Hohoho! Christmas dinner has this terrible reputation of being a complete nightmare for whichever poor sap has been lumped with cooking it. But really, it’s just a glorified roast dinner with a few extra bits and bobs. With a bit of planning and work the day before, it’s not that difficult to pull off well on the 25th. The last few years I’ve actually gone for a Christmas roast duck instead of the traditional turkey, just for a bit of variety. Although it can be done well, I think we’ve all had enough lousy turkey in our lives that there are some negative connotations floating around when it comes to it. It’s nice to branch out anyway; it’s Christmas after all. Check out our other festive offerings here.
So now you’ve decided on your meat, what do you serve with your Christmas roast duck? The possible list of accompaniments is nearly endless, although some classics never disappear. For me, I need; roast potatoes, pigs in blankets, bread sauce and Yorkshire puddings, everything else is interchangeable.
Whatever you do, don’t fall into the trap of “it’s Christmas dinner so I must make this thing, even though I don’t like it”. If you don’t like Brussels sprouts, that’s fine, just don’t make them then! Over the years I’ve seen loads of examples of people trying to hide the flavour of sprouts using bacon and all sorts of other stuff. Why not just make something you actually want to eat?
This time for my trimmings I’ve gone for some braised cabbage with wintery spices, and orange and honey carrots, to complement the duck. Just remember not to go all out with the number of extras. It only adds extra stress and work when you should be relaxing, and you’ll have tonnes of food anyway. Leave room for dessert!
As for cooking the duck, I like to brine mine for 24 hours, a few days before eating. Doing this might seem excessive, but it’s minimal effort and provides a much tastier and juicier bird on the day of eating. You just need a bit of space to keep it in your fridge, which you’re probably going to do anyway. By adding spices to the brining liquid, the meat draws in the flavour, and seasons itself from the inside out, genius!
As for everything else, feel free to mix and match what you fancy for your ideal holiday meal. I picked out the trimmings here because they all play well together, and allow a decent juggling of my relatively limited kitchen resources while cooking. Also, remember that many supermarkets now stock great alternatives to home-making everything. If you don’t want to bother with making your own gravy from scratch, for example, you can just buy some granules and add the cooking juices, it’s still going to taste great.
Planning and Timeline
As I alluded to earlier, you don’t actually need to do everything on Christmas day, and you really shouldn’t. There’s actually quite a bit of prep you can get done the day (or two days) before. Below is a rough timeline of when the individual steps for each recipe can be done, to make your life easier. If you have some help in the kitchen, you might not find it’s necessary to do so much the day before, but that’s up to you.
2 days before eating:
Christmas Roast Duck – Steps 1 to 3: Prepare the brine and marinade the duck overnight.
1 day before eating:
Christmas Roast Duck – Step 4: Remove the duck from the brine and dry. Refrigerate uncovered overnight.
British Style Roast Potatoes – Step 1: Peel and cut the potatoes. Refrigerate covered in water overnight.
Braised Winter Cabbage – Chop cabbage and onion. Refrigerate covered overnight.
Honey and Orange Roast Carrots – Step 1: Chop carrots. Refrigerate covered overnight.
Pigs in Blankets – Step 1: Assemble the pigs in blankets. Refrigerate covered overnight.
Traditional Yorkshire Puddings – Steps 1 to 2: Make the batter. Refrigerate covered overnight.
Classic Bread Sauce – Steps 1 to 2: Infuse and strain the milk. Refrigerate covered overnight.
4.5 hours before eating:
Christmas Roast Duck – Step 5: Remove from the fridge.
2.5 hours before eating:
Christmas Roast Duck – Steps 6 to 8: Prepare and cook the duck.
British Style Roast Potatoes – Step 2: Par-boil the potatoes.
2 hours before eating:
Christmas Roast Duck – Step 8: Baste the duck.
British Style Roast Potatoes – Step 3: Prepare for roasting.
Honey and Orange Roast Carrots – Step 2: Prepare for roasting.
1.5 hours before eating:
Christmas Roast Duck – Step 8: Baste the duck.
British Style Roast Potatoes – Step 4: Roast the potatoes.
Braised Winter Cabbage – Steps 1 to 4: Prepare and start cooking cabbage.
Honey and Orange Roast Carrots – Step 3: Roast the carrots.
1 hour before eating:
Christmas Roast Duck – Step 8: Baste the duck.
45 minutes before eating:
Pigs in Blankets – Step 2: Roast the sausages.
