Festive feast: Mark Hix's tempting Christmas roasts will amaze your guests - Features - Food + Drink - The Independent

Festive feast: Mark Hix's tempting Christmas roasts will amaze your guests

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It's time to start thinking about what to prepare and serve to your family and guests on Christmas Day. As many of you will have discovered over the years, I am somewhat resistant to cooking a turkey for the main meal. The principal reason is that because the legs take longer to roast than the breasts, the latter invariably end up getting a bit dried out and the whole thing can become a logistical nightmare.

However, I know that many of you will still be determined to cook a turkey, so I have included my own special recipe on these pages that involves a bit more preparation in advance but will, I think, lead to a more stress-free operation on the day itself.

As well as turkey, I have also included recipes for other festive roasts – take your pick between duck, veal and chicken. If you want other ideas for great alternative joints for Christmas Day, then I can thoroughly recommend the following retailers: Donald Russell (donaldrussell.com), which sells a fantastic range of meat; Judy Goodman (goodmansgeese.co.uk), who specialises in delicious geese, Packington (packingtonpoultry.co.uk), which sells slowly-reared chickens, the online butcher Aubrey Allen (aubreyallen.co.uk), which specialises in dry-aged beef, and Lidgate (lidgates.com) – one of London's best-loved outlets.

I am hosting a series of two-hour carving masterclasses at Brown's Hotel in London to mark the start of the festive season and to celebrate the quintessentially British skill of carving up meat. It costs £150 per person, which includes a feast dinner, a Brown's apron and a signed copy of my cookery book.

For further details, please see brownshotel.com or telephone Juliet Atkins on 020-7518 4163.

Roast duck with apples and cider brandy

Serves 4

I love to eat good roast duck and served this way, with apples and flaming Somerset cider brandy, it will make a stunning and showy centrepiece to any festive meal. Somerset cider brandy is available from ciderbrandy.co.uk.

2 good-quality oven-ready ducks weighing about 1.5kg
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2-3 apples, core removed and cut into 6 wedges each
100ml Somerset cider brandy

Preheat the oven to 220C/gas mark 7. Heat a roasting tray in the oven for about 10 minutes or so.

Season the ducks and place in the tray with the breasts down and roast for about 30 minutes, draining off any fat as they are cooking (you can keep this for your potatoes).

Turn the oven down to 200C/gas mark 6 and continue cooking the duck for another 30 minutes, adding the apples after 45 minutes and basting the duck and apples as they are cooking.

Insert a skewer or the point of a knife into the leg joint and if the juices run clear then the duck is cooked – if not, return it to the oven for another 15 minutes or so. To serve, transfer the duck and apples to an ovenproof table dish, draining off any excess fat. Return to the oven for 10 minutes, or heat on the stove top. Heat the cider brandy in a small saucepan, take it to the table with the duck, set light to the cider brandy with a match and pour over the duck. Leave the flames to settle then joint and carve the duck.

Loin of veal with red onions

Serves 6-8

There is some great welfare-friendly British rose veal on the market now which has a much better flavour generally than the imported veal. You will need to order this in advance from your butcher and either tie it in a roll or just leave it as it is.

1 loin or rib of veal weighing about 1.5 kg
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
A couple of tablespoons of olive oil
A few sprigs of rosemary
5-6 medium-sized red onions, halved with the skin on

Preheat the oven to 220C/gas mark 7. Season the veal, heat a large, heavy-based frying pan or a roasting tray with a little oil and brown the veal on a high heat on both sides.

Place in a roasting tray with the halved onions and drizzle with some olive oil. Cook for 30 minutes, then turn the oven down to 180C/gas mark 5, scatter over the rosemary and cook for another 30 minutes, basting every so often.

Insert a point of a knife in the centre of the veal and if it's hot it's cooked – veal needs to be kept on the pink side to get the best out of it.

Serve the veal in 1cm-thick slices with the pan juices and onions. You can pour a little wine and butter in the pan and boil it up on a medium heat for a couple of minutes if you want to create a simple, natural sauce.

Roast chicken with garlic and bay

Serves 2-4

If you can afford it, it's always worth shelling out for a quality free-range chicken. Some of the larger free-range birds will most certainly feed four people, as I found when I recently tried the chickens from Packington Poultry. I've used jumbo garlic here which you can get from good greengrocers; it's ideal for roasting and baking as the cloves are the size of a standard head of garlic.

1 free-range chicken, preferably with its livers
6 bay leaves
2 heads of jumbo garlic or 4 heads of normal, halved
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
100g butter for basting

Preheat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6.

Rub the chicken with the butter, season inside and out and place in a roasting tray with the garlic, then put the bay leaves in the cavity.

Roast for about 1-1¼ hours, basting regularly until the juices run clear when a skewer or knife tip is inserted into the thickest part of the thigh. When cooked, remove the chicken from the oven and leave to rest in a warm place for 15 minutes. To serve, remove the legs and cut them at the joint, remove the breasts and slice them a few times and arrange on a warmed serving dish with the bay and garlic and serve with gravy.

Roast turkey

Serves 8-10

This recipe involves taking the legs off first and stuffing them and cooking the bird in different stages to get the best results. Years ago, when I used to work at The Dorchester under Anton Mosimann, our turkey would be prepared in this way. I've never looked back, and since then have dreamt up all sorts of stuffing combos for the legs. I always cut the backbone out, which has virtually no meat on it anyway (except for the oysters) and use that and the leg bones for gravy which I make in advance to save time on the day.

I've opted for a simple onion and thyme stuffing here for the legs but you may wish to do another separate sausage-meat stuffing. You can quite easily bone the legs yourself with a sharp knife or just get your butcher to do it.

1 medium turkey weighing about 4-6kg
Butter for basting
100g caul fat (optional)

For the leg stuffing

2 medium onions, peeled, halved and finely chopped
2tsp chopped fresh thyme leaves
A couple of good knobs of butter
500g minced pork or chicken
100g fresh white breadcrumbs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Bone your turkey legs by running the point of a sharp knife along the bone and working it around the bone to release all the flesh. Remove any visible tendons in the drumstick and lay it on a tray, then repeat with the other leg. If you have a friendly butcher, ask him to do this. Put the legs to one side for the gravy.

To make the stuffing, gently cook the onions and thyme in the butter for 2-3 minutes to soften, then remove from the heat and leave to cool. Mix the onions with the pork and breadcrumbs and season. Divide the mixture between the two legs, then roll them up as tightly as possible. Roll the legs in several layers of clingfilm and twist the ends tightly to make a perfect cylinder. Place the legs in a large saucepan of cold water, bring to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes. Leave to cool, then remove from the water and leave to set in the fridge for a few hours. Wrap the legs in a couple of layers of caul fat then tie with string at every 3cm; if you don't have caul fat then just tie with string. Keep in the fridge until you are ready to cook them.

With a heavy chopping knife, cut away the back bone from the base of the turkey as this hasn't any meat on it and chop it into small pieces with the bones from the legs and keep aside for making the gravy.

Preheat the oven to 220C/gas mark 7.

Season the breasts and rub with some butter and place in a tray with the legs and cook for about 30 minutes, then turn the oven down to 180C/gas mark 5 and cook for a further 30-45 minutes, basting every so often. Test by inserting a skewer into the centre of the stuffed leg and the thickest part of the breast; if it's hot, it's cooked. To serve, remove the breasts from the carcass, slice them into cm slices at an angle and arrange on a warmed serving dish. Slice the stuffed legs into 1cm slices and arrange on the dish.

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