Whether you're looking to spice things up this festive season or keep it traditional with a twist, Brighton's chefs are delivering the goods. But it's not just your evenings of dining out they have covered, oh no; this year, we're getting the lowdown on their favourite dishes to cook at home, granting some pearls of wisdom for a smooth home get-together. We present The Do's & Don'ts of Christmas with Steven Edwards of etch., Brice Lenglet from The Salt Room, La Choza's Aoife Sweeney and Steve Beadle at The Coal Shed.
What’s your idea of the perfect Christmas dinner? Staying in or going out?
Steven: Staying in for me. Being at home is a novelty and I love spending time with the family at home; just chilling out. I actually really like cooking at Christmas now that I get it off.
Brice: As a chef, I prefer to stay home. Just to spend time with the family and because you can eat whatever we want and as much as you want. We already spend a lot of time in the restaurant and everything, so just being at home with everyone is the best way to spend Christmas.
Aoife: For me, it's got to be staying in. I'm Irish and back home, you'd be lucky to able to buy a pack of fags at Christmas. The country literally shuts down.
Steve: Christmas dinner should definitely be spent cooking at home. There's no other way to do it I think.
If there’s one expensive item, ingredient, or utensil to splash the cash on this season, what would you recommend?
Steven: It would have to be a bigger fridge. There is never enough room over Christmas with the family round.
Brice: For me, you can't go wrong with a bit of truffle; on your cauliflower cheese or even any dish with a nice meat jus - just to add to your sauce. Also foie gras is very popular in France for a Christmas dish. For home cooking equipment, I think people would really enjoy using a Thermomix because you can do lots of things in one.
Aoife: Pushing the boat out this year? Think a free-range goose from a reputable supplier. After all, it is Christmas and most of us don't cook a goose every day. It's great for leftover bao buns the next day with some pickled cucumber and hot sauce.
Steve: Get yourself a decent turkey, a really nice duck or whatever other meat you're going for. Lots of people buy the frozen stuff and there's just no point having all these lovely sides if you haven't got a really good main event, so definitely don't scrimp there. You'll want to brine your turkey overnight in a salt and sugar solution because that helps keep all the juiciness in when you do cook it. Then you'll want to cook it for 10 hours at 60 degrees, nice and low, so it comes out really moist.
How do you make your side dishes a little more sexy? We’re talking sprouts, potatoes…
Steven: Pimp up your sprouts by chopping them down and cooking them in double cream and finishing with crispy bacon... I like to call them 'heart attack Brussels'.
Brice: I'm French, so for me, I always use butter because for me that gives the flavour. That would be my trick to do all your sides: really rich food, creamy and buttery. For Brussels sprouts, I love to cook with pancetta and some silverskin onion, with a bit of sugar and seasoning to get it nice and caramelised.
Aoife: I'm pretty partial to a roast dinner (who isn't?) so for me it's all about the classic spuds - dusted in a little flour and straight into hot duck or goose fat. They're a winner. Oh, and don't overcook the sprouts - that's when they start to smell like something from a school canteen.
Steve: So I like to caramelise sprouts with butter, pancetta and chestnuts before freshening them up with some gremolata. Then, sloe gin cooked down into the cranberry sauce is another trick of mine.
Can you share your top tip for a vegan Christmas dinner?
Steven: Don't do it!
Brice: As a butter-loving French man, it can be hard to come up with something. But a vegan dish we can definitely cook up is a whole celeriac with a salt crust. This makes it nice and seasoned already, plus it keeps it really moist in there.
Aoife: I think using some luxury items for the vegans can make a meal stand out; a shaving of truffle, for example.
Steve: A really nice vegan Wellington is the way forward - something where there's a great centrepiece that they can enjoy. It'd be great with some squash and wilted spinach too.
Tell us all about your biggest Christmas Day disaster in the kitchen...
Steven: It was a Christmas we spent with my wife's sister... Laura, my wife, wanted to help out on Christmas Eve and cook dinner for everyone. She cooked pizza and when it started cooking, it slid down the back of the oven onto the gas jets at the back and stopped the oven from working. Not only did it ruin dinner that night, but it got us all panicking about Christmas Day and if the oven would work again.
Brice: I have two different stories. Firstly was when my girlfriend got a bit too drunk on the 24th so she didn't start to cook until 6pm on Christmas Day; that's something you definitely should not do. Then the other was when we had quite a lot of food leftover, so we decided to keep some food outside because it was so cold, but unfortunately it froze solid...
Aoife: Oh, it has to be inviting a load of friends to one of my first home-cooked Christmas dinners (many eons ago) and the electric key meter running out. I think the turkey took 14 hours? Whoops.
Steve: There are no disasters in my kitchen...
What’s your favourite festive drink? Do you have an easy go-to cocktail to whip up at home?
Steven: Anything with vermouth in. Have a martini and feel like James Bond...
Brice: So anything with Champagne - by itself, in a cocktail - just Champagne always.
Aiofe: I'm pretty partial to an Irish coffee. Most homes will have the ingredients already and it really finishes off a Christmas dinner with a well-needed whiskey-caffeine hit.
Steve: Mulled wine is a lot easier than people think and that's definitely always on the cards at mine each Christmas. The same for the sloe gin that I put in the cranberry sauce; it can be made at home in advance.
The one we've all been waiting for... what’s your top tip for a smooth festive feast with the in-laws?
Steven: Lots of alcohol!
Brice: So my girlfriend has a huge family that we spend Christmas with, so my top tip - and one I do myself - is to try and find a quiet corner somewhere...
Aoife: Keep the drinks flowing!
Steve: Provide them with as much sherry as possible. Get them boggled so they can at least enjoy themselves and then fall asleep, right?
Wanna know what other chefs are saying? You need to check out The Do's & Don'ts of Christmas in the UK, London, Manchester and Birmingham.