Christmas Dinner tips from *Le Manoir!*
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If you’re going to learn how to cook a Christmas dinner, you might as well do it at Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons. Too late for this year of course, but fear not, I donned my apron, and have been on your behalf to tell you the tricks of the trade.
The Cookery School kitchens are utterly unlike what you’d imagine them to be. Though Le Manoir itself exudes a kind of smooth elegant charm, the kitchens replicate a home set-up, so it’s normal-sized sinks and work surfaces, and nothing too flash (if you discount the state-of-the-art cookers).
The course is run by the lovely Mark Peregrine, who’s worked with Raymond Blanc since he opened his first brasserie in Summertown in the Eighties (where he won his first Michelin star), although the fragrant Raymond did breeze into the room at one point, exuding Gallic charm and bonhomie, even while confronting 7 iphones videoing his every move.
So yes, there were 7 of us on the course, a mix of locals and those who had traveled from further afield, and were put in pairs. As the odd one out (yeah, don’t go there) I ended up cooking alone which I rather liked, because it meant I did everything myself, though with us all being around a table together, I also managed to chat to the others too. It was all lovely and informal and quite a giggle.
The day is long (from 9ish to 4ish), with a knock-out lunch with wine to break things up, but being a small group you learn so much so quickly, and because everything is pre-measured for you and then washed up afterwards, it’s like cooking heaven. We had a little break after lunch where we roamed around the gardens, and having a nose at the massive kitchen gardens too, below.
We started with Christmas pudding, literally bunging a whole load of ingredients together (though it’s Raymond Blanc’s own recipe so those ingredients are working pretty hard for you). I’ll fill you in on those ready for 2015 as you’re bound to have made your pud a year in advance (LOL!!)
Then we made a mackerel and shaved fennel salad with soy lime and ginger dressing – incredibly easy in fact…
We attacked a galette du rois – basically an almond paste a bit like that inside a almond croissant covered with puff pastry that I’m going to attempt for Christmas Day (see below)
And then we went for the jugular with roast turkey with chestnut, walnut and fig stuffing and cranberry compote.
Aha! I hear you cry.
And yes, this is why I took this course, hoping to learn some sneaky Christmas tricks so I can impart them to you too. And I really did learn some cool stuff.
So, drumroll please Sven…
Here are the Le Manoir insider tips to producing a brilliant Christmas roast:
1. There’s no need to cook your turkey for hours and hours and hours and stuff butter down the turkey skin and all that jazz I’ve been doing for years. Baste the outside of the turkey in plenty of butter, and for a 5kg bird, cook for roughly 1.5 hours at 180C, reducing to 160C after roughly an hour of that time, basting regularly from one hour onwards. No need to turn the turkey upside down to cook it – all that does is flatten the breasts. Frankly there’s enough of that problem in the Muddy house without encouraging it further.
2. Use a temperature probe to test the thigh meat – if it’s 65C for the breasts or 70C on the thigh, the turkey is cooked. It’s that simple.
3. It’s OK to leave the turkey to rest for the length of time you cooked it. The bones of the turkey act like a radiator. The meat will still be warm by serving time. Just put it in the oven for 10 minutes to give the breasts a slight reheat and you’ll be good to go.
3. Buy Albert Bartlet Rooster potatoes (they’re in Morrisons and Asda apparently). They’re the best for roasting by a country mile.
4. Check that your oven is doing what it’s supposed to by checking with an oven thermometer. It’s no good putting your turkey on at 180C for an hour if it’s actually cooking at 150!
5. A common mistake is to use salted butter – make sure yours is unsalted, Président is a goodie. You’ll be seasoning separately which is why you don’t need to do it twice.
6. Use goose fat for your potatoes if at all possible and pan fry before putting into the oven – they’ll be as close to divine as a humble spud can get.
7. Don’t worry about which way up the foil goes. In the oven it’s main purpose is to stop the meat over-browning.
8. For the gravy, if you can’t be bothered to make your own stock (er, no actually), Heston’s dark beef stock at Waitrose is recommended. No matter that it’s for beef, it will give a great depth of flavour to your gravy.
9. Never mind that it makes you look a bit poncey, season from a height! It will give a better distribution of flavour.
10. No need to stuff the stuffing where the sun don’t shine. Just make it into a sausage, wrap it tightly in foil and bake in the oven. When it comes out you can slice it like a salami. This will lower the cooking time of your birdy, as it takes longer with the stuffing in the cavity.
11. Buy the fun extras. A proper baster, an oven thermometer, a temperature probe, a roasting tray that fits snugly, a set of golf clubs, cuddly toy, and an electric blanket if you can remember the order on the conveyor belt. (Too young to remember The Generation Game? Shame on you!)
Obviously there’s no time to do a Le Manoir Christmas Dinner Party course for this year- though if you’re lacking in confidence like me I’d recommend it come next winter – but as you’d expect, the courses here are replete, with everything is on offer, from parent and child courses to seasonal dinner parties, from fish courses to patisserie, from residential to evening sessions. Check out the full range here.
Prices reflect the fact you’re being taught in a two-Michelin star establishment – my course was £365 – but I did leave with a natty Raymond Blanc saucepan (which is brilliant actually) a perfect galette du roi to show off to my children, a full tummy from lunch, a Christmas pud ready for the big day and my host of tricks for the perfect Christmas lunch.