CHRISTMAS is a real time of celebration for Maggie Beer. Taking centre place on her well-laden Christmas table is usually roast turkey or goose.
"Going as far back as when I was five or six years old, the really special memories are of food," she says.
"Christmas meant a groaning table topped with the ham and goose plus chooks from our backyard. Gathered around the table would be our family, as well as friends without families of their own who were warmly welcomed."
The Great Australian Bake Off judge shares her last-minute tips for your Christmas Day spread and the secret to the most tender turkey below.
Who better to take advice from than the chef famous for her "way with birds"?
It's less than one week until Christmas, what should our food planners be looking for in preparation for December 25?
Right now I'd be buying the ham to store before glazing and baking closer to Christmas Day, putting in an order for properly brought-up free-range turkey or goose and perhaps even ordering any seafood ahead of time too, if you have a trusted fishmonger. I also try and find the cheeses I'm wanting to have on Christmas Day too, they can be bought now and put aside, along with any staple ingredients like dried fruit, nuts, good extra virgin olive oil, sea salt, anchovies etc. Checking your basic pantry items is worthwhile at this point, you don't want to find you're missing something you need when it may be too late to source it. I also like to think about getting drinks together ahead of time - choosing wines, chilling bubbles etc can all take place now.
How will you be celebrating Christmas this year and what's on the menu?
When it comes to Christmas, I must admit a streak of extravagance - if I am tempted by something special, I'll justify it by saying, "But it's Christmas''. The house will be overflowing with flowers, the cellar will be raided for special wines and if there's enough water in our dam for Colin to catch some yabbies, they'll definitely be on the list. Then we always have roast goose at the centre of the table with lovely salads and vegetables and finish with Christmas pudding. Although I have to admit, our family never manages to eat the Christmas pudding on Christmas Day. What tends to happen is that it's covered well and put back into the fridge. In the evenings that follow it is taken out, a slice at a time, and warmed a little to enjoy with a cup of tea after dinner.
What's the secret to a juicy roast turkey and what are your tips to prevent turkey from drying out?
Because goose was our first choice for Christmas, I'd never actually cooked a turkey until Colin started breeding them for the Christmas market. Of course, these were free-ranged and fed a corn diet, so I changed my mind completely. I think this is one of the most important tips to ensure a beautifully juicy turkey - it must be well-bred in the first place. I've learnt a few extra tricks to cook turkey over the years too - using an oven bag to cook the bird in will make every difference and also resting the turkey once it has been cooked is so important, you can rest it for up to an hour, breast-side down, with a sheet of foil covering it. It will still keep its heat across this time.
And finally, what keeps you sane during the silly season?
While I approach the Christmas season with much excitement, there is still a tinge of panic about how much needs to be done. Despite the huge amount of organisation involved, the one aspect of the season that is never anything other than a true joy for me is thinking about the food for Christmas and the holidays that follow.
ROAST TURKEY WITH PRUNE AND ORANGE STUFFING AND CUMBERLAND SAUCE
1 x 6.6kg free-range corn-fed turkey
1 tsp plain flour
Prune and orange stuffing -
2/3 cup (160ml) extra virgin olive oil
2 large onions, roughly chopped
2 tbs finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 tbs finely chopped rosemary
3 tbs finely chopped lemon thyme
4 cups (280g) loosely packed coarse fresh white breadcrumbs
200g pitted prunes, cut in half
1 x 360g jar Maggie Beer Seville Oranges in Spiced Verjuice Syrup (available from maggiebeer.com.au), finely chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Cumberland sauce -
Finely grated zest of 2 oranges, plus 100ml juice
Finely grated zest of 2 lemons, plus 1/3 cup (80ml) juice
1/3 cup (140g) redcurrant jelly
1 heaped tsp Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 cup (125ml) port
1/2 cup (115g) horseradish cream (available in jars from specialty food stores)
METHOD: To make the Cumberland sauce, place the orange and lemon zest and juice, redcurrant jelly, mustard, ginger and port in a saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, stirring to combine, then cook for 20 minutes or until it thickens a little. Leave to cool completely, then stir in the horseradish cream. Cover with plastic film and refrigerate until needed. Store in a sterilised jar in the fridge for up to one week. (Makes about 1 1/4 cups.)
Preheat the oven to 140C fan-forced (160C conventional).
To make the stuffing, heat the olive oil in a heavy-based non-stick frying pan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for 20 minutes or until dark golden and slightly browned around the edges. Set aside.
Combine the parsley, rosemary, thyme, breadcrumbs, prunes, orange and onion in a bowl, then season with three teaspoons salt and pepper to taste. Fill the turkey cavity with the stuffing mixture. Fold the wings under the body and then truss it well with kitchen string.
Place the flour in an extra-large oven bag and shake. Slide the turkey into the bag to coat it with flour. Tie the end of the bag well with kitchen string and slip it into another oven bag, then seal this too. Place the turkey in a baking dish or roasting pan, then roast for 2 1/2 hours or until golden and cooked through.
Remove the turkey from the oven. Cut a corner off the oven bag, then carefully pour all the juices and fat into the tallest, thinnest jug you have (so you have the smallest surface area) to accelerate the fat setting. Place the jug in the fridge to chill so the fat will separate from the juice.
Place the piping hot turkey, breast-side down, in the dish/pan. Leave the turkey to rest for up to one hour with the torn oven bag or a sheet of foil loosely covering it, it will retain its heat in this time.
If the turkey is not golden brown, remove it from the oven bag and place it on a baking tray, breast-side up. Increase the oven temperature to 180C fan-forced (200C conventional), then return the turkey to the oven for 10 minutes or until golden all over.
Once the fat has set, scoop it from the jug and discard. Place the juices in a small saucepan, then bring to the boil over high heat and simmer for 10 minutes or until reduced by half. Strain and keep warm until ready to serve.
Serve the turkey and stuffing with the pan juices and Cumberland sauce.
Serves 12-16 as part of a buffet.
**Extract from Maggie's Christmas by Maggie Beer, photography by Earl Carter, published by Lantern, RRP $39.99
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