Classic Bread Sauce – Steps 3: Add the breadcrumbs, thicken and season. Keep warm.
30 minutes before eating:
Christmas Roast Duck – Steps 9 to 10: Remove from the oven and rest.
British Style Roast Potatoes – Step 4: Check the potatoes, leave in if necessary.
Braised Winter Cabbage – Step 4: Check cabbage for doneness, season.
Honey and Orange Roast Carrots – Step 3: Check the carrots, leave in if necessary.
Pigs in Blankets – Step 2: Check the sausages, leave in if necessary.
Traditional Yorkshire Puddings – Steps 3 to 4: Turn up the oven temperature and preheat the fat.
15 minutes before eating:
Traditional Yorkshire Puddings – Steps 5 to 6: Roast the Yorkshire puddings.
Chicken Gravy – Steps 1 to 4: Make the gravy.
Notes on Cooking
In the recipes below, I’ve written the ideal cooking times and temperatures for each of the components, but you’ll notice that they’re not all the same. Unless you’ve got two ovens or an aga (lucky you), then you’re going to have to do some juggling and tweaking. Two components absolutely need the correct temperature here; the duck and the Yorkshire puddings.
For everything else, the temperature isn’t as critical. For example, if your potatoes need longer, just leave them in when you turn the temperature up for the Yorkshire puddings. Just keep an eye on everything and cook until you’re happy with the result. If you need more time, take it. The duck can be left to rest under foil for around an hour and will still be hot.
When making the Yorkshire puddings, the trick is to tip cold batter directly into the extremely hot oil. Therefore, leave the mixture in the fridge until the absolute last second and pour directly into the tray. I generally just pull the rack out of the oven a bit so I can get my hand in and add the batter. Just be very careful not to burn yourself. Once they’re in the oven try not to open the door until they’re finished, or you risk them collapsing.
Turkey can get a bit boring every Christmas, and easily dries out if you're not careful. Duck is a great and flavoursome alternative but gets a bad rap for being fatty. Treat it right for a delicious and special feast. Brining the bird before cooking ensures a succulent and tasty meat.
- 2 kg whole duck
- 2 L water
- 104 g salt uniodized
- 40 g brown sugar
- 4 bay leaves
- 1 nutmeg ground
- 20 black peppercorns
- 6 cloves
- 2 sprigs fresh thyme
- 2 sticks cinnamon
- 2 oranges peel
Two days before you want to eat, combine the water, sugar and salt in a large saucepan and heat until both of the dry ingredients have fully dissolved.
Add the remaining ingredients, except the orange zest, and cool.
Submerge the duck in the brine, ensuring that there’s no air left inside the cavity. Cover and refrigerate for 24 hours.
Remove the duck and discard the brine. Wash the bird thoroughly and dry well using paper kitchen towel. Return to the fridge, this time uncovered. Leave overnight.
Two hours before cooking, remove the bird from the fridge and cover so that it can come up to room temperature.
Preheat the oven to 180oC.
Prick the skin and fatty parts with a skewer thoroughly, ensuring not to pierce the meat. Season well with salt and pepper.
Place on a rack in a roasting tray and cook for 1.5 to 2 hours, until the juices run clear from the thickest part of the meat. Baste the bird every 30 minutes.
Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 20 - 30 minutes. Reserve the juices from the roasting pan to make gravy.
Carefully pour the fat (not any juices) through a piece of paper kitchen towel sitting in a sieve into a clear container and refrigerate for later use.
The ideal accompaniment for any roast meat, these crispy potatoes are cook with rosemary and garlic for extra flavour.
- 1 kg potatoes peeled
- 4 tbsp duck, beef or pork fat (neutral oil is also fine)
- 10 cloves garlic peeled
- 2 sprigs rosemary
Cut the potatoes to your desired size; I usually aim for around a golf ball. Remember, more edges means crispier potatoes. You can do this the day before, and then refrigerate them covered in water.
Par-boil the potatoes in heavily salted water until almost done all the way through. Drain and allow to dry out.
In a roasting dish, combine the potatoes with the rest of the ingredients. Crush the garlic cloves slightly. If using animal fat that is solid, break up into bits and scatter throughout.
Roast at 200oC for around an hour, stirring and tossing every 20 minutes or so.
A great winter staple, this slow-braised and spiced cabbage makes a perfect addition to any dinner table. Red cabbage is the best choice, but others also work well if you can't get a hold of red.
