You Ask The Christmas Food And Drink Questions
Michel Roux Jr answers your Christmas Food and Drink questions including: What can I do with a surfeit of goose fat? Where do you stand on sausages in bacon? And what’s a ‘coherent plate of food’?
Monday 14 December 2009
Michel Roux Jr is a member of one of the most influential families in British cooking. In 1967, his father, the French chef, Michel Roux, opened Le Gavroche in London. It became the first restaurant in the country to gain one, two and then, in 1982, three Michelin stars.
Born in 1960, Roux Jr grew up in Kent, later undertaking apprenticeships in Paris and under his father in London. He studied as an accountant in the 1980s before working his way through some of London's top restaurants, finally taking the reins at Le Gavroche in 1993.
A two-Michelin-starred chef in his own right, Roux Jr has reached a wider audience with appearances alongside Gordon Ramsay in ITV's Hell's Kitchen and, since 2008, as a judge on the BBC's Masterchef.
Everyone I ask gives me a different answer to this: what is the best way to cook a goose?
A goose needs long, slow cooking. But first take the bird and prick it with a fork all over the breast and legs – really attack it. Then season with salt and pepper and, if you like, another spice – maybe some chilli flakes or a bit of paprika – and rub it into the skin with a bit of oil. Start with a low oven at about 160 degrees for about an hour and a half, basting the bird every so often and carefully ladling out excess fat. After an hour, add vegetables around the bird in the roasting tin. Then, with 20-30 minutes to go, whack the heat up to 200 degrees to get the skin nice and golden and crisp.
Roast potatoes – to parboil or not to parboil? My new mother-in-law says she always parboils to get that fluffy inside. My own (Italian) mother thinks that's sacrilege. Which is your preferred method?
Anna Di Pietro
Definitely parboil – always. You need to precook the potatoes but it's crucial not to overdo it – you want there still to be a bit of bite. How long you parboil them depends how big you've cut them. Next you want to shake them about to break up the exterior, which then crisps up beautifully. But the most important thing is to choose the right potato in the first place. I always use roosters, which are an up-and-coming variety and a great all-rounder. You won't find them in every supermarket but they're readily available – and have bags of flavour. You can't go wrong.
Which ingredients are worth splashing out on for Christmas lunch – and what can be safely bought more cheaply? Money's tight this year, but I want everything to be nice, as my brother and his family are coming over from Australia for Christmas.
I always think Christmas is the one day of the year when you really should splash out and if you skimp anywhere it will show. Quality is of the essence, but to make a bit of a saving I'd look at quantity. Choose a smaller turkey, for example. No one really likes the leftovers anyway. And another thing – tell your brother to bring over a good Aussie Shiraz, which is always a great treat. I love the stuff and associate it with cold weather. It also lends itself beautifully to the spices and comfort of Christmas.
Can you suggest any uses for the litres of residual goose fat after cooking my Christmas goose – apart from using it to cook my roasties?
Goose fat is delicious and must be saved. Why not make a classic duck or pork belly confit – an old-fashioned way of cooking meat in France. Salt the meat with plenty of sea salt and leave it for about an hour. Brush the excess salt off and slow cook the meat totally submerged in barely simmering goose fat. A duck leg, for example, would take about an hour-and-a-half to cook. You can then leave it in the fat for months if necessary before you prepare the dish.
What will you be having for your Christmas meal this year – and will you be cooking it, or is this a chef's day of rest?
It's traditional in France to have a big meal on Christmas Eve. I'll be driving to my home in the Ardèche for a big family dinner cooked by my daughter, Emily. She's only 18 but she's studying at a catering college in Lyon. We'll be about 15 or 16 and I expect to pull up in the car and sit right at the table. The pressure's really on but I'm confident she's up to the task. We haven't talked about the menu yet. I expect it will be fairly traditional but I'm hoping she'll pull out the stops for me with a few surprises. One thing we'll definitely have is truffles, because there's a chap in our village who forages for them.
What's a traditional French Christmas meal? In your experience of living in France and Britain, which traditions should we be importing?
You won't be surprised to hear that in France we go for a lot of extravagant things. Lots of foie gras and oysters and seafood in general. Chestnuts are popular and are sometimes served in place of potatoes – you can't get much more Christmassy – but otherwise we always have turkey or goose as well. I wouldn't want to import any traditions because for me you can't beat a British Christmas. I love the smoked salmon, the Stilton, the mince pies – I'm drooling just thinking about it.
I'm having a party and I'd like to make my own mulled wine. I've only used ready-made mixtures before (which have mostly been fine, but still...). Can you give me any tips? And is mulled cider worth a try, just for a change?
Definitely go for cider. It's fantastic as a hot drink. You need to get a good proper old-fashioned cider – I get mine bottle-fermented from France. Warm it up with a few cinnamon sticks, a drop of lemon and some lemon rind and peel, and a spoonful or two of muscavado sugar. Keep it warm and just before serving add a grown-up splash of calvados and a slice or two of apple. It's so much better than mulled wine.
What's a good, non-alcoholic aperitif to serve to the designated drivers coming to my Christmas party?
