In the age of austerity both of the UK’s top chefs go back to basics with classic roast turkey Christmas dinner.
Christmas dinner: the biggest and most important meal of the year. So which of these two top chefs would you trust with it?
As their brand ambassador Waitrose milked Heston Blumenthal for every recipe they could in the run up to Christmas, all free via their website and in-store recipe cards.
Channel 4 beamed Gordon Ramsay’s Ultimate Christmas into UK homes for free, but if you wanted more than the scant few recipes online you had to buy his book for a tenner (mystifyingly it was only available at Tesco).
Each of them tackled the Christmas classics in their own way. Gordon’s new takes on old dishes and Heston’s simple -and not so simple- accentuations. Here’s how they stacked up against each other…
(Apologies for some of the photos, Christmas dinner is always a bit of a rush. Doing two with pictures as well meant that something had to give)
Heston: Begins as you’d expect from a man with this reputation: “measure out an 8% salt solution”. But brining and low temperature cooking has always been Heston’s answer to keeping meat tender and moist.
The simplified Waitrose recipe still requires a temperature probe, but the turkey is cooked a good fifty degrees higher than the 60°C of the In Search of Perfection roast. Ideal if you’re squeamish or don’t want the oven on for twelve hours. My own fan-assisted model cooked the skin unevenly and the bird came out looking like a Batman villain.
Gordon: A standard time-by-weight formula for Ramsay. Plenty of lemon flavouring in the basting butter and cavity make it taste great, if not quite traditional. The high heat gives it one very traditional feature though: really dry meat. Great crispy skin though.
Heston: What’s the difference between stock, soup and gravy? Heston’s is an incredible hassle to make when you’re juggling so many other parts of your meal. Brilliant flavour but far too thin. By the end there was a solid centimetre of fat swimming on the top -we skipped blending in even more butter.
Gordon: Lemon and walnuts?! And people accuse Heston of using weird ingredients! Actually this is a doddle to make, the tomatoes and bacon bringing plenty umami richness and the lemon keeping the flavour light.
Really delicious, I finished half of this by constantly sipping at it as I prepared the rest of the meal. A much better, thicker consistency too.
Heston: The long list of dry ingredients makes it sound more like it’s going to be Cranberry and Caraway Sawdust, but once you add the liquid it magically becomes a Christmassy bread-paste. The caraway and celery make it a million times lighter than a claggy packet of Paxo.
A devil to cut when warm, ours weren’t in precise 5x7cm rectangles (See, this is why you get that reputation, Heston!). It contains well over a full block of butter, I’d reduce the amount next time. Because I’d like to live past 50.
Gordon: Ramsay’s cooking persona has always been very masculine, which is handy because it takes some serious balls to call this “stuffing”. A fruity, nutty, burger made of dry, grainy pork mince would be more accurate. And we needed specialist drilling equipment to cut through the baked chorizo.
Heston: People devote extensive posts to roast potatoes. Rightly so, they’re such a crucial part of a traditional English roast dinner. Our supermarket Maris Pipers were a mixed bag (ahem) and they boiled at different rates. Your best bet is to fish them out one-by-one when they look done.
It’s a LOT of hassle to get them right –they were slightly overcooked following the published recipe time- but the results are more than worth it: melting centres and perfect crispy crusts that are popping with flavour.
Ramsay: Turmeric and chilli don’t belong anywhere on this plate. As one of my friends said: “Christmas dinner isn’t supposed to be spicy!”
Heston: Remember the “Christmas Care Line”? Well, keep that number handy because you’ll be feeling borderline suicidal after hours separating the leaves of Brussels sprouts for this recipe.
You don’t need quite as much butter as the recipe suggests (50g). One of my friends with a lifelong aversion to sprouts was converted by these. Almost worth the effort. Almost.
Gordon: Nothing like your usual sprouts which, boiled until bitter and mushy. Ramsay’s recipe is an exercise in damage limitation, frying them to preserve the crisp texture and adding a full lemon to counteract the bitterness. As good as traditional sprouts are ever going to get.
