1. Start the day with a good bacon sandwich. You’ll be knocking back the champagne, so it’s sensible to get something in your stomach to get you through.
2. Make sure your bird will fit in the oven and you have a roasting dish large enough. Seriously, it’s happened to me before – big bird, small oven. One year, our oven broke, too. We ended up carving up the raw turkey and stir-frying it.
3. Less is more if you’re hosting Christmas for the first time. You don’t have to do it all, menu-wise or physically. Delegate to survive! Anyone who likes to chat, give them some peeling and they can talk to you at the same time. Give your creative friends the job of dressing the table and the person you like least the washing-up. Only joking.
4. Be prepared. Everyone laughed at it, but for me making a Gantt chart was key to learning how to cook a big Christmas lunch on time. Work backwards from your intended serving time and be realistic about how long peeling veg etc will take.
5. Don’t try to cram everything into the same oven. The turkey should rest for an hour, loosely covered in tin foil and tea towels, giving you an empty oven in which to roast potatoes and other trimmings.
6. Don’t truss the bird – keep the legs loose and hanging free. The leg bones conduct the heat through the thighs, which take more cooking than the breast meat. If you truss it, by the time the legs are cooked, the breast meat will be dry.
7. Make your stuffing in advance and refrigerate it. Sweat onions and celery for 15 minutes, add breadcrumbs that have had an hour to soak up full-fat milk, stick in an egg or two, and use butcher’s sausage meat with an unconscionable amount of salt. Sage should be fresh rather than dried, which is disgusting.
8. Don’t skimp on the gravy – in my family there is never enough. My brother only makes gravy from the cooking juices, so by the time his children have flooded their plates with this precious liquor, I’m left with a couple of dabs. I always make a simple chicken gravy a few days before, bolstered up with mushrooms, thyme and sherry, and then blended smooth. It’s ready to go as is, and I then add the roasting juices. If you are really pushed for time, there is a brilliant instant madeira gravy mix from Crosse & Blackwell. Speaking of which, don’t be embarrassed about using the supermarket or other sources of readymade food.
9. Add some redcurrant jelly to your gravy. I make my own jelly every year, but you can buy it. Thicken the meat juices with cornflour and add a big glug of red wine and some stock – a cube is fine. When the gravy is cooked through, add a couple of tablespoons of jelly, taste and adjust the seasoning. Great gravy every time.
10. For extra-crispy roasties, add half a teaspoon of baking soda to the water in which you boil them. The higher pH breaks the pectin down more quickly, giving you fluffier edges and more surface area to crisp up.
11. Cooks’ muslin will keep your turkey moist. It needs to be big enough to double and go over the turkey – a metre should do it. Melt a pack of butter in a large pan and soak the muslin in it. Season the turkey, putting more butter and seasoning or herbs under the skin. Drape the muslin over the turkey to enclose it completely.
12 Gin is the solution. Just when things started to get stressful, oven smoking and pans bubbling, my dad would pour me the strongest G&T imaginable. Then I didn’t care if anyone liked their dinner or not.