Cooking for a lot of people, Jamie Oliver tells me, is a bit like playing Lego or Tetris. It’s juggling lots of small parts and bringing them together at once which, for a boy who grew up loving both games, makes such an approach understandable.
Author of no fewer than 26 cookbooks – his latest, titled One, is at the top of the Amazon list when we meet – Jamie is the perfect person to chat all things Christmas with us.
His recent special on Channel 4, Jamie’s Easy Christmas, was his 23rd such show in as many years: ‘I’ve been doing one every year since I was 24,’ he enthuses. ‘I do vary things, but people always want turkey.
‘I did one show one year when I didn’t do turkey and people weren’t happy. It’s a hard bird to cook. I love it but the key is in the resting.’
The Olivers will be at home this Christmas, all seven of them. That’s Jamie, his wife Jools, their three daughters and two sons, along with the family’s newest addition, Conker the Border Collie.
They always have two birds on the table, ‘usually a goose and a turkey. I love goose. It’s delicious and it’s quite well behaved – two or three hours and you’ve got something amazing’, says Jamie. ‘And the kids absolutely love it.’
So, what is his advice to avoid a dry, overcooked, bland turkey this year? ‘Get your timings right. And rest it. People fight the rest time but you need to rest turkey for up to two hours for an average size turkey. It won’t go cold because the “carry over cooking”, as we call it, means it gently cooks on, and the juices are going down to where they should do.’
And if you don’t fancy turkey this Christmas, or the rising cost puts you off, we shouldn’t be afraid of duck, says Jamie. There is a recipe in One that he cooked on his Christmas special, for clementine roast duck with noodles, which is approachable, relatively inexpensive and a little bit different.
His festive roast chicken is another simple dish, with a nod to Christmas thanks to its crunchy chestnut crumb.
The Olivers always have Christmas pudding. ‘But the one in my Christmas book is my preferred one. It’s a halfway house between Christmas pudding, which I don’t love, and my Nan’s pound pudding, so it’s a hybrid of sorts.
‘Christmas pudding is delightful but quite heavy and this is lighter. And I make my mum do her retro trifle, which is delicious. I tend to also do something like a Christmassy crumble or seasonal fruit and almond tart.’
Once you’ve decided what to cook, Jamie recommends each of us gets a masterplan going.
If you want ideas, his pear and ginger traybake in One is simple, affordable and, like all the recipes in the book, made using just one dish.
‘I use one every year. I’m a fly-by-the-wire kind of bloke, but even I sit down for ten minutes and start at the moment the meal is served on Christmas Day and work back by a week, step-by-step. That allows you more conversations, more time with loved ones, more gin and tonics. There will be time in the kitchen cooking but it stops you hitting amber/red stress levels, making mistakes and all that.’
He calls the time when the bird is resting the ‘golden two hours’ to pull everything else together. Make life easier for yourself and do as much as you can beforehand.
‘Parboil the potatoes, for starters. They don’t need to be done at the same time as everything else. And when you’re doing that key resting of the meat, then get them in the oven – they won’t dry out if you do them the day before – do your gratins, brussels and whatever other sides you’re serving.
‘And buy a steamer. You can get three or four different veggies on the hob that way. Cut your carrots in half and you’ve just halved your cooking time right here.’ Another hack is to make big-batch cocktails.
‘You can get all that ready even a week beforehand and just pour it over ice when you serve it. You look like a ninja because everything is ready to go.
‘You can get really flamboyant and make ice with a blueberry frozen inside it, a cranberry or a bit of rosemary or thyme and it looks gorgeous. Christmas is about giving it your all. I don’t care if it’s daft, I’m all over it. It’ll look great and doesn’t cost a lot.’
And for those worried about time, money or stress, Jamie says we all need to try and hold back a bit. ‘It’s my pledge this year. I always tend to overdo it and make too much but we only need so many sides, don’t we? Just treat everything with love and don’t sweat it, if you can.’
While Christmas Day is a family affair for Jamie this year, he and Jools will host a Christmas Eve lunch party for 20, ‘an old-school buffet with lots of British cheeses, cured meats, home-made bread and some salads and bits and pieces. I love a buffet and none of it gets wasted.’
If you’ve a mind to skip poultry this time, Jamie’s Christmas pasta, from his latest Christmas show, uses just one pan. He cooks up sausage balls with sage and onion and chestnuts, with star-shaped pasta he cuts from fresh lasagne sheets using a cookie cutter.
‘The Nonnas in Italy would bash me for it but it’s logical. Picture your average busy person and this is perfect. Lasagne sheets are easy to get hold of, it’s creative without the mess, but what is genius is the sauce cooking into the pasta, which makes it really flavoursome. Everyone loves it.’
One is another Oliver bestseller but he says: ‘I never presume anything. I still get super-emotional and nervous about each and every book. If you saw me at 15 you wouldn’t believe I’d have done this. I’m not doing a violin thing but I’m proud of me.’
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