Holiday ‘Mise En Place’ – How to Host a Stress Free Christmas Dinner

Mise en place is French for “everything in its place” and is a crucial part of the chef’s operating system. If you’re not prepared for a busy dinner service, you’re going to have a bad time. If you don’t have all of your ingredients ready to go and organized, necessary tools at hand and a clear plan of action, workspace and mind; you’re going down. Are you planning to host a Christmas lunch or holiday get together and are concerned about royally fudging things? By simply planning out your meal and preparing most of the meal in advance you can alleviate an enormous amount of stress!

Roast Chicken, Cabbage and Kale, Mashed Potatoes and gravy

Over the past few weeks I’ve been writing articles with the thought of christmas and the holiday season in mind. I hope that some of the techniques and recipes will prove useful but today I wanted to give a few tips on how to manage your time and food preparation in the days leading up to Christmas. You should spend the day enjoying yourself and doing some light cooking rather than pulling your hair out to get everything together on time.

I’ve selected the specific recipes I’ve been working on recently to make a sample menu but a lot of the advice holds true for a number of different dishes. For the purposes of explanation let’s assume you’re putting together a simple starter, main course of meat and two veg and a dessert.

Celeriac soup

Starter – Celeriac, Caramelized Shallot and Brown Butter Soup

Soups like this are a nice way to start the meal. They warm you through, they’re quick and easy to serve and they can be made well in advance. Puree soups like this can be made in bulk and stored in your freezer for at least a few months. You can defrost it overnight and warm it through in a pot on the day and adjust the seasoning as necessary just before serving.

In this recipe there are a few different components to add texture and flavour. There is a fried crumbly celeriac coating that will keep for a few days as long as it’s kept dry. The roast or sauteed celeriac can be cooked the day before and warmed through in the oven as you heat up your soup. The herbs and fresh garnishes like the pomegranate jewels can also be picked the day before and kept in a small container lined with damp paper towels.

When there’s no discernable loss of quality in the food you’re going to be preparing, don’t kill yourself to have everything cooked fresh on the day. If you’re more likely to mess something up or stressing to the point that you’re not enjoying yourself in the kitchen then its just not worth the fuss.

Roast Chicken Carved

Main Course – Simple Roast Chicken and Gravy

Whatever protein you decide to go for, keep in mind this is going to be the star of the show so make it count. Whether you roast a chicken, a turkey, a prime rib or a pork belly, you want to make sure that it’s cooked just right. Invest in a probe thermometer and know what temperature you’re aiming for so you know when to remove things from the oven. Pull your meat out a few degrees below your desired internal temperature and allow it to rest for at least 10 minutes. The temperature will slowly increase and the muscle fibres of the meat will relax and won’t give off as much juice when cut.

Cuts like this will need to be cooked or at least finished on the day. For example a turkey should be cooked and served as soon as it’s out of the oven and done resting. If you want to up the flavour of your joint of meat it may be worth looking into seasoning it with a cure or a brine well before you start cooking. Additionally, allowing the surface moisture of the meat to dry out in the fridge overnight is an easy trick that will dry out the surface of the meat, concentrating the flavours and allowing the surface to brown easily in the oven.

You can make your pan sauce while your meat rests but often it is a good idea to cheat and make a sauce in advance with some stock you had saved up. You can always deglaze your pan drippings and blend them into your finished sauce for more flavour.

bowl of mashed potatoes

Sides – Roasted Garlic and Rosemary Pomme Puree

The meat may be the star of the show but without delicious supporting players your christmas lunch could still fall flat. Whatever I can get par-cooked or cooked all the way a day or two before, I will. For example in this mashed potatoes dish you can cook and strain the potatoes, keep them covered well and finish them just before serving with plenty of butter, hot cream and roasted garlic to bring them to life the day after.

If you were making roast potatoes for example but needed the oven for your roast turkey for the majority of the morning it would be a good idea to perhaps portion and boil the potatoes the day before and just finish them off in a hot oven with plenty of fat and let them cook while your meat rests.

Cabbage Kale Guanciale

Braised Cabbage and kale with Crispy Guanciale

For something a little bit less starch and dairy rich I like to have a lighter side to complement the wonderfully decadent. Something like this braised cabbage and kale will get better in the fridge overnight and can simply be warmed through on the day. I would recommend reserving some pieces of crispy guanciale and add them at the end just so there’s some textural contrast. The same can be done with your favourite casserole, prepare in advance and finish with a crunchy topping or toasted nuts on the day and simply warm through while your meat rests.

Chocolate Chestnut Mousse Imbuljuta

Dessert – Chocolate and Chestnut Mousse with Carob Crumble

Once people have recovered from their lunchtime of savoury indulgence and have made enough room for dessert, you should at least be on your third or fourth glass of wine. Nobody wants to run into the kitchen and portion a cake or a pie at the beck and call of your hungry diners. If you can dedicate the fridge space to preparing individual desserts portioned in glasses or ramequins, this will save you time and fumbling around at the table. Send the most sober and coordinated member of the table to fetch them and some spoons and declare that you’re off the clock and done taking care for other people for the day as you crack open a bottle of your favourite liquor.

Roast Chicken, Cabbage and Kale, Mashed Potatoes and gravy

Hungry for more chef secrets?

If you found the tips in this article useful and are hungry to discover more chef secrets you can download my free ebook, Pantry Essentials for Maximum Flavour by signing up below. Stock yourself with these flavour bombs and learn to season like a chef to turn even the most mundane of meals into exceptional ones!