Christmas dinner, that most celebrated of roasts, is possibly the most stressful meal to prepare of the year, and if you’re donning the apron this year, it’s about time you got started.
The recipe for a calm Christmas begins with plenty of preparation.
The Food Standards Agency’s Freezer Fairy gave us all the best tips to get your Christmas dinner sorted.
Late November: start planning
Start planning and thinking about the meals you’d like to eat over the Christmas period, planning the ingredients you will need and writing a shopping list.
You can also build in ideas for creating meals from leftovers.
Think about how many people you’ll be cooking for and how big the portion sizes should be.
Try using a portion planner which covers all sorts of foods and tells you how much you need to cook, so that you can avoid the temptation of buying too much.
Early December: get friendly with your fridge and freezer
Think about what could be cooked in advance and frozen to save time on the big day. Both cooked and packaged foods can be frozen.
Cold temperatures slow the growth of germs so make sure your fridge is running at the correct temperature - below 5°C.
Six days before Christmas: start preparing the turkey
If your fridge is looking overcrowded think about how you can use your freezer to store some items so that there is plenty of space in the fridge for the turkey.
You could also move beer, wine, and unopened jars to the shed or garage to make way for perishable foods.
If you’re using a frozen turkey, check the instructions on the packaging and make sure you check how long it will take to defrost it safely.
If there aren’t any, use the following times to work out roughly how long it will take to thaw your turkey:
- In a fridge at 4°C (39°F), allow around 10-12 hours per kg, but remember that not all fridges will be this temperature, especially if they are very full.
- If it is not possible to defrost your turkey in the fridge, the next best alternative is in a cool room (below 17.5°C, 64°F); allow approximately three to four hours per kg, or longer if the room is particularly cold.
- As a last resort, if your turkey won’t fit in your fridge without touching other products, and you don’t have a cool/outside room, then you can consider placing in a large dish and covering and placing in the coolest part of your kitchen away from other foods.
Make sure you don’t spread germs while handling the turkey. Don’t wash your raw turkey under the kitchen tap or defrost it in a bowl of water as this can splash germs around your kitchen. Make sure that you wash everything that has touched your raw turkey (e.g. hands, utensils and work surfaces) with soap and hot water.
Ensure you allow enough time for your turkey to cook. There should be no pink meat in the thickest parts and it should be steaming hot with the juices running clear.
You can use a pop-up cooking thermometer (which is left in the turkey while it cooks).This should be placed in the thickest part of the turkey (between the breast and the thigh) from the start.
You’ll know your turkey is cooked when the thermometer ‘pops’ and has reached a temperature of 70C for more than two minutes.
Post-Christmas: dealing with leftovers
Cool and cover leftovers, and ensure that they go into the fridge or freezer within 1-2 hours (for rice dishes, cool quickly and put in the fridge or freezer within 1 hour).
If you have a lot of one type of food, splitting it into smaller portions will help it to cool quicker and means you can freeze and defrost only what you need for future dishes.
Leftovers should be eaten or frozen within two days (one day for rice dishes).
If you make a new meal such as curry or casserole from the leftovers, then you can also freeze this, even if you are using turkey that was originally frozen.
Make sure that when you come to use frozen leftovers, you defrost them thoroughly in the fridge overnight or, if you need to use them immediately, use a microwave (on the defrost setting) and then reheat until steaming hot.
Cooked meat that you have frozen should only be reheated once after it has been taken out of the freezer and fully defrosted.
If you are having people over for buffets or parties post-Christmas, make sure you only take food out of the fridge at the time when guests are ready to eat and only as much as you think you’ll use. Put food back in the fridge as soon as you can, ideally within two hours. It is better to replenish dishes throughout the party than to put all the food out at once.