We’ve all been there: it’s Christmas Day and you’re stressed out of your mind. The roast isn’t showing any signs of being ready, the potatoes lie unpeeled on the counter, and you haven’t even thought about pudding. Meanwhile, everyone is having a lovely time outside while you’re sweating because it’s 35°C in the kitchen.
Can you prepare the bulk of the meal in advance? Prue Leith confessed she stuffs, cooks and freezes her turkey in early December. While that might seem excessive, there’s something to be said for taking some of the stress out of an ambitious Christmas lunch by preparing as much as possible in advance. Here are our top tips for getting ahead.
The last Sunday in November: Stir-up Sunday
● The last Sunday before Advent gets its name from the prayer assigned to the day in the Anglican Church’s Book of Common Prayer, which begins “Stir up, we beseech thee”. But it’s been co-opted for a different kind of stirring: the making of the Christmas pudding or Christmas cake. Christmas cake and pudding both benefit from being made in advance, so if you’re planning on serving one of these dishes either for tea or pudding on Christmas Day, go ahead and get it done now.
First week of December
● Get inspired and plan the menu.
● Talk to family and friends about what they’d like to eat this year and who will be making what. You don’t have to do it all yourself!
● Think about your guest list and whether anyone has any special dietary requirements. Do you need to plan a heartier veggie main for a vegetarian or vegan? A dairy-free dessert? Or a kid-friendly snack to keep the little ones going until a (possibly late) lunch.
● Make two shopping lists: items you can buy in advance and other things you’ll need to buy fresh a day or two before Christmas. Do your shopping now for non-perishable items such as cranberry sauce, charcoal or wood and firelighters (if you’re braaiing), wine, spirits, or soft drinks, ice cream, chocolate and table decor. You could also buy any perishable items that freeze well, such as gammon. It’s a good idea to do this well in advance as festive items often sell out closer to Christmas.
Second week of December
● Make your gravy, gravy freezes beautifully, so if you find gravy intimidating, rather tackle it in advance. Make your own with veggies and chicken wings, allow to cool fully and then freeze in bags until Christmas Day. Find the recipe for make-ahead gravy here.
● Parboil and freeze potatoes. Find the recipe for the crispiest ever roast potatoes here.
● Making your own mince pies? Mince pies can be frozen uncooked. Simply wrap the tray in clingfilm and place in the freezer, you can remove and place in bags once frozen. When you’re ready to bake them, remove from the freezer, brush with milk and bake at 180°C until golden and crisp – about 20 minutes.
● Stuffing: If you’re planning on stuffing a turkey, chicken or any other kind of roast this Christmas, make the stuffing up to three weeks before and keep in a sealed container in the freezer.
Third week of December
● Bake Christmas cookies or scones, to get everyone in the mood.
● Make brandy butter.
● Create your Christmas playlist.
Three days before Christmas
● Stock up on ice and other ingredients you haven’t yet bought, except for salad ingredients.
Two days before Christmas
● If you’re doing any kind of roast that requires a marinade, get that in the fridge.
● Boil your gammon and prepare the glaze. Find the recipe for maple syrup-and blueberry-glazed gammon with roast shallots and figs here.
● Make the elements of your trifle if you’re planning on using home-made custard or cake. Do not assemble it yet, as it will become soggy.
● Make your oxtail stew. Most recipes actually benefit from spending a day or two in the fridge.
● Make ginger beer (depending on the strength you would like it to be).
● Buy salad ingredients.
● Buy salad ingredients.
● Defrost any frozen items in the fridge.
● Brine your turkey or chicken.
● If you haven’t already made it and frozen it, mix the stuffing and keep in the fridge until needed.
● Decorate the room where you’ll be eating.
● Prepare the dessert if you’re making anything that requires setting time, for example chocolate mousse or ice cream.
● Polish the glasses and make sure all the crockery you need is clean
In the morning:
● Lay the table.
● Make the salad dressing.
● Prepare the sides – they can be reheated once the roast is ready.
Two to three hours before lunch:
● Light the fire, if you’re braaiing.
● Roast or braai your turkey, lamb, veg roast or other main course.
● Glaze and roast the boiled gammon.
● Assemble the trifle or mix the malva.
● To finish off the defrosted gravy, add some turkey juices, and bring back to the boil, strain, and serve.
● Fry the defrosted, parboiled potatoes.
● Bake mince pies from frozen, just before serving.