Celebrity chef Tony Tobin's Christmas dinner tips
PUBLISHED: 11:39 23 December 2010 | UPDATED: 10:31 21 February 2013
Celebrity chef Tony Tobin, owner of The Dining Room in Reigate, shares his secrets to a stress-free family feast on the big day
Originally published in Surrey Life magazine December 2008
Tony Tobin on the perfect vegetarian Christmas dinner
With commendable regularity, Christmas is upon us once again. I'm not sure if time feels like it's speeding up because I'm getting older - or I'm getting older because time really is speeding up. Whichever it is, this is the one time of year when the increasing speed of my life isn't cause for concern because I LOVE Christmas (enough in fact to use emphatic capital letters on a word in my column for the first time in 2008).
Maybe we will all be pulling in our belts this year given that our credits have been so comprehensively crunched for the last six months but my hunch is that we might all decide to buck the trend and make this year extra special instead.
Across the table
Happiness is about spending quality time with people we like and love. Preferably, that time will be at a nice restaurant, but in my years of experience as a chef, anywhere across a table will do. And that's why Christmas is so special.
You might have noticed that Bisto has picked up on the 'sharing a meal' theme in their advertising recently. They launched a pledge - aimed at busy fathers it seems - where families promise to eat together at least once a week. I think they twigged on to three things: 1) really good meals involve lots of chatter 2) they take longer than ten minutes to eat and 3) that gravy tends to be a component of such meals in Britain.
They are right. Roast dinners do seem to come with a hidden portion of family glue. They help people to remain seated at the table for longer than it takes to consume the food that's served while also bringing out a desire for family discussion. This usually involves putting either the world, the family or soap opera plots to rights. Christmas lunch or dinner takes the same phenomenon and puts it on steroids.
It is truly the one meal of the year when you can guarantee that both adults and children will sit together for at least an hour. Okay, so mum and dad will usually be bouncing up and down to check sprouts, baste roast potatoes or refill glasses but the core of the family will be round the table.
With careful planning and a bit of theatrical talent, you can even extend Christmas lunch to three or four hours. Start with a glass of champagne. Serve a light amuse-bouche, add in a similarly light starter, carve with a little theatre, build up to the entrance of the pudding and then let the meal drift away in a wash of charades, mince pies, port, cracker toys and Belgian chocolates.
Stone Age pleasures
Carving is one of the highlights of Christmas lunch for me. I think it's a primal, Stone Age thing. You can't help but feel a bit like a successful hunter-gatherer who has returned with a prize kill and gets to soak up the adoration of his tribe as he divides the spoils. It's also the reason why I think that this meal is often somewhat downbeat for vegetarians - carving a nut cutlet doesn't really cut it in the hunter-gatherer stakes!
So, as I'm sure Surrey Life will contain more than a little traditional Christmas fare this month, I'm going to take a chef's prerogative and break ranks to offer the vegetarians among you a truly carveable alternative that will allow you to stand at the head of the table with a primeval glow of pride.
For the rest of you, take a look at my honey-roasted veggie loaf recipe on the right because it is based on a simple idea that can be adapted in all sorts of ways at other times of the year - particularly December when returning home to a plate of salad just doesn't cut it.
It's also a brilliant way of using up any Christmas leftovers.
As I close my year of kitchen diaries, I would also like to indulge for a moment and say a big 'thank you' to my Surrey Life readers. Lots of you have chatted to me about this column and made suggestions and comments. Thank you all. I enjoy writing it and I hope you've had a chance to try a few of my recipes and that they've brought a little extra colour to your plates and palates.
I'd like to wish all of you - and your families - a happy, peaceful and gastronomic Christmas and a prosperous New Year, whatever the credit crunch throws at us!
Tony Tobin's honey roast Christmas loaf recipe
I use many different stuffings for this loaf. My veggie friends love it and I themed this one around Christmas lunch.
