How to hold a dazzling Christmas banquet
Whether you’re holding a small party for your immediate family, or you’re throwing a full-on, all bells and whistles Christmas bonanza for your friends and loved ones, hosting the perfect festive banquet is a time-consuming task with lots of added pressure to get things ‘just right’.
But don’t worry, help is at hand as we’ve scoured the internet and spoken to experts from across the country to pull together these top tips:
The Welcome Drink
First impressions count for a lot so don’t fall at the first hurdle when welcoming guests into your home. As well as ensuring you have the right ambience with cheerful (but not cheesy) Christmas music, festive lighting and decorations, a guaranteed way to make a great first impression is to serve your guests a delicious and classy welcome cocktail.
Louise Hammond, Spirit of Harrogate’s mixologist, recommends making your guests a Slingsby Rhubarb Gin Mimosa cocktail and serving it in your finest crystal glassware. She said: “A pre-dinner cocktail is a lavish way of welcoming guests into your home, and paired with your theme or first course, it can really kick off an evening in style. Why not surprise your guests with a modern twist on the Christmas classic bucks fizz? Our Rhubarb Gin Mimosa, combines festive clementine flavours with our delicious Yorkshire Rhubarb Gin and a splash of bubbly, for a boozy, chic alternative.”
You don’t want to fill your guests with food as soon as they arrive so that they don’t enjoy the delicious banquet you’ve prepared for them. But chances are they’ll be a little peckish after a couple of cocktails and will want something delicious to nibble on, to get their taste buds tingling and ready for more.
If you want to make some canapes from scratch, but you don’t want the stress of spending hours making them, how about these light and tasty ideas:
- Devilled Coronation Eggs: This retro recipe is back in vogue thanks to Nigella Lawson. These coronation chicken deviled eggs are the perfect light and tasty party food, and they look pretty too
- Stuffed Peppadew Peppers: These peppadew peppers stuffed with artichoke, feta and rocket only take about 10 minutes to prepare. They’ll keep your vegetarian guests happy too
- Hoisin duck on cucumber: These are so beautiful to look at but they’re also easy to prepare and include just a few simple ingredients
Of course, if time isn’t on your side, the leading high-end supermarkets have some fabulous ready-made options that are sure to wow your guests. We love the Antipasti Skewers available at Marks & Spencer, the Tomato and Mozzarella Arancini Bites at Booths, and for a real treat, how about Waitrose’s decadent Lobster Thermador canapes.
Devilled Coronation Eggs - Image courtesy of Olive magazine
The Table Layout
After a few drinks and canapés, it’s time to lead your guests into the dining room. Here’s where you can really impress with your decorative skills, especially with the table centrepiece. It’s worth investing in a fresh floral display for the middle of the table if you can, as this will add a gorgeous scent to the room as well as give your guests a colourful and festive focal point.
We asked Helen from Helen James flowers in Harrogate for her top tips. She said: “Create a stunning centrepiece or table garland with a mix of seasonal flowers, such as roses, thistle and waxflower, and some lush green foliage, like ivy, eucalyptus or mistletoe. To add a delicate scent, weave in some herbs - like rosemary - which will give off a lovely aroma to complement the food and drink.
“Traditional reds and greens are always a firm favourite at Christmas time but if you want a contemporary feel, opt for whites and greens, and a touch of sparkle, which will complement any home interior. Dress your table with co-ordinating place settings, napkins and other festive decorations, and add candles for a soft, relaxing glow.”
In terms of guidance for laying the table, you can’t go far wrong than to follow Debrett’s, the etiquette experts. The basic rules are to give people plenty of elbow room and an even amount of space between places. Knives and spoons go on the right, forks on the left – and the ideal is always to work from the outside in. Even if side plates aren’t going to be used, it’s the ‘done thing’ to have them anyway, with napkins simply folded on them.
Image courtesy of Debrett’s
Preparing a three-course dinner is without a doubt, the most stress-inducing part of planning, and creating, the perfect Christmas banquet. But you can make things a little easier for yourself by taking shortcuts where necessary. For example, we’re all for buying a pre-made delicious and decadent seafood platter for your guests to tuck into as a starter. Ramus Seafood Emporium has an impressive selection of platters, large and small, to cater for any number of guests you’re hosting.
The main course is where you can really impress, or equally fail to impress, your guests. A few days before your Christmas banquet it is worth creating a timings plan of everything from preparing the vegetables to putting the meat in the oven and serving. You can save yourself a lot of hassle on the day by preparing some things in advance, for example the roast potatoes. Mary Berry has a handy recipe for part-roasting the potatoes the day before the big event. You then just need to finish roasting them in a hot oven for 20 minutes on the day.
Nothing causes more stress during a Christmas banquet than worrying if your meat centrepiece is going to be undercooked… or overcooked. Lisa Bennison from Betty’s has given us her top tips for cooking the quintessential Christmas meats; turkey, goose and beef:
Goose cooking tips
Cut off the excess fat from the neck and from inside the cavities. Render down the fat, add some herbs and orange zest and use to cook your roast potatoes.