- 1 cabbage (ideally red) cored and sliced
- 1 onion finely sliced
- 50 g unsalted butter
- 1 tsp cinnamon ground
- 1/2 tsp cloves ground
- 1/2 tsp nutmeg ground
- 1 sharp eating apple finely diced
- 3 tbsp brown sugar
- 150 mL balsamic or cider vinegar
Melt the butter in a large saucepan over a medium-low heat and saute the onion until soft and translucent, about 10 minutes.
Add the cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg and cook for another minute.
Add the cabbage and cook for a few minutes while stirring, until well coated with the onion and spice mixture.
Add the apple, sugar and vinegar and stir to combine. Cover the pan with a lid and reduce the heat to low. Cook for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.
Season the cabbage well with salt, pepper, and a knob of butter before serving.
Roast carrots are a favourite addition to any roast dinner. By combining with orange and honey them become an ideal partner for duck.
- 1 kg carrots peeled
- 5 tbsp orange juice
- 3 tbsp honey
- 2 tbsp neutral oil
- 2 sprigs thyme
Quarter the carrots lengthwise and then cut the batons in half. Try and aim for all of the sticks to be roughly the same size, you may need to chop some of the larger pieces lengthwise again.
Toss the carrots with the other ingredients in an oven dish and season with salt and pepper.
Roast the carrots for 45 minutes to 1 hour at 200oC. Toss the carrots in the honey and orange juice occasionally throughout cooking.
Just the quintessential addition to any British Christmas dinner. Pigs in blankets combine two of the best ingredients, pork sausage and pork bacon. Winner.
- 6 pork sausages
- 12 rashers streaky bacon
Cut the sausages in half and wrap a piece of bacon around each one. Secure through the middle with a cocktail or kebab stick.
Roast for 15 minutes at 200oC, until cooked through.
Yorkshire puddings were invented to fill people up when they couldn't afford much meat for dinner. Now they're essential for any roast dinner (but primarily beef). Can also be eaten with jam or ice cream as a dessert.
- 200 mL beaten egg
- 200 mL milk
- 200 g plain flour
- 6 tbsp duck, beef or pork fat (neutral oil is also fine)
The day before, make the batter. Whisk the egg and milk together with a good pinch of salt. Slowly add the flour, combining thoroughly as you go to create a smooth mixture. Alternatively, use a food processor or blender.
Cover with cling film and refrigerate overnight.
Once the meat is cooked and resting on the side, turn the oven up to 240oC.
Divide the fat between the hollows of a muffin tin and place in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes to come to temperature.
Take the batter directly from the fridge and immediately pour into the muffin tin, half filling each well.
Roast the puddings for around 15-20 minutes, until well puffed and golden brown. If they start to burn on top, turn the oven down to about 200oC for the last 5 minutes.
A bit of an unusual British classic, bread sauce is exactly what it sounds like. A very mild but tasty accompaniment for roasted poultry, adjust the spice and seasoning to your taste.
- 300 mL milk
- 50 mL double cream
- 1 onion halved
- 15 cloves
- 10 black peppercorns
- 3 cloves garlic squashed
- 2 bay leaves
- 100 g fresh white breadcrumbs
- 1/2 tsp nutmeg ground
Stud the onion with the cloves and combine in a saucepan with the milk, cream, peppercorns, garlic, bay leaves and thyme. Bring the milk to a simmer before taking off the heat and covering. Leave to infuse for 30 minutes.
Strain the milk and cream mixture. This can be done the day before and kept overnight, covered in the fridge.
Return the liquid to the cleaned saucepan. Add the breadcrumbs and bring to a simmer, stirring regularly. Cook for a few minutes until the sauce becomes suitably thick. Season with salt, pepper and the nutmeg.
This simple recipe outlines the basic steps for making any gravy. Just swap out the stock for the one of your choice to make beef, lamb or anything else.
- 2 tbsp duck, beef or pork fat, or butter
- 2 tbsp plain flour
- any roasting juices
- 400 mL chicken stock
Make a roux by melting the fat in a saucepan over a medium heat and then adding the flour, whisking to combine. Cook on a medium heat for 2 - 3 minutes to remove any floury flavour.
Remove the pan from the heat and slowly add in the roasting juices and stock, whisking each addition until well combined.
When all of the liquid is in, put the pan back on a medium heat, bring to a simmer and continuously whisk until the desired thickness of gravy is reached. Coating the back of a spoon is a good guideline.
Season to taste with salt and pepper before serving.