As a culinary expert, TV favourite Rosemary Shrager knows a thing or two about cooking at Christmas. In our exclusive chat, she shares tips for a stress-free day, her unusual go-to recipes and why she starts cooking a month in advance.
How many people are you cooking for this Christmas?
‘There will be about 10 of us. Grandchildren, children and that’s it. The day’s all about the kids.’
In your new cookbook you write about how to make your Four Bird Roast for Christmas. So tell us, how do you stuff four birds in one turkey?
‘Oh, it’s easy. It’s a small turkey, 10kg, and then inside that I put two different stuffings, a duck, a partridge and a pigeon. It’s got pork as well, with the pork, chestnut and onion stuffing. It’s got everything. It’s so delicious, I can’t tell you.’
Sounds like a lot to cram into one turkey! Can you talk us through how you do it?
‘So, you cut the turkey – turn it upside and cut to the carcass. You can get a butcher to do it. Just go around the carcass and loosen the skin and sort of take the legs off so they’re still attached to the flesh. You just want to take the carcass out. Then you’re left with the whole turkey, like a waist-coat done out.
Then what I tend to do is, I lift the breasts up and put butter underneath, so it’s underneath the skin. And then I add a layer of stuffing and use the thighs and breast of the duck. And then you put another layer of stuffing on, and then another breast of pheasant, or whatever you’re going to use. And you put another bit of stuffing on and so on. And then you bring it together and you sew it up.’
How do you sew it up?
‘With a needle and thread! You literally sew it, it’s so easy. It’s almost simpler than doing anything else, because you can prepare it way in advance and put it in the freezer until you’re ready to take it out for Christmas.’
So, if you’re freezing it, how do you make sure it’s not too dry?
‘Oh it’s not, because the pork stuffing keeps it juicy. And if you are going to freeze it, you need to defrost it in the fridge for 48 hours.’
How far in advance do you start preparing then?
‘I start a month in advance. I do pastry, I do all sorts of things. First call, I think, is the bird. That’s the main thing. As long as everything’s fresh and you’ve not got it from frozen, you can put anything inside the freezer.’
With all of this freezing, do you do any cooking on Christmas day?
‘You know what, you just bung it in [the oven], however long it takes. I have everything ready to go and I do that the day before – I cut my Brussels sprouts up the day before and I quickly sir-fry that. I’ve got a lovely Brussels sprouts, chestnut and bacon stir-fry.
And then the roasted potatoes, which are done, I cook the day before and then put them in the oven while the turkey is resting. It’s so easy.’
Sounds lovely! I must ask, though, with all of these different meats, is it possible to make the Four Bird Roast on a budget?
‘Easy peasy. Absolutely. I like to try and have a really lovely, organic turkey, because that’s what I do. But, if you can’t, these supermarkets produce very good-value turkeys. There’s nothing wrong with it and I think it will be just as good. So I don’t think people should penalise and say, “oh, you must have an organic, best, most expensive Black turkey.” No way, you don’t need to.’
Moving on to dessert – what’s your go-to pud at Christmas?
‘For some reason, nobody likes Christmas pudding in my family. I love Christmas pudding, so I always do a Christmas pudding for myself, and then I do an alternative for the children!’
This all sounds very impressive – especially because you do all the cooking yourself. But what advice would you give to anyone who is perhaps not the best chef?
‘Spend a little extra time, give yourself some peace, freeze it so it will be ready on the day. Don’t rush, because that’s when you get completely confused. And also, to be honest with you, you’re incredibly tired. And there’s no point in getting exhausted when you don’t have to be.’
Rosemary Shrager’s Cookery Course by Rosemary Shrager (BBC Books, £20). Photography by Andrew Hayes-Watkins.