Everything you can make ahead for a stress-free traditional Christmas dinner

Man cooking a Christmas dinner

If you’re desperately trying to juggle opening presents and supervising excited children with trying to prepare and cook Christmas dinner, things can get stressful fast!

But, it doesn’t have to be that way.

The secret to a traditional dinner, say top chefs, is to prepare most of the Christmas dinner beforehand – and that doesn’t mean on Christmas Day morning, but days or even weeks in advance. That way, you can relax come the big day, knowing most of the food simply needs heating up .

“Doing the majority of the work for Christmas dinner in advance means you can actually relax and enjoy the big day,” says Adam Smith, executive chef at Coworth Park, including Michelin-starred Woven by Adam Smith.

“Why spend Christmas morning peeling potatoes and stuffing a turkey, with all the clearing up that comes with it, when you could be opening presents, having a glass of champagne, and spending time with your family?

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“So much of the prep for Christmas dinner can be done in advance, that cooking on the day can be simple and stress-free,” Smith points out. “By being prepared, you can also free-up precious fridge, oven and hob space for when its most needed.”

Like the sound of this approach? These are some of the foods chefs say can easily be prepared before Christmas Day.

1. A fishy starter

Smith recommends a fish starter. “For me, the perfect Christmas Day starter is a prawn, crab or lobster cocktail,” he says. “You can prep the shellfish the day before and mix up the Marie Rose sauce, then it’s just a simple assembly job on the day.”

2. Turkey tips

Smith says the best way to ensure perfectly cooked turkey breast and leg meat is to cook the two parts separately, and all the prep can be done a day or two in advance.

“Remove the legs from the bird, debone them and bash out to flatten,” he explains. “In the middle of each, place a stuffing made from sausage meat, sage, onions, chestnuts and dried apricots, roll them up and wrap in foil. Put the same stuffing under the skin of the turkey crown, and chill.

“On the day, roast both the legs and the crown for about 90 minutes, then remove from the oven and rest for a further 90 minutes [check specific timing details if you have a bigger bird] – this leaves the oven free to roast your potatoes and parsnips. Once they’re cooked, and just before serving, remove the foil from the turkey legs, and place back in the oven with the crown, for 10 minutes or so, to crisp up the skin.”

3. Great gravy


Cook, recipe writer and presenter Sophie Wyburd points out that gravy can be made now and frozen until Christmas Day.

“Prepping in advance is the key to not having a meltdown on Christmas Day,” she says. “Gravy can be made well in advance, by roasting chicken wings and using the caramelised bits from the base of the pan to give the sauce oomph. It can be frozen for months before the day, and reheated while your meat rests and final dinner bits roast.

“You can pour any extra cooking juices from your bird into the gravy to give it some extra flavour and tie it all together. This way, you aren’t flapping around at the final stage, and instead can be relaxing with everyone else.”

4. Perfect roast potatoes

Smith says: “For me, the way to perfect roast potatoes is to cook them from frozen – and this has the added advantage that you can prep them a week or two in advance. Just peel, portion and par boil your potatoes, fluff them up in the pan, then lay them on a large tray in the freezer, ensuring they’re not touching. Then on the day, get some duck fat nice and hot in your roasting dish, very carefully place in the frozen potatoes, and cook until perfectly golden and crispy.”

5. Simple sprouts

It’s easy to prep Brussels sprouts the day before, says Smith: “Par boil them the day before, then plunge straight into iced water to stop them discolouring, and leave in the fridge. On the day, sauté them in a pan with smoked bacon, a little duck fat and chestnuts.”

6. Ready veg

Family having Christmas dinner
A little prep goes a long way at Christmas (Alamy/PA)

Don’t be peeling veg on Christmas Day – do it all the day before, advises Smith. “All other veg that you’re going to boil or roast from raw can be peeled and prepped the day before, then stored in water in the fridge – parsnips, carrots etc,” he says.

7. Don’t forget the cranberry sauce

Cranberry sauce, with its sugar, spices and orange juice, can be made up to a week ahead and stored in the fridge, Smith suggests.

8. And bread sauce

Although it probably shouldn’t be made quite as far ahead as cranberry sauce, you can start prepping bread sauce on Christmas Eve, says Smith. “You can infuse the milk the day before, then combine with the breadcrumbs on the day,” he explains.

9. Matured Christmas pud

Christmas cake and Christmas pudding are both best made a long time in advance – in fact, you could make next year’s now! Smith says: “Christmas pudding is great when made in July or August, or even better, use one from the year before.”

Do you have any shortcuts for Christmas? Why not share them in the comments section below?

Also read: Weird facts about the humble Christmas pudding

Written by Lisa Salmon

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