Wednesday 27 November 2013

Top tips for this Xmas and the next one...

People watching: 
Neil Nugent, executive chef for Morrisons

Morrisons' Xmas food
Gingerbread houses are expected to be BIG this year
Every year it feels like Christmas kicks off earlier than the previous year. All of us have a friend who has written her cards by the end of the November, or completed her Christmas shopping a month ahead of schedule, or got the tree up on the first day of December. Well, beat this Xmas keenos: I recently met someone who signed off on his Christmas back in April! In fact he's already preparing for next year. I'm talking about Morrisons' very own father of Christmas, Neil Nugent, otherwise known as the supermarket's executive chef. "Christmas is over for me now," he told me at the BritMums bloggers' Xmas do this week. "I'm on next year now."

The chef, who was poached from Waitrose by Morrisons in 2011, has signed off on 972 product launches for Christmas, all of which have been personally tasted over a period of time. Now he is waiting with bated breath to see whether we (the customers) will warm to his festive feast. "My neck's on the block for the range," he admitted, perhaps mindful of his 42-week old turkeys about to meet their doom. 

Neil Nugent, executive chef at Morrisons
Neil's mind is on already on Xmas 2014
It's a complicated business, Christmas logistics (and don't we mothers know it). This week Neil has a team of product developers out in Vietnam, Thailand and China sourcing prawns and party food for next Christmas. At the start of each year, a team of seven chefs and 18 product developers begin making and testing the supermarket's festive range. Back in the spring, for example, Morrisons' mulled wine fruit cake was being tasted one, two and even three weeks after baking to monitor how the flavour and acidities of the vine fruits altered over time. 

As we rush about the shops this coming month, Neil will be in his kitchen worrying about how his chocolate panettone is going down with the punters. "In this business you have to understand the trends," he said. Apparently, gingerbread houses are also going to be big this year. 

It is rather apt that Neil will find out on Christmas Eve how his festive fare has been received. "I usually know if it has been a good Christmas by then," he said with a faint grimace. "But I don't let it ruin my own Christmas." So whichever way it goes, Neil will be basting his turkey this coming Christmas Day (some things just can't be polished off in April) and possibly musing about prawn canapes for 2014...

Neil's top turkey tips

  • Get the turkey out of the fridge three hours early on Christmas morning to let it adjust to room temperature.
  • Shake the untrussed turkey to open it up so that hot air can circulate around it during cooking (and don't close it up again).
  • Push some seasoned, soft butter under the skin to keep the meat moist (go in from the neck end to avoid tearing the skin).
  • Cook in the oven at 160˚ (fan-assisted oven) for 20 minutes, and then add on 20 minutes per kilo.
  • Don't cover the turkey with any foil as this will steam the bird.
  • Once cooked, let the turkey rest for a couple of hours to settle all the juices (the meat is more tender when it's cool).

Disclosure: I was not paid or incentivised to write this blog post, although I did receive a goodie bag of Morrisons products after attending the BritMums Xmas party.

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