Okay, so I know I said I plan to be more flexitarian and include more plant-based meals in my diet, but I’m afraid I’m a sucker for the traditional Victorian Christmas, and for me that means full on nostalgia and indulgence.

 

My lead up to the big day started 3 weeks ago when I made my plum duff beer. I take the same elements of a plum duff; the dried fruits, spices and just a little bit of chilli to make a really good heavy beer with the perfume of Christmas. I tend to add chocolate malt to my base malt of maris otter. This gives great bitter notes, rich colour and a nice, dark porter-style beer. It will be ready perfectly in time for Christmas Day.

 

I’ve already got all my chutneys ready that I’ve made throughout the year – apple chutney from the garden, home-made piccalilli and pickled red cabbage. All will go brilliantly with my good fine cheeses, which I’ll enjoy picking out at my local cheese monger, not to mention the ham.

 

I tend to do a glazed ham for the evenings over Christmas. A smoked gammon to be precise. This fills me full of evocative nostalgia for the days as a child when Christmas started in our household 12 days before, with the arrival of the ham, wrapped in brown paper and tied with string, sent by my great Aunt who owned and ran a butcher’s shop in Limerick. I like to bring my ham to the boil in home-made cider, with cloves, bay leaves and cinnamon, leaving it to stand and removing the skin once its cold. I then score the top and bathe in honey, good English mustard and demerara sugar. Whack it in the oven to let it caramelise into a lovely dark mahogany colour…and I’m transported back to the wonderful earthy smells of the familiar, well-used family smokery.

 

On the Big Day

 

Knowing where our meat comes from is important to me. This Christmas I’ve decided it’s got to be locally sourced fore-rib of beef, matured and dry aged for 32 days. I tend to sear it and smother it in butter, thyme and rosemary, maybe a bit of mustard – then in the oven for 20 mins @220 so it colours up, down to 180 until the meat probe reads 54 degrees in the centre – the perfect medium beef!

 

I’ll make the gravy for this on Christmas Eve. I always make a natural jus with veal bones. These I roast off before putting into my large stock pot with carrots, leeks, onions, bay leaves, peppercorns, and loads of a good red wine which I bring to the boil and reduce to a slow simmer for about 6 hours. This pulls the marrow goodness out of the bones to enrich it. Having let it sit all night, I remove the bones and reduce it by three quarters which makes a really intense jus.

 

Christmas Day, and while the beef is resting for a good hour, the gravy takes shape. I tend to put a little bit of flour in with the fat from the roasting juices, cook out and then add a good glug of port, red wine and then add the veal jus. Reduced just enough to coat the back of the spoon and then great to dip yorkies in.

 

Best Yorkie recipe was given to me by Brian Turner years back on a cooking evening together; 1 cup of each: plain flour, milk and eggs. Add salt & pepper, and then simply whisk, it’s okay to have a few lumps, and leave out at room temperature. I use a muffin tin and lard if I’ve got some, into a really hot oven and then watch the kiddies’ faces as you present them.

 

If you want to go veggie this Christmas, use good quality cold pressed rapeseed oil in place of animal fats and maybe go for a vegan suet pudding of slow cooked confit of white onions, roasted field mushrooms with thyme, garlic and oil, layered and wrapped in vegan suet pastry. This is one of my favourites. Sourcing the freshest veg I can find in the local market means I know I can keep it simple and they’ll pair with this or the beef, brilliantly.

 

 

My top tips

 

Whatever you do and however you choose to spend Christmas this year:

  • Keep it simple
  • Don’t feel pressured, it’s your Christmas too.
  • Cook what you want to cook
  • Prepare as much as possible in advance
  • Freezing is a great way to keep Mother Nature’s goodness locked in

(all the veg can be prepped, blanched and frozen, as can gravy)

  • Ask people to bring something to help, if they offer, say “yes please”
  • Don’t go crazy with veggies… but…make sure you have enough roast potatoes
  • Don’t take my word, play around and do your own thing

 

And have a very Happy Christmas!

 

Martin, Head Foodie