With the festive season edging nearer, it might just be time to get going on the seemingly mammoth task of preparing for Christmas dinner. Not least because of the prospect of food shortages thanks to the supply chain crisis. Indeed, in the first week of October, Aldi reported that panic-buying Britons had begun stockpiling, with the budget supermarket selling 1,500 frozen turkey crowns a day and pudding sales soaring by 45 per cent. Meanwhile, Marks & Spencer revealed in the early days of Autumn that their sales of frozen Christmas food rocketed by 500 per cent compared to last year, with more than 25,000 turkeys sold by the end of September.
But whether you’re given to panic or premeditation, is it really possible to take the heavy lifting out of Christmas Day before the tinsel is even up?
Kate Hall, 35, a home cooking consultant and food waste advocate, thinks so. The Bromley-based mother-of-two runs The Full Freezer, which works with individuals, groups and corporations and brands to offer advice on how to safely freeze and cook from frozen, in order to reduce food waste. Now she has launchedThe Stress Free Christmas-Dinner, a downloadable collection of savvy tips and recipes to take all the pressure out of Yuletide culinary tasks.
As Hall says in her guide: “The key to success is how you freeze it, and how you cook after freezing. Having as much as possible prepped in advance can massively help to reduce stress on the day. The beauty of freezing is that you can also buy and prepare enough for the number of people you’re hoping to host, and then just use some of it if plans change.”
It’s important to point out that there is a safe way to freeze, says Bridget Benelam at the British Nutrition Foundation. “Make sure your freezer is working correctly (it should be -18°C) and that you’ll have plenty of space for defrosting items in your fridge that can’t be cooked from frozen, because defrosting at room temperature can be a safety risk. For example, when it comes to your turkey, ensure you put it in the freezer on the day you buy it. If it’s difficult to find room for a whole large fresh bird, cut it into portions and put it into freezer bags. The safest way to defrost your turkey is in the fridge but note that this can take a long time, especially if it’s large. You will need to allow 10-12 hours per kilo. Check the label for specific instructions and make sure you put it in a large dish to catch any liquid that comes out as it thaws.”
And avoid the danger zone, Hall also points out in her guide: “Between 8°C and 63°C is referred to as the ‘Food Danger Zone’. Between these temperatures dangerous bacteria will rapidly multiply in your food. These bacteria cannot all be killed off during the cooking process. If you have cooked something and are not planning to eat it immediately then you need to cool it quickly and get it into the fridge or freezer within two hours (do not put hot food in the fridge or freezer though as it will raise the temperature and put other food at risk).”
So, freezer bags at the ready – here’s how to prep your way to a stress-free Christmas Day, starting now….
Christmas dinner to-do list (frozen edition):
Follow a recipe and cook your festive ham, filling the house with festive smells… before December. Once prepared and cooled, wrap tightly in cling film and heavy duty foil and then freeze. You can slice the ham before freezing (place a bit of greaseproof paper between the slices to stop them sticking together) to save time later.
Choose a recipe, mix together the ingredients and then put into a loaf tin lined with heavy duty foil, packing parchment paper and foil tightly over the top. Then place in the freezer. The day before you want to cook it, move it to the fridge to allow it to defrost, then cook as per the recipe.
Prep your potatoes in the usual way: parboil, drain, steam dry, shake over flour, salt and pepper and then spoon over goose fat or olive oil. Lay the potatoes on a tray lined with baking parchment and freeze (known as open freezing). Once fully frozen, you can transfer them in a freezer bag for easy storage. When ready to cook, heat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/gas 6. Pour fat and oil into a baking tray and put in the oven. When the fat is sizzling, carefully add the still-frozen potatoes, then roast for 25 minutes. Remove tray, then increase the oven to 220°C/200°C fan/gas 7. Turn over the potatoes and return to the oven for a further 40 minutes until golden and crisp – or as you like them.
These have been the source of a particular brand of panic among shoppers devoted to having the meaty treats on their Christmas plate. Better to make your own now, open-freeze them uncooked on a lined baking tray and then, when frozen, seal inside a large freezer bag (Hall uses Ikea Istad bags) away from other food – this is to prevent cross contamination. Defrost in the fridge before cooking as normal.
This can be prepared in advance in the usual way and frozen in a dish lined with foil. Or in balls. Stuffing should be defrosted in the fridge before cooking as per the recipe. And if using meat, take care not to contaminate other food.
Parsnips, carrots and sprouts
Prep your veg and blanch for two minutes (four for sprouts) before dunking in iced water, drying and open freezing. Bag up once frozen, squeezing the air out of the bag. Don’t defrost before cooking, and use your chosen roast veg recipe – though you may just have to allow a little longer to cook. If boiling/steaming your carrots, reduce the cooking time by the original two-minute blanching time.
Follow your favourite recipe then flat freeze in bags to save space, and in the portions you intend to use it in – as you cannot refreeze. Defrost in the fridge or in the bag in a dish of cold water, and reheat on the hob or in the microwave.
Make as per your chosen method, then allow to cool (no more than two hours). Portion into resealable freezer bags and freeze flat. This takes up a lot less space in your freezer than jars or tubs. Freezing flat also means your sauce will defrost much more quickly. Either thaw in the fridge, or in a dish of cold water, tip out of the bag and reheat on the hob or in the microwave for 3-4 minutes until piping hot. Then add to your – almost – effortless Christmas dinner on the big day, as if it was all just a total freeze…