Dukes London’s Michelin-starred chef Nigel Mendham reveals how to treat your turkey and add va va voom to your veggies for more covers this christmas
Do you spice up Christmas dinner?
For Christmas day lunch you can’t really mess around with main course, people expect a roast with traditional garnishing, either a turkey with the trimmings or a pheasant … last year I did a mock bird — an eight-bird roast all stuffed inside each other, starting with a quail and ending with a turkey. If you went off the wall you wouldn’t get many bookings.
How do you make veggies more va va voom?
We do sprout tops with chestnuts rather than the Christmas cliché of sprouts boiled to death. So we take all the leaves off and quickly blanche them, then saute the sprouts with some crumbled chestnuts, a bit of butter and some white pepper.
We use some baby roast parsnips and we serve the carrot and suede crushed with a bit of thyme and honey in it.
For the potatoes, we use a company called Carroll’s Heritage Potatoes, based in Northumberland. They do old-school potatoes with varieties from days gone by, so there’s a purple-white potato called Shetland Black and they cook up really well for roasting — something different.
What do you look for in a turkey?
The turkeys are coming from up north from my usual butcher, Althams Catering Butchers. I’ve used Althams for six years, since I was at The Samling in the Lake District. So now they come down twice a week with my stuff. I know what they’re about, they know what I need, it’s great.
We’ll be ordering five or six turkeys, they’re free range so they don’t get as big, so you buy more but you get a better product. It’s the flavour that matters. I also get my aged ribeye steaks from Althams, salt marsh lamb which they hang for about a week or so and they have Scottish Highland venison.
What’s the most common festive faux pas you find in hotel restaurants?
Overcooking the turkey so it’s dry — you’re always fighting to get it moist again, but once it’s dry it’s dry — so look after the turkey when you cook it.
What TLC does the Christmas turkey deserve?
We cook the turkeys on the day. We seal them off and then put butter and seasoning on the turkey, underneath the skin. Then we wrap them in baking parchment and in the aluminium foil and we cook it like that so it keeps all the moisture in. When it’s cooked you let it rest and cool in its juices and slice it from there so it stays nice and moist.
Any tips for making mulled wine?
It’s all about the taste, I don’t have a recipe for it. Start with the red wine, add some oranges and lemons, some honey, cinnamon, cloves, a bay leaf, some sugar, leave it to simmer and take it from there. Add bits to perfect the flavour — more cinnamon, more sugar, more orange — just to get a nice balance.
What’s your secret for smooth hot chocolate?
I’m not going to tell you that!
How do you sell seasonal tea?
In December we’ll be serving our traditional Dukes afternoon tea for £39.50 per person but with a festive twist, featuring turkey and cranberry mayonnaise, honey and cinnamon madeleines and clementine meringue pie.
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Festive pheasant (serves four)
2 whole pheasants
2 kilo sweet potatoes
500g Brussels sprouts
200g unsalted butter
100ml double cream
300ml vegetable stock
200g Chanterelle mushrooms
4 pheasant legs
1 cup rock salt
1 clove garlic
1 cup olive oil
1 cup goose fat
100g seared foie gras
Marinate pheasant legs in rock salt, diced shallots, garlic for four hours
Brush off excess salt, mix oils together, place pheasant legs in oil then vacuum pack on high, sous vide for eight hours at 54 degrees
Allow to cool in bags, when cool remove excess liquid, flake the pheasant legs removing all sinew and bone
Blend seared foie gras and add to pheasant meat, add a little confit oil to moisten, season with salt, lemon juice and ground mace, set aside
Leave the breasts on the carcass this way during cooking the pheasant will stay moist
Remove the wish bone, clean the wing bones
In a hot pan, seal the pheasant breasts on all sides, add a knob of butter to the pan and roast for 15-18 minutes (depending on the size of the bird)
When cooked allow to rest
Sweet potato fondants
Peel the sweet potatoes, using a round cutter cut out as many fondants as you can from each of the potatos
All the excess trimmings can be cut into small pieces and set aside
Heat a pan, add some oil and seal off the sweet potato fondants, add a couple of sprigs of thyme, salt and butter and roast in the oven for 8-10 minutes turning occasionally
When cooked, keep warm. To finish the dish you will need sweet potato puree, blanched sprout tops, game sauce, sauted chanterelle mushrooms and pheasant rillette.