My favourite is a spicy Virgin Mary, which is basically a bloody Mary without the vodka. Another great drink is soda and angostura bitters. You can put it in a fancy champagne glass and it actually looks like rose champagne – the perfect cheat.
What would you cook for Greg Wallace if he was coming round on Christmas day?
You're assuming that I would invite him! But of course I would – Greg is a great guy. I know he's partial to creamy morel mushroom sauce because he orders my veal dish with the sauce every time he comes to Le Gavroche. But the most important thing to do if you want to impress Greg is to lay on a good pudding. So there would have to be something like a sticky toffee pudding with Chantilly cream.
I've got such a bad record with sprouts, I'm wondering whether to give up on them this year. They seem to come out either undercooked and squeaky or soggy and falling apart, though I loved the ones my mother made when I was a child. I like to do things traditionally and would like to keep them on the menu. Where am I going wrong?
Why not try this for a change? Cut the sprouts into quarters or slice them across, but thickly, and pan fry them in a little bit of oil. Add some smoked bacon cut into little strips like matchsticks or lardons. Continue to fry over a low heat until the bacon goes lightly golden brown. Season and then cover and keep warm. They should be cooked through but will still have a little bit of a bite and by frying them you're caramelising them slightly to add a bit of sweetness. Not boiling them avoids that soggy, horrible taste.
Which goes best with plum pudding: cream, ice cream, custard or brandy sauce?
Yum yum. If I were Greg I would say all of them – at once – but my preference would always be some good old-fashioned custard flavoured with vanilla. You can't beat it.
What would be your ideal cheese selection? Some cheeses for a nice, light snack-supper on Christmas night when our guests are all gone.
Keep it seasonal I say. There are two stand-out cheeses that I just love at this time of year. The first is Stilton, which can match any blue cheese anywhere in the world. The second would be a good Vacherin Mont d'Or, a stunning cheese. Serve at room temperature with some walnuts and a glass of port.
What would you recommend as a vegetarian alternative to the usual groan-inducing quantities of meat?
This time of year I'd probably go for squash. There are so many different varieties with different flavours. Take a selection and cut into big hefty chunks. Smear with olive oil, salt and pepper, and a little bit of thyme and rosemary. You could drizzle a bit of honey too but I find the squash sweet enough. Roast until they're nice and golden and soft and the flavours will be beautiful. Another vegetable dish I love is braised leeks with wild mushrooms, which have a lovely meaty flavour without the groan.
This year I'm determined to make a proper turkey stock. Can you tell me the best way to do this? For starters, I'm not sure how to get a huge carcass into a pan of water. Can I break it up? And can you suggest a recipe for a tasty soup to make from it?
Definitely break up the carcass. Then cover it with cold water to which you can add onion, thyme, carrot and celery. Simmer for a couple of hours and pass through a fine sieve. Use that as a base for a lovely soup with the shredded leftover turkey and angel hair pasta cooked in the stock. Top it with some grated Gruyère or cheddar and season.
I'm planning to cook roast lamb on Christmas Eve, but I always seem to overcook it. On Masterchef, they always seem to undercook it. What should I do?
Resting the meat is vital. For a leg if it's cooked on the bone you should rest it for at least 45 minutes. Before you do that, test to see if it's cooked by plunging a skewer into the thickest part of the meat. Take it out after five seconds and carefully touch it against the inside of your wrist. If it's hot the meat is done. If not – put it back in.
When I see you on Masterchef, you always seem so calm. Are you as cool as this in the kitchen? I tend to get pretty stressed out – especially on Christmas day. How do you stay so chilled?
Like all chefs I do lose my rag, but when that happens it's because I've lost control, and I hate that. The secret is always to be well-prepared, which is especially important at Christmas because you're juggling so much. If you don't have time to rehearse the cooking, then at least think it through in your mind so you can be ready to go. Another tip is to stay off the drink because all too often you're tempted to have a glass or two of champagne before everyone sits down and before you know it you'll forget something in the oven.
Do you like Christmas pudding or do you think it is dégoûtant? Is there a (preferably lighter) dessert you'd recommend instead?
You could make a bûche de Noël, the traditional French Christmas log, which is usually made with butter cream and is very rich and heavy. But I say you can't do better than a traditional Christmas pudding. And if you get a good one, it should be richly flavoured, but not necessarily heavy or dense. And anyway, you only need a nice big spoonful with a bit of ice cream or sauce and you're fine. We made 80 puddings at Le Gavroche back in September, using a nice old Mrs Beaton recipe.
If I'm honest, I usually find turkey a bit dry and rather tasteless. Am I doing something wrong? Could you give me any tips to make it more enjoyable? Moreover, what would you do with the leftovers?
In Britain we seem to be infatuated with huge turkeys that leave you with a huge amount of leftovers. The first thing I would say is try using a smaller turkey. Bigger birds tend to be tasteless and need to be cooked longer, so there's more chance of them drying out. If you have to cook a large turkey, try pushing some butter and herbs between the skin and the meat before roasting. It will self-baste the breasts and keep things nice and moist.