CARROTS, PARSNIPS & CRANBERRY SAUCE
Heston: Again there’s a lot of butter on the carrots (140g this time!) but the absence of water means retain all their flavour. It’s easy enough to leave them simmering away on the back hob with the occasional jostle.
Nevermind your Christmas pud, you may flambé the whole kitchen with Heston’s parsnip recipe. They bubble something fierce when you submerge them in hot oil, the one time I’m lucky not to have a gas hob!
The cranberry sauce just tastes of oranges.
Gordon: Didn’t supply recipes for the other veg. Not for free anyway, so we had to nick some from the ever-dependable BBC Good Food website for Ramsay’s take on parsnips and carrots. His carrots aren’t as good as Heston’s but his chunky parsnips are a lot more traditional (though less exciting) than deep fried slivers.
I couldn’t face buying more cranberries by this point.
Winner: Heston (by default)
Heston: I spent two blog posts moaning about not getting one of these, but I eventually realised there was no way I was going to miss out on this.
I can’t agree with Jay Rayner that it’s worth £250, but it’s definitely the £13.99 RRP (I paid slightly over that). The candied orange in the middle was quite divisive (two people hated it), I found it too tough to “carve with a spoon”. The pudding itself is impressively rich and moist, certainly the best I’ve ever had.
We served it with double cream rather than Heston’s Cointreau butter. After polishing off nearly a kilo of Lurpak we didn’t need any more.
Gordon: Want proof that Ramsay’s main concern is the American market now? Well then here’s his recipe for a traditional Christmas Maple Syrup sponge pudding. The cloves and orange zest manage to keep it more Festive and less Thanksgiving. The one we made was quite heavy, which I’d put down to cold butter that wasn’t whipped sufficiently. I couldn’t see any point in adding bay leaves because the flambé-ing at the end resulted in an overpowering whisky flavour.
I don’t think my dessert skills did this recipe justice, but Gordon’s recipe doesn’t do your tastebuds justice either.
I do genuinely like Ramsay, and his older recipes are excellent, but the attempts to innovate mostly misfire here. The stuffing and spuds were embarrassing. Gordon’s gravy, however, was streets ahead of Heston’s. Blumenthal’s recipe requires a lot of extra hassle while you’re concentrating on bringing the rest of the meal to the table.
You expect a lot of mither with a Heston Blumenthal recipe, so you’ve only got yourself to blame if you tackle six or seven at once. And you thought Jamie’s 30-Minute-Meals were a challenge!
His dishes are famously rich but it’s worth noting that, even without pudding, the published figures bring Heston’s dinner in at a heavyweight 2600 calories. Well over 3000 if you add the Hidden Orange Christmas Pudding and some cream on the side. There’s around 900g of butter too. 150g per person, well over half a block each! I know it’s the season of indulgence but still… Probably a good idea to put the cardiologist on speed dial, eh.
If you are prepared to put the graft in then Heston’s recipes are mostly worth the effort, though I wouldn’t follow them to the letter in future.
Yep, I’d probably still do all of Blumenthal’s recipes again, but spread over two days. And with a few changes that I’m sure neither Heston nor the Anchor Butter shareholders would agree with.
Turkey: Whatever you do DON’T cover the bird tightly with foil while its resting. The steam will reabsorb into the skin and it’ll end up like flaccid jelly.
Gravy: With some chicken wings or turkey scraps you could easily make this beforehand and reheat on the day. Worth investing in one of those fat separating jugs too.
Roast Potatoes: These need about 20 minutes less in the oven than Heston specifies. Especially if yours is fan-assisted.
Stuffing: Replace the majority beurre noisette with chicken stock and groundnut oil. You don’t need all that richness and saturated fat, even at Christmas.
Sprouts: Heston says cabbage is better. It’s much easier to separate for this method, so Bang! And the sprout is gone. I’d also use far less butter, or even margarine on ALL the veg.
Carrots: The can be sliced the night before and kept in the fridge.
Parsnips: Ditto prep-ahead for these, but I’d also attempt to dry them in a low oven before frying to prevent another oil-splosion.
Did you cook any of these recipes this Christmas, or catch either of these chefs on TV? If you tried any of them, or even got to sample the fabled Waitrose Hidden Orange Christmas Pudding then put your comments below…