs.
Roast potatoes make or break a Sunday roast for me. Should Christmas dinner disaster strike, the loss of the turkey would be nothing compared to the loss of perfectly golden crunchy on the outside, fluffy on the inside roasties. Some people swear by goose or duck fat. Whilst running out to the Serpentine might be a cost effective method of acquiring our own, as students, I think butter will do just fine. My trick is a mixture of vegetable oil for crispiness and animal fat for flavour with a sprinkling of flour to create those extra crunchy edges.
16 Potatoes (Desiree, King Edward, Maris Pipers are all good)
2 tbsp Plain flour
150g Butter/Goose or Duck fat/dripping
3 tbsp Sunflower or vegetable oil
Salt for seasoning
Heat over to 190C. Peel potatoes and cut in half or leave whole if they’re small. I recommend leaving them relatively large so they’re manageable.
In a saucepan cover with cold water and bring to the boil. Allow to boil for 2 mins.
Drain and then toss in the colander to fluff up their surfaces. This will create that crunch. Sprinkle over the flour as you go and finish with a good sprinkle of salt for seasoning.
On the hob, place a large roasting tray over high heat and add the fat and oil. When sizzling add the potatoes and brown for 5mins, turning occasionally so that all sides are covered in fat and getting a bit of colour.
Roast for an hour, taking the tray out every 20 mins and turning the potatoes to allow them to cook evenly.
Roasted Autumn Veg
When the mulled wine is flowing and you’re panicking trying to cook your first ever turkey, a one roasting dish recipe like this makes life a little easier. It combines all the usual Christmas dinner suspects; carrots, parsnips, red onion and potatoes. But infused with thyme and whole garlic cloves roasted in their skins, suddenly veg is no longer a dreaded obstacle to the meaty star of the Christmas dinner plate. With minimal preparation, you can throw them all in a pan together and once in the oven can forget about them until you’re ready to serve.
8 Large carrots
100g of New Potatoes
4 Red onions
Cloves of 1 bulb of garlic, in their skins
6 Springs of thyme
5 tbsp of vegetable oil
Salt and pepper to season
Cut the carrots and parsnips into chunky portions (batons 1.5 x 1.5cm, 5cm in length).
Quarter the red onions. Cut in half again if they are large onions.
Slice the new potatoes in half. Leave whole if they are small.
Peel the outer layer of the garlic and separate into cloves, leaving them in their skins.
Combine all in a roasting tray. Pour over the oil and seasoning and evenly spread the thyme throughout the tray. Toss the vegetables to ensure even coating in oil.
Roast in an oven at 190˚C for 1hr 15 mins. Toss at regular intervals.
Garnish with fresh thyme and/or chopped fresh parsley when you serve.