I'm a bit mystified about turkey giblets. Is there anything you recommend I do with them apart from turn them into stock?
Some bits, like the neck, you'll only want to put in with the stock, but the gizzards, for example, can be roasted or made into a confit – see earlier. The liver is great chopped up and added to the gravy at the last moment. It cooks and thickens the sauce, giving it a lovely flavour.
What exactly is a "coherent plate of food"?
Er, this must be something I say on Masterchef. I suppose it means everything should go together to enhance the eating experience. Is that a coherent answer?
My brother, who is hosting this year's Christmas dinner, isn't keen on white wine. What red can you recommend to go with a turkey?
I actually prefer red wine with turkey. You'd want to go with a Pinot noir, so either a Burgundy, if you're going French, or a good Kiwi Pinot noir would work very well. It's light, fruity and works perfectly well with white meat. If you're on a budget I'd also recommend a Beaujolais – a Fleurie or a Morgon.
I don't eat meat – only fish. But I do like to have a traditional Christmas. Is there a traditional fish dish I could serve with all the trimmings?
You can't really have the trimmings without the turkey, but I think I know what Daisy means. You could try roasting a whole monkfish tail on the bone. First stud it with little pieces of red peppers and yellow peppers and dust it with paprika. You could do what you like for vegetables, but for an extra big of interest, why not try wrapping prawns in smoked salmon. You could grill or roast them as a seafood alternative to chipolatas in bacon.
We're not having turkey this Christmas, we're having beef instead. Do you have any hints and tips of how to prepare a delicious hunk of cow?
First, take it out of the fridge a good hour before roasting. And serve it with a really good shallot and red-wine sauce. And don't skimp on the wine. Slice the shallots and caramelise them in a bit of butter to get out their natural sweetness. Then reduce at least a bottle of red gradually down to a syrup and add it to the shallots. Throw in a spoonful of sugar and some beef stock before reducing down again. The more you reduce the more intense the flavours. Pour that over well-rested beef and you'll happy.
My 14-year-old son, Guy, wants to cook a turkey. Would you mind coming round and showing him how to do it? He's a shameless foodie, by the way (and a dedicated Masterchef viewer) and won't accept anything second-rate.
Good on him, I say. Sadly, I won't be coming round but I refer him to my other answers and give him this tip for free: cut up a lemon and put it inside the turkey cavity with some thyme and rosemary for that extra little bit of flavour.
What kind of Christmas – and Christmas food – did you have as a child? Is it all a bit fraught when you grow up in a family of chefs?
Yes, it was. I grew up in Kent and everyone invariably argued about how things were cooked and who should do what; not to mention the inevitable dilemma about what to do with the leftovers. But Dad was definitely the boss. We combined the best of British and French foods. We had Christmas pudding and the traditional bûche de Noël. We had smoked salmon, oysters – it was just endless. We ate far too much.
What's the best food to cure a hangover? Not that I'm planning to get any hangovers this year, but, well, you know...
The only way to prevent a hangover is of course not to drink, but I do think you can't do much better than a good greasy fry-up. I'm not a big drinker myself – in our industry it's readily available and always tempting, but I find it easier just to say no.
Can you suggest a really special and yet light Christmas breakfast? We'll have my 10-year-old stepdaughter on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning, then she'll go to her mother's for her lunch. So I'd like to make a bit of an event of the morning meal.
I always think there's something special about cooking your own pancakes together. So if you want to make your stepdaughter feel special I'd say do that and add some nice dry cured bacon and maple syrup. Make a whole event of it, though obviously don't eat too much if she's moving on to lunch.
What is the secret of perfect mashed potato?
Potatoes, in a word. And again I say go for the rooster, a great all-rounder with great flavour. Mash them while they're still hot and add lashings of good quality butter and cream stirred in. The great thing about mashed potato is the amount of fat you can put in them, and I say don't hold back. I love them really creamy and buttery. I'm not one for adding anything else – the potatoes and butter should sing. One more tip: Don't boil the potatoes too harshly – just simmer gently to stop them breaking and the water getting in.
What did the Roux family use to do at the end of Xmas lunch when you were children? Could you recommend any good games?
After lunch, and before we collapsed, we always used to play a French card game called belotte, which was quite similar to trumps. And very heated exchanges and arguments would ensue but you could always be sure that my father won – he made sure of it.
Are those little sausages wrapped in bacon really a good idea?
Of course! I love them, but you must use good sausage and good bacon otherwise don't bother. I like a Cumberland, which you can get in chipolata size, and a piece of dry cured streaky bacon. A good alternative in France – and I don't know if you can get them here – are miniature black puddings. We call them boudin blanc, or noir, and they make a nice change if you can get them. Might be worth a trip to Calais.
Is there a way of cooking goose – yummy – without caking your oven in fat and making the kitchen unbearable?
It shouldn't really spit or splash because you should be removing some of the excess fat with a ladle as the turkey cooks. Loosely covering the bird with foil may help, but otherwise embrace that lovely smell of roasting you get from all that fat.
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