Last Night's Viewing: Nigel Slater's Simple Christmas, BBC1
Rick Stein's Spanish Christmas, BBC2

 

Christmas dinner has been vastly over-complicated by the era of the television chef. Should you cook the classic turkey, with bacon rashers laid across its breast, as enshrined by Delia? Should you brine the bird beforehand, like Heston? Or should you try to impress the in-laws by attempting Hugh's humungous 10-bird roast? Nigel Slater and Rick Stein, who last night presented their "Simple" and "Spanish" Christmasses respectively, forwent turkey altogether. On Tuesday, the Hairy Bikers turned in a Christmas menu composed entirely of finger food. Nigella's seasonal series, repeated yesterday on BBC2, featured as its star dish a lamb and date tagine.

Given the limited versatility of turkey, the sheer profusion of TV cooks, and their shared desperation to flog their annual books before the January sales, it is perhaps inevitable that they'd seek to differentiate themselves with some off-beat recipes. But nobody in their right mind is going to make Stein's Spanish broth with savoury profiteroles this Sunday. In most British households, progressive modification of the traditional Christmas menu is permitted only within strict boundaries. If you don't bring a roasted bird to the table, you won't be allowed into the kitchen next year.

Nigel Slater's Simple Christmas, then, was a bit less simple than advertised. His starter was a decidedly summery seabass ceviche, which he justified as a light respite from all that rich seasonal fare, even going so far as to claim the flecks of red chilli in the recipe were a calculated "festive" touch. He followed that with roast duck, which would probably be acceptable in the Walker household, though a turkey, goose or capon would be preferable. For dessert: trifle, topped with cape gooseberries. Are cape gooseberries "simple" to source? I remain unconvinced.

There was something strangely melancholy about dear Nigel cooking those family Christmas dishes, with no family to eat them. He persistently invoked the memory of his father – Slater père's nut-eating habits; his "Christmas fruitbowl"; his wintry vegetable hotpot – but as anyone who has read Slater fils's memoir will be aware, the two had a troubled relationship. Pouring fortified wine into the roasting dish to make a sauce, he mused: "It's a smell that says good times. It's about special occasions, friends and family. All the reasons I cook are in this pan..." Yet once he'd drizzled the sauce over the duck, it was left to cool, uneaten, on a lonely sideboard.

 

In Rick Stein's Spanish Christmas, meanwhile, the chef was cooking for "friends" (including the Spanish ambassador) at a fancy London restaurant. There wasn't a bird in sight. Instead, we were invited to consider clams, baked aubergines and offal stew as suitable additions to Christmas dinner. This condensed re-cap of the chef's recent series, decorated with a few loosely Christmas-themed baubles, was presumably aimed at those vulnerable consumers still in search of a gift for their mum (ie Rick Stein's Spain, £25). Every dish looked delicious – especially the orange crème caramels – but passing them off as Christmas dinner is surely disingenuous.

The most convincing of the Christmas TV cooks this year was Jamie Oliver, whose Christmas with Bells On (broadcast on Tuesday) began dubiously, with "Festive Fiesta Tacos", but went on to outline a basic turkey recipe, straightforwardly pimped roast potatoes, and a variation on sprouts – shredded and fried with bacon and Worcestershire Sauce – that fell comfortably inside acceptable bounds. Still, it's important to remember that a cookery book is for life, not just for Christmas, and even if Slater's seasonal menu leaves something to be desired (specifically, a turkey), his two-volumed Tender is the tome I gave to my mum last Christmas. Nigel, if you're home alone this weekend, you'd be jolly welcome at the Walkers'. Just don't expect duck.

Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Arts and Entertainment

Will Poulter will play the shape-shifting monsterfilm
Arts and Entertainment

books
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
    Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

    Flesh in Venice

    Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
    Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

    Juventus vs Real Madrid

    Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
    Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

    Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

    Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power