- 1 x small sour-dough round loaf (Cut off the top, save it and then hollow the middle and turn into breadcrumbs)
- 2 carrots, one quarter of a small swede, 60g butter (Roughly chop carrots and swede, put in a pan with the butter and simmer, then cover with water. Drain and crush with a masher. Season with salt and pepper)
- One quarter of a red cabbage shredded, 1 glass red wine, 2 tablespoons blackberry jam, 60g butter (Place all together in a pan and simmer until soft and sticky)
- 10 sprouts, 6 mushrooms (sliced), 1 teaspoon sesame oil, 1 teaspoon soy sauce (Shred the sprouts and fry in the sesame oil with the mushrooms. Add soy and season)
- 3 shallots (finely chopped), 60g butter, a pinch of thyme, a pinch of rosemary, breadcrumbs (Sweat shallots in butter with rosemary and thyme. Add breadcrumbs and mix well)
- Layer the five different fillings inside the bread
- Place the top back on and wrap in cling film
- Allow to rest for 30 minutes
- Remove cling film and roast in oven for 25 minute basting from time to time with 120g butter and 2 tablespoons honey
- Allow 15 minutes rest before slicing
Celebrity chef Tony Tobin, owner of The Dining Room in Reigate, shares his secrets to a stress-free family feast on the big day
- Prepare as many of your vegetables in advance as you can. If you are serving buttered carrots or peas, cook them the day before, butter and season them, then place them into the serving dish and cover with cling film. On the day, simply reheat in the microwave. This will free up space on your cooker.
- When it comes to the turkey, dont stress about the timings to have it cooked at exactly the time you want to eat. It benefits from at least one hours rest. I rest mine upside down so all the juices run into the breast. The meat will still be warm, but make sure your gravy is piping hot.
- Dont be afraid to ask other family members to help. Give them all the jobs you dont want to do; after all, there is no such thing as a free lunch, even at Christmas.
- Lay your table on Christmas Eve. This should be your last job before bed. You will be so pleased in the morning that its already done.
- Dont panic. Your family are there to have a lovely time, not to award Michelin stars. And dont drink too much before they arrive.
- Roughly chop some carrots, leek, onion and celery, then spread them into the bottom of the roasting tray, before placing the turkey on top. When the turkey is cooked, remove it from the tray and make the gravy in the tray with the roasted vegetables. Strain out the vegetables to leave a very tasty gravy indeed.
- Shred your sprouts with a sharp knife and wok fry them in a little sesame oil with smoked bacon and chestnuts and a splash of soy sauce. They will be the talk of the table.
- If you have cooked, under no circumstances should you do the washing up.
- Prepare a Bloody Mary mix for Boxing Day. When you wake up, simply add vodka and use it to wash down a good English breakfast.
- Lock the door securely when your guests have all gone and disconnect your phone. Let the dog out. Sleep well. And, most of all, have a merry Christmas.
Share your own top Christmas tips and favourite recipes by commenting at the end of this piece...
Originally published in Surrey Life magazine December 2009
Tony Tobin's traditional roast turkey for Christmas
Surrey Life's resident celebrity chef Tony Tobin shares his top tips for a traditional Christmas dinner
Have you ever seen the film Big? Or perhaps Freaky Friday? In fact, any of those other body swap movies where after a bolt of lightning an adult suddenly finds they are a childs body or a man in a womans body and vice versa?
Well, this Christmas, through the magic of Tony Tobins typewriter, I bring you something similar. Just in magazine format. It started like this...
Every year, just about every chef who writes anything for a newspaper or magazine receives the same brief during the week after the clocks go back. Editors everywhere are pre-programmed to send out chatty e-mails asking whether it might be possible for us chefs to start thinking about Christmas.
BUT... it must be Christmas with a twist. You know the sort of thing no goose, no turkey, no brandy butter... but rather a fully-fledged Christmas lunch made from Goji berries, fish stock and courgette flowers.
So this year, when true to form the said e-mail arrived, I had been preparing earnestly to throw my best celebrity chef hissy fit, stomp my feet, toss my head and stand my ground no matter what coercion, bribery or threat came my way. For I, Tony Tobin, was going to remain traditional to the last.
Back to basics
Imagine my surprise then when the e-mail in question contained no such thing, and instead asked for a classic approach to Christmas dinner. What? No Goji berries? You mean I can do a traditional Christmas column and recipe without making a scene?
