I love Christmas Day. It brings together two of my favourite things: food and family. As a chef, you end up serving hundreds if not thousands of Christmas lunches throughout December. And while it’s something I love to do, I also look forward to sitting back with loved ones and relaxing over the holidays.
The Minton clan has a traditional routine. Most of the family stays at ours the night before, so the house is brimming with different generations all sharing in the spirit of Christmas – often with help of some other spirits! It’s a special time for the children, with everyone getting involved laying out the mince pies, carrots and milk. When it’s finally time for bed, flour is laid by the fire for some boot prints and a few bites are taken from the treats left for a special visitor who leaves gifts in the dead of night.
Christmas day follows a familiar pattern for most families. Woken up by the children at silly o’clock, then rushing downstairs to marvel at the ‘snowy’ imprints and half-eaten mince pie left the night before. For the older members of the Minton family, the haze left by the spirits is lifted with some celebratory bubbles and gifts around the tree. Once complete, I am then off to the kitchen for a solid day of cooking and eating – heaven!
I kick off the day with breakfast for everyone, beginning with thick-cut smoked Packington bacon and grilled plum tomato rolls. Once everyone’s been fed, I begin by preparing the main event. On comes the radio with obligatory Christmas tunes, a top up of the drinks and a donning of the apron that I probably unwrapped an hour earlier.
For starters, I usually prepare some terrines, pates, and cured meats, along with some homemade pickles and the rest of the fresh bread baked that morning. I put this on a long wooden sleeper and let the family help themselves. I am a big fan of the informal dining style, as I believe it helps guests to truly unwind and enjoy the day. These days, it’s rare for families to all gather round a table and eat, so I like to make the most of this rare opportunity.
Main course is where the real magic happens, with the wine flowing and festivities in full swing. This is where the food truly comes alive. I cook the traditional turkey but always add in a roasted whole fillet of local beef for extra flavour. On other occasions, I have opted for Packington pork belly – an absolute belter of a cut and, when cooked well, one of the best out there. To accompany, all the trimmings: pigs in blankets, homemade sage and onion stuffing, a very generous amount of rosemary and garlic duck fat roasted potatoes, sautéed sprouts and pancetta, cauliflower and leek mornay, braised cabbage… the list goes on.
My favourite moment is serving up. The Christmas atmosphere peaks as I place the food in the middle of the table and the family dishes it out to one another. You can, of course, guarantee that one of the grandparents is a little merry by this point, which only adds to the mood!
Dessert is different for every household. For us, after an hour or two of conversation, we move into the lounge to play some games, although a few have usually nodded off by the point. The final course is always different and is eaten much later in the day when the bloating has receded slightly. Sometimes it’s a pie, other times it’s a trifle. Most often the classic Christmas pudding with brandy flame wins the day.
Across the country, there will be many having a day similar to the Mintons. Being a chef, I always hope that Christmas day is filled with great food as I truly believe it has the power to bring people closer together, be it family, friends, or even in the most magical times, total strangers who eventually become lifelong friends.
Merry Christmas one and all.