Looking for ways to jazz up your festive feasting this year? We talk to some of Manchester's most celebrated chefs as they reveal their top tips on how to make the big day as special as possible. From perfectly crispy roast spuds to terrible disasters in the kitchen, we present The Do's And Don'ts Of Christmas from Simon Wood of WOOD, Stosie Madi from The Parkers Arms, Mana's Simon Martin and Adam Reid of The French.
What’s your idea of the perfect Christmas dinner? Staying in or going out?
Simon W: Because I like cooking, I’m fond of staying in. If I go out, there's just too much sitting down for me and, if I'm honest, I really like to be at home and in charge of what I'm doing with my family and friends around.
Stosie: Staying in with my family and tucking into a slow-roasted, jewelled rice-stuffed lamb breast with garlic yoghurt sauce.
Simon M: There's a lot to be said for both really, isn't there? I think the problem with going out is, well, it's nice and saves the washing up, but for me, it's not a real Christmas if it's not at home.
Adam: Staying in and having a family dinner cooked by me in my own house.
What are some fun ways to make your side dishes a little more sexy? We're talking Brussels sprouts, potatoes...
Simon W: There are loads of different ways to do it, but a perfect roast potato is the most important thing. You'll want to use redskin potatoes, which you'll need to boil to death so that they're all mushy around the edges, then leave them to cool. Make sure your oil is at 200 degrees, I use goose fat, and add in rosemary and half a bulb of garlic, then fry it off and take it out again. It's important not to leave them in otherwise they'll burn. Then add your potatoes into the flavoured oil and roast them until golden. When there's just 10 minutes to go, add some fresh thyme, rosemary, salt and pepper. As for the other sides, we all know that Brussel sprouts love loads of butter, but I also like to add bacon fat, chopped parsley and grated chestnuts.
Stosie: Potatoes are parboiled, tossed in a crispy bacon and polenta crumb then roasted in hot oil. Brussels should be sliced very thinly and tossed in brown butter with toasted pine nuts and a squeeze of fresh lemon. Or cut in half and roasted in brown butter until very caramelised and sweet, then tossed with some crumbled blue cheese. This is delicious with a roast beef rib.
Simon M: Each family has its preferences, my tip would be, just don't make it bland! And I think the biggest thing with Christmas dinner if you're cooking it at home, is just don't make it complicated. Make sure it's cooked properly and just concentrate on getting the basics right. I think there's a lot of refinement in simplicity. I'd rather have three things made well than 10 things that are done elaborately and wrong.
Adam: I keep the options simple, but make each vegetable more interesting by turning it into its own side dish. E.g. creamed sprouts and bacon with toasted almonds, parsnips in honey and a chestnut glaze, and red cabbage braised with apples.
Can you share your top tip for veganising a Christmas dinner?
Simon W: It's actually quite easy. Soy milk and vegan Flora create a nice emulsion, so you can make a great bread sauce that would go with a traditional nut roast. For the sprouts, you can use vegan bacon, vegan Flora, chestnuts and lots of parsley and fragrant herbs. And even if you don't want to make your own gravy, Bisto is now fully vegan, isn't it?
Stosie: Any Indian, Middle Eastern and African spread-like meals with an array of hot and cold dishes served mezza style to accompany a meat roast. Variety for all.
Simon M: I'm the wrong person to ask for that, we don't do vegans in the restaurant so I don't have any if I'm honest.
Adam: Buy it in!
If there’s one expensive item, ingredient, or utensil to splash the cash on this season, what would you recommend?
Simon W: It’s got to be a really good all-purpose chef's knife, around six to eight inches long. It's great for loads of things - it also saves you time as you get more precise cuts.
Stosie: Oysters and caviar are always a winner, and the saltiness always works with beef.
Simon M: Oysters are always a good one. If you can buy some a few days ahead of time and store them well in your fridge, it's nice to have them when everyone has a glass of bubbles before lunch gets started. Also, make sure you buy your meat from a butcher or you go to a fishmonger for your fish. Or from an organic market, we've got a really good one in Chorlton called Unicorn. Yeah, so in terms of luxury items, I would say either oysters or a bit of duck liver. Or I'd say beef instead of turkey for the main course, and a little bit of pan-seared foie gras with it.
Adam: A big Le Creuset roasting dish.
Tell us about your biggest Christmas Day disaster in the kitchen...
Simon W: Once we opened the turkey and it was off. Normally, I'd cook everything the day before and then just warm it all back through. But on this occasion, I didn’t. I was driving around all the shops trying to find different bits of turkey, something like turkey rolls and stuff like that, just so that we could get some food on the plate for Christmas dinner.
Stosie: Enjoying Christmas “brunch” too much and falling asleep...
Simon M: So... I've actually never cooked Christmas dinner because it's like a busman's holiday. I'd rather my mum does it - haha! It is what it is. She's not the best cook in the world, but at least I get the day off. So I actually haven't had a disaster. I think the worst thing for me though, is if I were to overcook the beef because I was too busy socialising or got caught up with one of my nieces and nephews and forgot about it.
Adam: Having to work.
Do you have an easy Christmas cocktail to whip up at home?
Simon W: Ooh, now you’re testing me. Me and Alysia Vasey, the forager for my restaurant, make a really good gin cocktail. We put elderflower in there, a little touch of lemon, some mint - it's really light and fragrant.
Stosie: Bramble fizz is a winner. Toss an array of berries in a little sugar, and add a splash of cognac and a bay leaf the night before, then allow to macerate. Before using, discard the bay leaf, then gently crush the berries, spoon the mixture into coupes or flutes and top with a good fizz.
Simon M: How about a festive negroni? So, a negroni is obviously just three ingredients, but after you've mixed those, give it a good shake with a couple of cinnamon sticks - it's spot on.
Adam: Mulled wine or a snowball!
What's your top tip for a smooth festive feast with the in-laws?
Simon W: Don't let the mother in law wash up. That's the best way to go about it. I work in hospitality, being hospitable is what I am, I like making sure that people are looked after. If you've got guests around at your house that want to help with the washing up, that's fine. But other than that, sit them down, get them a drink and some great food, and put some Christmas music on.
Stosie: Don’t invite them.
Simon M: Maybe ask them what they want before you go ahead with your menu. Have a chat about food and find out what they really like. If your in-laws are from the country, see if there are any farm shops around that they really like. Just make it a bit more personalised.
Adam: Lots of mulled wine and snowballs!