Joking aside, it is in fact a huge relief. Im a man for whom Christmas has always been about watching Its a Wonderful Life (ironically, another body swap sort of movie), mistletoe, mulled wine, advent calendars, hay for the reindeer, sherry for Santa and shout it from the rooftops TURKEY!
So now, instead of waffling on with my thoughts on life, the universe and everything, Im going to take you through my traditional turkey and stuffing recipes to ensure you have a foolproof Christmas lunch.
I would also like to thank you all for reading my column this year. Im always open to ideas and hope that any of you yearning for me to cover a particular subject will write and tell me. Or stop me in the street. Or visit my restaurants!
Whichever it is, enjoy your Christmas traditional or alternative and I hope you all have a wonderful festive break and a prosperous New Year!
Tonys traditional roast turkey recipe
Preparation time: 20 minutes Cooking time: 5 hours Serves: 8 (with enough for leftovers)
- When you get your turkey, remove the giblets. They should be in the body cavity. Then place the uncovered turkey on a plate in the lowest part of the refrigerator. Make sure you know how much it weighs so that you can calculate the cooking time correctly. My timings are for a 14lb (6.5 kg) bird. If you can, try to get a fresh, free-range bird. However, if you can only buy a frozen one, or if its more convenient to do so, try to buy one that has been frozen without added water and dont forget to allow plenty of time for it to defrost slowly and completely. Preferably in your fridge.
- Stuff the turkey with your chosen stuffing preferably my Chestnut and Orange one (see left!). The quantity of stuffing will be the same whatever the size of your turkey. Place stuffing in the neck end between the flesh and the skin, then tuck the neck flap under the birds back and secure it with a small skewer. Spread 6oz (175g) of softened butter all over the bird.
- Lay about 8oz (225g) of streaky bacon rashers over the breast of the bird, overlapping slightly, then season with freshly milled black pepper and a little salt.
- Arrange two large sheets of foil across your roasting tin, one widthways and the other lengthways. Lay the turkey on its back in the middle of the foil then loosely wrap it: the parcel must be firmly sealed but with room for air to circulate around the turkey, creating an oven within the oven. Place in a pre-heated hot oven, gas mark 7, 425F (220C), for 40 minutes this initial blast is so that the heat gets right into the turkey and the stuffing very quickly. Then reduce the oven temperature to gas mark 3, 325F (170C) for 3 hours.
- After this time, remove the turkey from the oven, uncover it and discard any excess foil. Baste with the juices then increase the oven temperature to gas mark 6, 400F (200C). Cook the uncovered turkey for a further 40 minutes once the bacon on top of the turkey has browned you can push it down into the tin to allow the breast to get a final browning.
- After the final 40 minutes, remove the turkey from the oven. Pierce the thickest part of the leg with a skewer then press the skewer against the leg to see if the juices run clear without any trace of pink if the juices are clear, the turkey is cooked. You can also give the legs a little tweak if they feel like theyve got some give in them, then the turkey is done. Cover it loosely with foil and allow it to rest for about 45 minutes before serving it will be fine at kitchen temperature.
Tonys Chestnut and Orange Stuffing
Preparation time: 20 minutes Cooking time: 20 minutes Serves: 8
- 170g pack sage and onion stuffing
- 60g cooked and peeled chestnuts
- 100g fresh breadcrumbs
- 1tsp fresh thyme leaves
- Finely grated zest of two oranges
- 1 chicken stock cube
- 50g butter, plus extra for baking
- 250g pork sausage meat
- Little plain flour for dusting
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Tip the sage and onion stuffing into a large bowl, roughly chop the chestnuts and add to the bowl along with the breadcrumbs, thyme and orange zest.
- Boil one pint of water and dissolve the chicken stock cube in it. Add the butter, stir until melted and pour over the breadcrumb mixture. Stir well.
- When completely cool, add the sausage meat and stir well. Season well with black pepper. You shouldnt need to add any extra salt as most sage and onion stuffing mixes contain quite a lot of salt already check the packet.
- If you like, use half of the stuffing to loosely stuff the cavity of the turkey crown. If you do this increase the cooking time of the bird by 20 minutes.
- With floured hands, roll the rest of the stuffing into balls (a bit smaller than a golf ball). Arrange on a roasting tray and dot each one with a small knob of butter. Cook at 200C for 20 minutes.