With the holidays around the corner, it's time to start planning the perfect meal for Crimble. And to avoid the chances of dry turkey or burnt potatoes, we sat down with the best-of-the-best in the city so you can cook up a meal sure to sleigh. Find out the Do's and Don'ts of Christmas with Leo Kattou from Simpsons Restaurant, The Wilderness' Alex Claridge and Carters of Moseley's Brad Carter.
What’s your idea of the perfect Christmas dinner? Staying in or going out?
Brad: So for years, I always worked on Christmas and I’ve never had the day off until last year. Having it had it off in 2020 for me, it was perfect to stay in and just use my skills to cook at home and celebrate.
Leo: My perfect Christmas dinner is sitting around the Christmas table with all my nephews, forgetting about work and just enjoying the day off. For me, the day is all about watching the kids open presents and having fun.
Alex: My eternal goal is to keep Christmas a low-key as possible so I would absolutely stay in – I don’t wish to leave the house. With regards to food; simplicity is bliss and I don’t wish to spend half my day in the kitchen, nor anyone else for that matter. I have a total indifference to turkey and, indeed, roasts, so – whilst my other half will demand some of the trimmings – my wish list is always just good steak, red wine and cheese.
How do you make your side dishes a little more sexy? We’re talking Brussels sprouts, potatoes…
Brad: Two years ago, I recently discovered deep-fried sprouts. You have to fry them in duck fat, quarter them and then dress them in lemon juice, olive oil and black pepper. They’re unbelievably amazing. We do them at our kebab shop in Manchester and pair them with smiley face potatoes as sides to shawarma kebabs.
Leo: Add more butter to it....but also you can spruce things up a bit by making simple changes. For example, instead of just boiled sprouts, you can fry bacon off and toss them in a bit of bacon. You can also add some chestnuts to stuffing to make it a little less plain and boring. Then for roasted potatoes, definitely finish them off with some fresh thyme and rosemary.
Alex: However many side dishes you’re planning, half it. Plough your effort and budget into better ingredients. Sexy? Roast potatoes in beef fat does it for me, we will have some traditional roasties, but I will usually make pommes anna. Is that sexy enough? Sprouts will take all manner of bastardisation – Alsace bacon, citrus glaze, chilli, XO. You name it. Or just order very good truffle and throw money at the problem. That’s what Christmas is now, right?
If there’s one expensive item, ingredient, or utensil to splash the cash on this season, what would you recommend?
Brad: I would say a really nice carving knife. If you’re going to be roasting birds or cutting into any beef Wellingtons, you’re going to need something really sharp. I recommend using a custom knife made by independent sellers. And the nice thing about purchasing it is that it’s for life too, so you can use it all year round.
Leo: I'm going to go the opposite route and say one thing that's not expensive at all - a probe cooking thermometer because there's nothing worse than an overcooked dry turkey. You just need some oven trays, a few pots and pans, and a cooking probe thermometer. And that's it.
Alex: Please, this year, either sharpen your knives or ask Santa for a solid set. It’ll save you time, bloodshed and significantly help your carving abilities. Else, please for the love of all things holy, stop buying supermarket cheeseboards. Visit a cheesemonger and cheat on the mild cheddar on a digestive biscuit. You deserve better.
Do you have a top tip for veganising a Christmas dinner?
Brad: It’s not my specialist area, but something people can do is take heritage beetroots and make a Wellington out of it. Wrap them in a pastry, salt-bake the beetroot, and then use different coloured purple and yellow beets, so when you half them, you can put the opposing colours together and then wrap them back up in the pastry. Maybe add some kale leaves and then use a plant-based butter when you go to bake it. It’s a nice dish to make and it is quite technical still.
Leo: With vegan food, you're using very natural ingredients, so it's just about making sure the seasoning is on point. I'm a big fan of smoked nuts, so utilising them in a nut roast is fantastic. It gives them that smoky flavour. Also, when you're doing your vegetables, just finish them off with some nice herbs to liven them up a bit.
Alex: Don’t do it.
Tell us all about your biggest Christmas Day disaster in the kitchen.
Brad: Never in the kitchen, but there was one year, we were so busy on Christmas Eve and I needed to do individual beef Wellingtons for every customer on Christmas Day. Because we were so busy on Christmas Eve, we didn’t have time to prepare them, so I worked through the night and finished at 6:15am and went to sleep for 1 ½ hours and then went back to work. So that’s as close to a disaster as it gets.
Leo: 100% If anyone doesn't say they haven't, they're lying. Mine was definitely when I forgot to put the roasted potatoes in the oven. I'm from a Greek background so Christmas Day for us is a LOT of people. And I was about 15 minutes from being done with the cooking when I saw I forgot to put them in the oven, so I had to quickly chalet fry them in the pan to quickly get them going and then bang them in the oven. They ended up being 10 minutes late.
Alex: I can’t go into details but it involved a Challans duck, no trousers and two bottles of wine before midday. Not my finest hour but I’d suggest you pace yourself on the vino.
What’s your favourite festive drink?
Brad: We’ve done a really nice version of eggnog before at the restaurant and made it into a dessert. It can be a welcome drink for your guests or you can turn the flavour profile into a crème Brulee.
Leo: Not a cocktail, but it's been a tradition for a few years now with me and mum. Get a good bottle of Champagne and open it for breakfast on Christmas morning, it's the best.
Alex: Glug of whisky into your morning coffee. Your family will never know.
Last one and it's a fun one, what’s your top tip for a smooth festive feast with the in-laws?
Brad: Always cook something they like! Do your research and let them choose the menu beforehand. That’s the best tip I can give.
Leo: It's Christmas Day. Everyone should be relaxed. Enjoy it, after all, that's what cooking is about - having fun.
Alex: To ensure familial harmony, try your very best to not be yourself this Christmas. I will be enduring the entire festive season in full character as a mild-mannered retired Geography teacher called Hamish.