With Thanksgiving and Christmas just around the corner, now is the time to start planning your holiday meals.
Jordan Barnett, chef de cuisine at Seven restaurant at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, knows a thing or two about preparing the perfect meal: Each year his team cooks more than 4,000 holiday dinners.
Weekender asked him for his top tips to see you through the most testing times in the kitchen (and, if all else fails, you can always cheat and opt for The Ritz’s Thanksgiving “Turkey-to-Go” or their “Christmas Dinner Delivered,” a pre-cooked dinners with all the trimmings.)
What are your top tips for planning a Christmas meal?
Being prepped well in advance of the big day will ensure a minimal amount of stress. Plan your menu well in advance, then aim to shop at least three days beforehand, and do your prep two days before the big meal. Check your recipes well in advance and go through your kitchen cupboards to ensure you have all the tools and materials you will need. Nothing is more frustrating than realizing you are missing a key item.
Any weekend you have available, try out some new recipes on the family to see if they’re winners. And, on the day, don’t be afraid to delegate some of the work. This is always a great way to catch up and come closer together during the holidays.
Most importantly, don’t over-complicate the food. Keep it simple. After all, you don’t want to spend the whole day in the kitchen. The point of the holidays is to spend well-deserved time with family.
Turkey is often the centerpiece. How should the home chef tackle cooking this?
Low and slow is the key to a juicy bird; meaning a lower oven temperature for a longer period of time. If the skin starts to brown too much, simply cover it with aluminum foil. The turkey should read 165 degrees Fahrenheit in the thigh region to be finished and juicy.
Brining your turkey a day in advance will help the turkey remain juicy and tender. Be adventurous when seasoning your bird. For example, make a paste with butter, garlic and some fresh herbs to rub under and on top of the skin. Don’t forget to season with salt and pepper. A great tool for home cooks is YouTube for helpful videos when in doubt.
What are some common mistakes that people often make?
Forgetting to pre-heat the oven; stuffing the raw turkey with the stuffing and under-cooking it; cooking at too high of an oven temperature and forgetting to baste, are some of the key mistakes.
Thawing out the turkey on the countertop overnight or power-thawing in the sink is also a big no. If frozen, the turkey should be properly thawed in the refrigerator at least three days in advance depending on the size.
What are some simple, but delicious sides?
Roasted Brussels sprouts and bacon, roasted root vegetables, garlic mashed potatoes, baked broccoli and aged white cheddar, chestnut and sausage stuffing, maple glazed sweet potatoes and honey ginger carrots.
Any quick and easy presentation ideas?
Serving everything family-style is the best option. You could always set up a buffet in the house, especially if you have plenty of family visiting.
How would you best cater to vegetarians?
If you have plenty of delicious sides, don’t worry about it. If you want to be adventurous, you could always find a simple recipe that uses most of the ingredients in your other dishes. I’ve also been told that Shake n’ Bake Tofu is pretty good.
For more culinary inspiration and quick and easy recipes to try at home, pick up the latest copy of Flava, Cayman’s culinary magazine.