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Talking Turkey: The Best Tips for Christmas Dinner

P oor old Prue Leith lurches from one “controversy” to another. Having inadvertently revealed the winner of the most recent series of Bake Offhours before the final show aired, the cookery writer now stands accused of raising “fears over food safety” by admitting she “cheats like anything” at Christmas; she has a boned, stuffed turkey stashed in the freezer ready for the big day. As the Daily Mail was quick to point out, a stuffed turkey “is harder to defrost properly and takes longer to cook through. If it is not thoroughly defrosted and cooked, there is a risk of food poisoning from bugs such as salmonella and campylobacter.”

Well, duh: as if Prue – a former Michelin-starred restaurateur whose cookery school has taught generations of people their way around the kitchen – doesn’t know that. As no doubt she would confirm, a turkey should be taken out of the freezer at least a day in advance of cooking, two in the case of very large or ready-stuffed birds, to allow for thorough thawing. Ideally, this should be done in the fridge, but if that is stuffed fuller than the bird then a cool, dry place such as a garage or the boot of a car will do.

Even if you freeze only the stuffing at this point, you will be giving yourself one fewer thing to do on the big day. While you are at it, preparing roast potatoes up to the point when you would usually put them in the oven, then freezing them on a baking tray, yields surprisingly good results – indeed, the team at Sainsbury’s magazine reckons it makes them extra crunchy. The same goes for parsnips: stick them next to those pigs in blankets you wrapped earlier.

Cranberry sauce can be prepared a week in advance and kept in the fridge; bread sauce a couple of days ahead. Gravy can be chilled or frozen (although I would recommend getting in some really good chicken stock instead: it is a shame to waste all those lovely roasting juices). Sprouts can be parboiled or steamed until al dente on Christmas Eve, chilled and then reheated by being sauteed in a hot pan until they just begin to char. If you are a braised red cabbage person, you will know that it is even better a few days old.

The Christmas pudding, of course, should have been made and steamed weeks ago – but if you are not Bake Off material you may well be planning to microwave a shop-bought one. Serve it with the brandy butter you made a few days ago, a good ready-made custard or (best of all) vanilla ice-cream – and be glad you don’t have Paul Hollywood breathing down your neck this Christmas. I am sure Prue is.

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