May I just set the festive scene in the kitchen? The turkey is the size of a VW Beetle and barely fits in the oven, even with all the trays taken out. (Maybe you went slightly overboard on that?).
The vegetables are peeled and sitting in saucepans of cold water, ready to boil at the last minute. Is it 15 minutes for carrots? And 10 minutes for sprouts? Or vice-versa? Gravy at the VERY last minute, to avoid it ending up like congealed wallpaper paste. And where on earth am I going to roast the potatoes?
All those recipe books make it seem so simple, don’t they? The turkey is the star. Do this. Garnish with that. Then stick it in the oven. With a couple of short bullet points about the “traditional accompaniments”. Effortless, non?
The big point is, that the recipe itself is only a tiny part of getting it right. And making it easy.
Maybe it’s just me … but I always find that the reality of being the cook on Christmas Day is somewhat different to the picture painted by the esteemed recipe writers.
The timing of all the elements requires the same precision as a moon landing. Without 100 experts from Mission Control on hand to troubleshoot and guide you in. Obviously soggy sprouts and dried-up turkey are somewhat less problematic than perishing in a catastrophic fireball, but you know what I mean.
And do I even dare to mention the aftermath of all those pots and pans?
How to cook with charcoal and create the best-ever Christmas dinner. With all the trimmings. And absolutely none of the hassle.
Cook everything outside over charcoal the Charlie Oven way
Is easy. In fact, easy-peasy.
The reason it’s so easy is that EVERYTHING just goes in the Charlie Charcoal Oven.
And everything comes out tasting amazing - with moistness and succulence locked-in … and crispness and depth and complexity of flavour and smokiness and deliciousness.
It’s the best way to cook meat. And the best way to cook vegetables.
And the Charlie Oven is big enough to cook everything at the same time. The turkey. The sprouts. The spuds. The carrots. The parsnips. The pigs in blankets. The works. It has two and a half times the volume of a regular domestic oven.
The Charlie recipe for Christmas Dinner
- Take one Charlie Oven (remembering that there’s no BBQ season for Charlie: it’s totally weatherproof and its front-opening door means you can even cook outside if it’s a white Christmas … although there have only officially been four of those in the UK in the last sixty years. Sadly).
- Take all of your vegetables, prep them, and bang them in the Charlie Oven at the right time (see below for those minor details).
- Relax, serve, enjoy, soak up the warm praise from your family and friends.
- Leave any (very, very minimal) oven cleaning till Boxing Day, or just whenever you fancy.
The easy way to make the magic happen
- Light the Charlie Oven. Make a loose pyramid of sustainably sourced, natural lumpwood charcoal. Light a couple of natural firelighters, nestle them into the charcoal. Open the vents, close the door … and get your turkey ready.
- Get the turkey in a roasting tin, stuffed and rubbed and prepped as you wish (there are a million recipes for this bit!). Breast side up, with tinfoil over the top.
- In about 30 minutes, the Charlie Oven will be getting up to temperature: in this case 180C. When it’s almost there, close the bottom vent. That will hold the temperature where you want it, for hours.
- Optional – for some extra je ne-sais quoi – add a couple of chunks of hardwood to the hot charcoal. That will give your turkey an extra, beautiful layer of smokiness. Dee-licious!
- Whack the turkey in the Charlie Oven. How long for? 40 mins per 1kg for the first 4kg, then 45 mins for every 1kg over that weight. Better still, cook until the internal temperature (measured on a probe) reaches 70C.
- For the last 30 minutes of turkey roasting, stoke up the temperature to 200C and remove the foil. Simply open the bottom vent. The temperature will climb. When it’s almost there, close the bottom vent again.
- Take the turkey out and rest it for a full hour, more if you fancy. Use the juices to rustle up some gravy.
- Vegetables (and pigs in blankets, etc) – and THIS is what makes the Charlie method so sooper-dooper easy. Just roast them all in a baking tray (or trays, depending on size, number and variety of vegetables … and family members). Keep the Charlie Oven at 200C: remember, you’re already there. Prep the veggies as you wish: a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt is simple and delicious. Spuds, one hour. Carrots and parsnips 45 minutes. Sprouts and broccoli 15 minutes. There’s enough room in the Charlie Oven to cook them all at the same time.
- Voila! Serve, straight from the tray. And everything will look as good as it tastes.
Two final turkey myth-busters
1. Does turkey make you sleepy?
This one has been doing the rounds for a few years.
Turkey allegedly causes drowsiness because it is packed with a nutrient called “tryptophan”.
But what does the science tell us? Is this simply an urban myth, like government black ops tracking us through vaccines? (Although, of course, the “turkey effect” is a far more serious and sinister issue on Christmas Day itself).
Turkey is a great source of tryptophan, but so are many other meats and proteins. Tryptophan is used by the human body to make serotonin (note – not melatonin, as one may have heard on social media ... or in the pub). The science tells us serotonin makes fruit flies sleepy. And some non-human mammals. But certainly not by this means. This “2+2=5” is probably the origin of the turkey myth.
MIT’s Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences (who should know, methinks) concludes the following about the burning question of the turkey effect: "Paradoxically, what makes people sleepy after Thanksgiving dinner is … dessert"
So, if turkey is innocent, who is the real culprit?
Ahem … it’s overeating (especially pudding) and over-drinking. Sorry to break the sad news, folks! "Stretching of the small intestine and a protein–fat loading of the stomach induces sleepiness," says Stanford University, "and more blood going to the gastrointestinal tract means less going elsewhere." For example, the brain.
Surely not! I’d rather believe the myth and blame the poor old turkey. Pass the champagne, please.
2. What’s the best way to carve a turkey?
NOT the way 99% of us do it.
Most people carve along the grain of the breast, carving those classic slivers away from the turkey, as it sits resplendent on the platter.
But that ain’t right. That makes the slices tougher and drier than they have any right to be. Don’t blame the turkey, don’t blame the chef, blame the carver.
The way to give everyone a lovely tender, juicy slice of turkey breast is to carve it against the grain. That’s the way a steak is cut.
Simply carve off the entire breast, then cut it across-ways into thick, moist, chunky slices. Boot-iful (who said that?).
MERRY CHRISTMAS, EVERYONE.