How much of Christmas Dinner can be made the day before?
December 22, 2011 9:44 AM   Subscribe

How much of Christmas Dinner can I precook?

Due to family members working and a need to be in certain places at certain times for family events I am only going to have around 1.5 to 2 hours to cook dinner on Christmas Day. I really enjoy doing it. The main problem is that the meal pretty much has to include Turkey, my husband doesn't ask for much over Christmas and puts up with all my craziness all year all he asks for is a turkey will all the trimmings at Christmas

I have the 24th free and can spend the day cooking my brains out and getting set up and would like to get as much done then as possible.

Coming from Australia, we usually had cold ham and seafood for Christmas so I am still getting used to the whole full cooked Christmas Dinner so if these questions seem obvious I apologize.

Is it possible to precook turkey and reheat it? I have an electric roaster pan and was thinking cutting the turkey into large joints, say thigh & leg and breast and reheating on a rack in the roaster over chicken stock to keep it moist. Would that work? How long roughly do you think it would take. Any other ideas on how to do this?

I am also going to do roast sweet & normal potatoes, I normally part precook these a little and then toss in oil and roast would these be OK part precooked the day before? Alternatively can you peel potatoes for mash the day before and leave them sitting in water or would they get too soggy or even make the mash the day before and reheat?

I make a killer Apple and sausage sage stuffing which is in high demand so need a lot of it, can I make this up the day before and just add the stock just before putting this in the oven, or would the bread get too soggy overnight in the fridge?

My MIL is bringing her lovely glazed ham and some other sides to help out but I am stuck for dessert ideas. I was thinking after all that food just some really nice fancy ice cream but all the Americans in my family think that's not enough and are offering to bring desserts what should I ask them to bring?
posted by wwax to Food & Drink (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Make ahead mashed potatoes. Big crowd pleaser. To class them up a bit, substitute goat cheese for cream cheese, beat in a head of roasted garlic.
posted by availablelight at 9:48 AM on December 22, 2011

Best answer: The Pioneer Woman has a killer mashed potato recipe that works perfectly when made the day before. Super, duper delish. (sorry I can't link to it but you can easily google it.)
posted by BlahLaLa at 9:48 AM on December 22, 2011

Best answer: Precooking and reheating turkey just seems a bad idea. Turkey can dry out easily, and reheating it just seems like it would make that more likely.

I would jump on your relatives' offers for dessert; in fact, I would throw myselves upon their mercy and ask if they can take that over ("I hate to ask but I've only got one day to cook and I've got the turkey and the stuffing and..."). Let them have the choice. (But, if that really freaks you out -- just go with a store-bought pie or two for the dessert. If you're worried about people "knowing" that it's store-bought, go with a bakery rather than the supermarket, take it out and put it on your own plate, and slather it with some kind of sauce or a ton of whipped cream.)

Or you could make a whole production out of the ice cream --- an ice cream bombe is good for this, because it looks all complicated but it's kind of not. I've seen a recipe for an "ice cream Christmas Pudding" where you get a big bowl, line it with plastic wrap, and then get a big container of vanilla ice cream and a bunch of different kinds of nuts and raisins and candied fruit and...well, basically the fun stuff from Christmas pudding. Let the ice cream soften just enough to mix in all the fruit and nuts, dump it into that bowl, cover the top with plastic wrap and then stick it back in the freezer. On Christmas, you take it out, unmold it, and decorate it with the sprig of holly and there you are.

Pureed winter squash could probably stand being pre-made and reheated -- and couldn't be easier: take a big squash, cut it in half, rub the cut side of each half with a little olive oil and roast until the squash is mushy. Scrape it out of the skin into a bowl, cover over, and in the fridge it goes. Then, to reheat, just reheat it in the microwave, throw in a pat of butter and MAYBE a little cinnamon and ground ginger -- then mash it up more. Ta-Da! Or, you can take that same bowl of roast squash out of the fridge, dump it into a pot, dilute it with some chicken broth and add some dried sage instead, and bring to a low boil -- now you have squash soup instead. Both of those would work nicely as side dishes.

People seem to really like dinner rolls of various kinds -- and you can reheat frozen dinner rolls in an oven for about five-ten minutes. If you're making them the night before, don't even bother freezing them -- just refrigerate them. But do warm them up -- wrap in foil and throw into the oven for a few minutes.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:03 AM on December 22, 2011

Best answer: Cooks illustrated also has a make ahead mashed potato recipe that is good. They also have a "thanksgiving make ahead schedule", which says to:

make and freeze gravy and any soups ahead of time
blanch and shock green veg
cook sweet potatoes / squash and refrigerate
assemble stuffing and refrig until ready to be baked
peel and store potatoes covered in water in refrigerator

Dessert: Pies?

I wouldn't precook a turkey. If you need it done fast, maybe use a high heat roasting recipe, or cut it up or butterfly it or something crazy like that.
posted by mgogol at 10:04 AM on December 22, 2011

Yeah, just google "spatchcocked turkey" to get instructions for flattening out a turkey so it cooks faster; I've never done it, but my sister swears by it for quick-cooking turkey. I definitely wouldn't reheat turkey.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 10:09 AM on December 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Will anyone be available to start the turkey (husband? teenaged niece? Bueller?)? You can certainly get the turkey all set in the roaster and leave it in the fridge overnight, then have someone put it in the oven and turn on the oven at the appointed time. You don't HAVE to preheat the oven, they can just put it in and set it for the temperature ... add maybe 15 minutes to the total cook time for the slow preheat.

