Christmas food and drink: Matthew Fort's traditional checklist

Christmas Eve

Make sure you've got a pan big enough to hold the turkey. Make sure you can get the turkey into the oven - have you got enough foil to cover it? Check timings for cooking turkey (see Turkey Roasters' Notes, below). Check you have enough plates. Check you have enough serving dishes (for brussels sprouts, roast potatoes, roast parsnips, stuffing).

Lay in liver/hangover treatments. Make brandy butter. Get 5p/10p/20p coins for Christmas pud. Collect cheese. Buy chocolates. Make/buy cranberry sauce. Prepare alternative to Christmas pudding. Remember who's gone vegetarian since last Christmas. Make sure you have ingredients for said dishes. Chocolate sardines will not do.

Check the booze supply. Calculate probable calorific intake. Calculate post-Christmas action plan to cope with excess. Make plans to offload unused food items and unwanted presents. Check supplies of: eggs, milk, butter, cream, lemons, limes, clementines, ginger, fennel, celeriac, potatoes, onions, carrots, celery, chicory, salad things, pulses, frozen peas and lavatory paper.

Take turkey out of fridge. Remove wishbone. Take mince pies out of freezer. Line up bottles of wine. Count them. Feel pleased. Put fizz into fridge. Make sure you've got three pairs of oven gloves. Make stock. Take stock. Pour glass of nerve tonic. Contemplate the morrow. Panic. Pour second glass of nerve tonic. Sink into profound depression. Go to bed.

Christmas Day

7.35am: Send children packing. Haul self out of bed. Look for Guardian Weekend's foolproof guide to panic-free Christmas. Eventually discover that it has been used for cat litter. It's not unusable. Turn on oven (for temperature, timings, etc, see Turkey Roasters' Notes).

Breakfast: Lightly boiled egg; a single slice of wholemeal toast with lashings of butter and soothing, energy-rich Kashmiri honey. Coffee. Tangerine. Rise from table fully energised.

8am: Place turkey in oven (this could wait til 9am, depending on the bird's size; see Turkey Roasters' Notes).

9.30am: Start warming plates and serving dishes. Arrange tray for pre-lunch drinks, plus bowls for nibbles. Mop up sick from child who overdosed on chocolate coins in stocking. Blanch potatoes and parsnips for roasting.

10am: Bribe/browbeat/blackmail kids into laying table (under supervision). Check their handiwork. White wine to fridge. Uncork red wine. Baste turkey.

10.30am: Baste tastebuds with wine. Window for present-opening.

11.45am: Panic. Forgot to baste turkey. Baste furiously. Put saucepan containing pudding in basin on to cooker ring. Add water until it comes two-thirds of the way up the side of the bowl. Bring slowly to boil (check you have tied a string around the rim, to ensure easy lifting). Turn down to an easygoing simmer. Baste turkey again for luck. And tastebuds, too.

12 noon: Put pan of water on to boil for brussels sprouts. Parboil potatoes and parsnips, place in oven in roasting tin.

12.45pm: It's too late to panic. Remove foil. Splash slug of marsala/madeira/vermouth/white port/white wine over the turkey. Make that a second slug. And one for the chef. Baste like billy-oh. Toss brussels sprouts into boiling water. Take cheese out of cool storage to bring to room temperature.

1pm: Move turkey to a warm spot where it can relax and unwind. Turn oven up to 200C/400F/gas mark 8 to crisp potatoes, parsnips, anything else. Degrease roasting pan. Use remaining juices/gunk to make gravy. Discover you're forgotten cranberry sauce. Wonder what Nigel/Nigella would do. Realise you're not them. Abandon cranberry sauce.

1.30pm: Knock back stiff drink. Call troops to table. Brace yourself for, 'Why do we have to have turkey every Christmas?' And/or, 'Turkey is soooooo boring!' And/or, 'And it doesn't taste of anything'. And/or, 'It looks wonderful, dear.' Serve and eat.

2.45pm: (approx) Lift pudding from water and turn out on to plate. Place sprig of holly on top. Heat one small glass of brandy in saucepan until warm. Pour over pudding. Ignite. Stand by for, 'You know I hate Christmas pudding.' And/or, 'Christmas pudding is soooooo boring.' And/or 'Why do we have to have Christmas pudding every year?' And/or 'It looks lovely, dear. Your mother's recipe?"

3.45pm: Subside into armchair and slide into well-deserved slumber.

Turkey Roasters' Notes


Temperature: 220C/425F/ gas mark 7 for 30-45 minutes, depending on size (see below), then down to 170C/325F/gas mark 3.
Timing: Allow 30-40 minutes per kg. So a 5.5-7kg turkey will take three and a half to four hours; a 7-9kg bird four to five hours; and a 9-12kg whopper five to six hours.


Follow the recipe I gave for slow-cooked Thanksgiving turkey on November 20.

Key points

Whichever approach you use, remember: Take the bird out of the fridge the night before.

Take out the breastbone before roasting - run the tip of a very sharp knife up or down either side of the breastbones, then cut through the base of each bone where it joins the main carcass and gently lever away the two sides, cutting some more if necessary, then twist the detached breastbone around until it breaks away from the top of the carcass. You will need plenty of kitchen towel on hand to hold on to the slippery bones. This will make carving so much easier and quicker that it is well worth doing.

Cook the bird unstuffed - it will cook better, and the stuffing will taste better, too. If you insist on stuffing the bird, give the cooking an additional 20-30 minutes on top of the timings given above.

Cover the turkey with foil to stop it burning / drying out during cooking; remove for the final 40 minutes.

the turkey while roasting - the legs take longer to cook through, so place it on one side and then the other, with the breast down. Place breast up for the final phase only. Baste every 20 minutes or so. Let the cooked turkey rest for at least 40 minutes. Make stock from the giblets and add to the degreased pan at the end of roasting to make gravy. Sorry, jus.

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