Prick the skin of the bird a few times all over to allow the fat to escape. There will be a lot of fat so drain this off at least every 30 minutes and use this fat to re baste the goose as it cooks. If the goose is ready-trussed, then loosen the string and pull out the legs and wings a little – this helps the bird cook better.
If the breast is done first, it can dry out while the legs are finishing cooking. Should this happen, remove the legs and place them back in the oven to continue cooking whilst keeping the breast warm in a tent of foil., continue to baste the legs often to keep them moist.
The goose is cooked when the meat thermometer reads 75°C
Cook for 10 mins at 240C/fan 220C/gas 9, then reduce to 190C/fan 170C/gas 5 and cook for 20 mins per kg for medium-rare, 32 mins per kg for more well done, plus 30 mins resting.
Beef cooking tips
I like to do my Yorkshire puddings before the meat and vegetables go in the oven as this allows them to cook in a dry heat. You can put the Yorkshire puddings back in the oven to warm up whilst you serve out the meat and vegetables. This means you’ll never hear those infamous words “not long now, we’re just waiting for the Yorkshires!”
Remove the beef from the fridge 30 minutes before you want to cook it, to let it come up to room temperature.
Preheat the oven to 240°C/475°F/ gas 9
Put a trivet of vegetables - celery, onion & carrots – (there’s no need to peel them) in the middle of a large roasting tin and drizzle with oil.
Drizzle the beef with oil and season well with sea salt and black pepper, then rub all over the meat. Place the beef on top of the vegetables.
Baste the beef halfway through cooking and if the vegetables look dry, add a splash of water to the tray to stop them from burning.
When the beef is cooked to your liking, take the tray out of the oven and transfer the beef to a board to rest for 15 minutes or so. Cover with foil to keep warm.
Turkey Cooking Tips
For a standard turkey that weighs around 6kg/13lb, the cooking time will be about 4 hours. It's best to calculate your cooking time at 40 minutes per kg or 20 minutes per lb to get the most accurate time.
Place a trivet of vegetables (celery, onion & carrot) under the bird and add 2 litres of chicken stock with a glass of wine (wine for the bird not the chef or as it is Christmas maybe a glass of wine for the chef and the bird?!). This will create steam to keep the bird moist and provide delicious juices for your gravy.
It’s important that poultry is cooked through. If using a digital thermometer check the turkey is cooked by sticking the probe in thickest part g. test breast and thighs. The temperature should hold at 75°C for 30 seconds. If returning to the bird to the oven allow 10-15 mins in the oven then test again until the correct temperature is reached.
The classic way to test is to push a spoon under the leg of the bird so that it pierces the skin (or use a skewer) and inspect the juices that collect in the spoon. The juices should be clear.
To make sure you get the perfect juicy roast, leave the joint to rest on a platter so the juices get a chance to settle and draw back into the meat. Cover with foil to stop all the heat escaping. Leave a small joint to rest for 10 mins, 20-30 mins for larger joints.
The best way to check if your meat is cooked is to use a digital cooking thermometer.
For beef, lamb and venison follow these guidelines:
Well done: 75C-80C
For poultry (chicken, turkey, goose and duck)
Finally, cheap foil loses heat quickly so buy the best you can afford. Ensure your foil is shiny side inward so that it retains the heat. This can help speed up the cooking your Christmas dinner!
For your meat-free guests, there are some mouth-watering vegetarian mains that will make the traditional nut roast a thing of the past. Jamie Oliver has some delicious suggestions, including his whole roasted cauliflower, a veggie and vegan alternative to the festive roast, and the Persian squash and pistachio roast, a colourful combination of root vegetables and dried fruits and nuts that pack a punchy flavour.
English wine is currently having in its heyday. Some 3.8 million bottles of British-made wine were released for sale last year, which is up 64% on the 2.36 bottles produced the previous year. English sparkling wine, which is made using the same traditional method as champagne, is also growing in popularity and doesn’t come with the same hefty price tag.
Serving your guests a selection of English wines, paired with your food, is a sure way to impress them as it shows them you’re aware of current wine trends, as well as supporting British business. Gareth Bath, MD at Chapel Down Wines told us a fish course starter should be paired with something zesty and refreshing, like its Tenterden Estate Bacchus Reserve, which combines lime zest, apricot and floral notes for a richly concentrated flavour.
If you’re having turkey or goose for the main, this is delicious with an unoaked Chardonnay – but if beef is more up your street pick something smooth and well-rounded, with flavours of dark chocolate and black pepper. The Syrah by Domaine Gayda, a collaboration between Chapel Down and Domaine Gayda, an organic winery in the Languedoc region, would work perfectly with beef. Then for dessert, you can’t beat Chapel Down Nectar 2017, which is ideal for fruit desserts and cheeses. For a champagne toast to round off your meal, serve The Kit’s Coty Blanc de Blancs 2013, guaranteed to really elevate your Christmas festivities.
Above all else, try to relax and enjoy the party! Nothing spoils a Christmas banquet more than a stressed-out host… it’s even worse than a dry, overcooked turkey.
You can’t go far wrong than to serve your Christmas party guests a delicious Slingsby gin and tonic. Take a look at our online shop, or visit our Spirit Harrogate store, to see all our available products.