I have a self-basting turkey recipe (there's bacon!) if that's a concern. It's a set-it-and-forget-it turkey, it just sits there cooking itself for 20 minutes per pound. Me mail me if you'd like it.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:10 AM on December 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: So, I'm going to go against what everyone else is telling you and say that you can precook the turkey.

Cook him how you normally would, let him cool and slice him into servings the night before. Then you could reheat it in a warm/low (200 degrees Fahrenheit) oven. Just make sure that you cover him tightly with tin foil. The idea is to rewarm him, not cook him anymore. It doesn't take long to reheat at all, I would start poking the slices with your finger after ten minutes.

It's also super important that you cook him to temperature. Buy a digital instant read thermometer. Not only will it help you determine doneness, but if you don't overcook him he will be much moister and will tolerate the reheating better. I did this for Thanksgiving and it's what I do to thanksgiving leftovers each year. Turkey comes out fine.

Pie tends to be a welcome dessert at holiday dinners. Pumpkin pie being high on that list. Potentially apple as well.
posted by royalsong at 10:12 AM on December 22, 2011

Best answer: If your turkey isn't too big, and you break it down before cooking, you should be able to get it done in about that time frame. This also gives you the advantage of being able to pull the breast when it's done, leaving the dark meat to finish.

Roast sweet potatoes can be cooked completely and reheated with no noticeable wear. The same with your stuffing. Reserve a little broth to reheat. Mashed potatoes can be prepared as usual, then warmed in a bain marie with a little more butter or cream mixed in.
posted by Gilbert at 10:22 AM on December 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: RoyalSong is right. You can totally precook a turkey. In fact, you can precook ALL of this except perhaps the straight veg. Some of us caved on Thanksgiving years ago; my family now has it catered from a local Boston Chicken clone that does turkey and all the trimmings, and totally reheats it for Thanksgiving dinner. When the oven gets crowded, I have reheated stuffing and other sides on the stovetop with added broth, water or butter as needed for moisture. Get your relatives to bring PIES!
posted by DarlingBri at 10:41 AM on December 22, 2011

We deep fry a turkey every year; it is much much faster than roasting and totally delicious. Could you send someone out to tend that while you're busy with the inside stuff? I always do mashed potatos and sweet potatos ahead of time; I make white castle stuffing that takes ten minutes and everyone loves, and is better the next day.
posted by dpx.mfx at 11:25 AM on December 22, 2011

wwax, I don't suppose you'd be willing to post or memail the killer apple and sausage stuffing recipe, would you? I'd like to up my game in that area . . . .
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 11:57 AM on December 22, 2011

Response by poster: I confess I stole it from "The Joy of Cooking" but then so apparently did these guys. I don't use parsley in mine and I use a good sage pork sausage mix instead of adding my own sage. I cut smaller cubes, about 1cm and bake it in it's own dish not in the turkey basically because I need to make so much of it and I like it a little toasty on the top. Also use nice flavourful apples as the sweetness goes nice with the pork. It's really simple to do. My BIL was asking if I was going to make this for Christmas this year in August and even remembered the cookbook and page number it was from when I pretended not to know what he was talking about.
posted by wwax at 12:09 PM on December 22, 2011

Ooh and I forgot, if you do precook and reheat your turkey.. plop some pats of butter on top of the slices before you put the tin foil on.

It is the yummiest.
posted by royalsong at 1:05 PM on December 22, 2011

Get that bird in a brine pronto- it will cook considerably quicker, also be much more juicy and flavorful! I used Alton Brown's brine recipe last year and got rave reviews. It took a hair under 2 hours to cook a 14lb non-broken-down bird in my oven.
posted by Syllables at 1:14 PM on December 22, 2011

Thanks for the linky, wwax! Will definitely consider this as part of the Xmas menu!
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 3:58 PM on December 22, 2011

You could probably reheat the turkey, but American turkeys are kind of dry anyway, so if you can save it for the day of, it'll be better.

You can make the stuffing separately and reheat. Ditto sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, gravy, and corn on the cob. For vegetables, brussels sprouts can be roasted the day before and reheated deliciously. The day of, cook the turkey in the oven and reheat the sides in the hot oven while you bake off a pan of frozen dinner rolls for about half an hour while the turkey rests. You could make green beans on the stovetop (start by sauteeing some chopped onion and bacon, then add the beans and a bit of stock, salt, and pepper, and let them go until mushy. Delicious.
posted by elizeh at 8:30 PM on December 22, 2011

Best answer: As we have a Christmas Eve lunch, not dinner, my mom has been cooking the turkey a day before and reheating for years. The dryness of the turkey is easily remedied by having awesome gravy to go with it. Instead of mashed potatoes or other dry-ish sides, my aunt makes a yummy sloppy creamy cheesy pasta.
posted by CrazyLemonade at 3:35 AM on December 23, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for all your great suggestions, it was hard to pick the best. Have decided to have a go at cooking and reheating the turkey my US family are good spirited so we'll just have a laugh if it come out all dry and horrible, I'll have plenty of gravy on hand just in case.

Also have decided to go the pie route as so many suggested but to make it more like my Childhood Christmas we all decided to go the mince pie route, though will have ice cream and fixings for the less adventurous.

Thanks again and hope you all have a great Holiday.
posted by wwax at 9:37 AM on December 24, 2011

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