Allyson Gofton's Christmas flavours
The festive day is just around stress corner. For one day of merriment, we certainly load the stress on ourselves — guest list (family squabbles included), presents for those loved (and not-so loved), table setting and seating plan, wine choice, is it to be lunch or dinner?
The list goes on — and it’s all for one meal! Will the centrepiece be turkey or maybe a turducken— a boned chicken, wrapped up in a boned duck and both encapsulated in a boned turkey, a capacious roast that would be more at home on a hand-hewn, monastery table rather than an Ikea family version.
Turkey will benefit from beginning the cooking breast-side down and turning breast-side-up about halfway through, or just before, to finish cooking. This way the flavours from the stuffing will wander their way down through the breast meat.
Maybe you have chosen a ham to glaze. A wonderful assistant from my time on television told me “a ham is not complete unless there’s alcohol in the glaze — preferably rum”. Good advice that I now never forget, making a glaze with sweet chilli sauce, orange juice, sugar and dark rum, brushing it liberally over a ham covered in sliced oranges.
Secure the orange slices with whole cloves and, if you can, glaze the ham a day or so earlier as the flavours infiltrate the meat. Cooked hams should be kept in a ham bag, or wrapped in a linen tea-towel that is regularly rinsed in cold water to which a good dash of vinegar has been added and the cloth wrung out well before using.
I find carving a half ham easier if you cut generous vertical slices from the back of a leg as opposed to carving from the shank end.
For us this year, the traditional turkey and ham are not on the menu, rather beef eye fillet, slow cooked to rare perfection will feature. I was shown how to cook beef fillet this way by Lois Mills of Rippon Vineyard, who appeared in my first Country Calendar book.
I’d always gone down the sear-and-roast-quickly path, which frustratingly included getting burnt arms from splatters of hot oil as you tried to brown a long cut of beef in a frying pan half the size, (expletives omitted).
This simple manner of slow cooking beef has few rules. Seasoning with salt and pepper is essential, though adding a layer of mustard with herbs, or even marinating is all up to you. The beef should be at room temperature before going into the oven, so it’s essential to take the fillet out of the fridge a good 1½-2 hours before cooking.
Tying it with string will keep it in good shape during the long, slow cooking, which is best done on a shallow-sided tray to ensure even air flow.
Resting allows the meat fibres to reabsorb the juices. A whole Scotch fillet can also be cooked this way, though you will need to add an extra hour’s cooking time. Any favourite sauce — well, not tomato please — will complete the meal.
I’m serving Peter Gordon’s Miso Mustard Sauce, sweet, sharp and hot, and a soft-whipped creamy horseradish and tarragon sauce.
May your Christmas Day be happy and full of delicious memories, whatever you eat.