Having tested and perfected his talents working under some of the greatest names in food such as Pierre Koffmann, Marco Pierre White, Nico Ladenis and Ferran Adria at el Bulli, Jason Atherton is now recognised as one of Britain's most influential and respected chefs.
His flagship Mayfair restaurant, Pollen Street Social earned its Michelin star within just six months of opening and he has continued to expand his culinary ventures across London since with renowned locations including Little Social, Social Eating House and Berners Tavern. Most recently Jason has supported Lee Westcott with the opening of Typing Room in the Town Hall Hotel, Bethnal Green - a must visit by all accounts.
With Christmas Day can come the responsibility of hosting dinner for the family depending on how generous you're feeling. If you're still of an age where such concerns aren't quite yet apparent, then enjoy this time while it lasts. Your turn will come before you know it.
Looking ahead to the 25th, we wanted to know how the best in the business themselves manage to stay on top of things when the big day of festive merriment comes around. Coping with a mountain of culinary tasks whilst still being able to appreciate and enjoy the occasion is surely not impossible, but it paints a frightening picture just thinking about it.
Fortunately for us, Mr Atherton is as passionate discussing food as he is creating and preparing dishes. Below, he has offered his wisdom to every Murdock Man approaching their first Christmas Day playing host, starting with some quickfire essential tips to uplift confidence and concluding with his very own showstopper desert to ensure that your efforts will triumph from the first to very last bite.
Jason Atherton’s essential tips for The Murdock Man’s first Christmas lunch
1. Start proceedings with a cocktail to get your guests in the spirit (see my signature suggestion below) - this will also buy you enough time to get prepped while your guests enjoy a drink. And make sure you have a great bottle of red wine to open when everyone eventually sits down at the table – it’s a special occasion after all.
2. Make a starter that you can assemble ahead of time and serve cold – a salad of smoked salmon with fennel, apple & radish and crème fraiche feels luxurious but is not too heavy.
3. You don’t have to default to a turkey for your main dish. Roasting a beautiful joint of beef or even venison makes a nice change from the normal selection and you won’t have to be up at the crack of dawn to put it in the oven.
4. Use goose fat for your roast potatoes and make sure the fat is really hot when you put the potatoes in the roasting pan (goose fat has a high smoking point which lends itself well to this) – you’ll get a good crisp on your potatoes.
5. Use good quality bread for the bread sauce – preferably sourdough. It adds a great depth of flavour and you can infuse the milk with your favourite spices – cloves, cinnamon, mace or bay. Homemade bread sauce is unbeatable and really worth the effort.
Jason's Christmas Spiced Rum Punch Recipe
30 ml Diplomatico Anejo/ Exclusivo
30 ml Pedro Ximenez sherry
20 ml Campari
Stir over ice and serve over a rock of ice in a rocks glass. Garnish with a half moon of orange peel studded with a couple of cloves, and a cinnamon stick which can be briefly flamed to help release flavours.
And pause. So far so good?
Hopefully after a good cocktail or two and a successfully fulfilling meal, your guests will be more than ready for the final act. At this point, sympathetic "well done for trying's" and "nice effort's" simply won't do. You've worked your socks off to make Christmas Day a success and concluding with the following desert will guarantee your moment of undisputed glory.
Jason's Christmas Pudding
Throughout the years, I’ve eaten too many awful Christmas puddings that were either too stodgy, too sweet, too dry or just not up to scratch. This, on the other hand, is one of the best Christmas puddings I’ve made and continue to scoff every year. It is light and moist with the right amount of sweetness. Serve with simple vanilla crème anglaise or a good ice cream such as Vin Santo, roasted mandarin or rum and raisin.
Ingredients to make four 500g puddings; each will serve 4–6 people
butter for greasing
225g breadcrumbs (fresh or from day-old bread)
115g Bramley apples, peeled, cored and grated
115g carrots, peeled and grated
1 teaspoon mixed spice
30g plain flour
3 medium eggs
For the soaked fruits
30g candied orange peel
30g candied lemon peel
225g light brown sugar
3–4 tablespoons chopped candied peel (optional)
Vanilla Crème Anglaise (see page 240), Vin Santo Ice Cream (see page 177), Roasted Mandarin Ice Cream (see page 188) or Rum and Raisin Ice Cream (see page 191)
Put all the dried fruits, candied peel and sugar into a large bowl and pour over the Guinness and brandy. Cover the bowl tightly with cling film and leave the fruits to macerate overnight.
The next day, find a pan that is large enough to fit four 500g heatproof plastic pudding moulds for steaming. Bring a kettle of water to the boil. Generously butter the pudding moulds and their matching lids.
Put the breadcrumbs, suet, apples, carrots, mixed spice and flour in a large mixing bowl and stir together. Make a well in the centre. Lightly beat the eggs and pour into the well. Add the soaked fruits with any soaking alcohol left in the bowl and fold together until the mixture is well combined. It should be quite wet. If your mixture appears a little dry, add a little splash of brandy and fold through.
Divide the mixture among the prepared pudding moulds. Level the tops, then cover with the buttered lids. To make sure that the moulds are watertight, cover each one tightly with cling film. Lower the pudding moulds into the pan, then pour in enough boiling water to come halfway up the sides of the moulds. Cover the pan with a lid and steam over medium heat for 5 hours, making sure to check the water level in the pan from time to time (you may need to top up with more boiling water from the kettle). When the time is up, carefully lift the pudding moulds out of the pan and leave them to cool completely, still covered. Then remove all the cling film and keep the puddings in a cool, dry place until you want to serve them.
To serve each pudding, reheat by steaming for 2 hours. Take off the lid and turn out on to a cake plate. Garnish the top of the pudding with a spoonful of chopped candied peel, then flame with brandy or vodka, if you wish. Serve immediately, with crème anglaise or ice cream.
Extract taken from Social Sweets by Jason Atherton (Absolute Press £25.00)
Photography © John Cary