TV Viewpoint: How to Cook Well at Christmas

TV Cooking Shows Serve Up More Than Just Recipes at Christmas

WHAT is it about Christmas that brings out the overly-confident cook in us all? Is it because of TV chefs making recipes (that they’ve long ago perfected in a professional capacity) look so simple and easy to execute? I recall a few years ago being convinced that smoking my own salmon would be as easy as boiling an egg, thanks to Nigella Lawson. Needless to say, it wasn’t.

Speaking of Nigella, a couple of weeks ago she baffled viewers of Cook, Eat, Repeat with her tongue-in-cheek mispronunciation of microwave – meecro wavay. Who hasn’t jokily fancied up a word in order to give it the provenance it deserves but has been heretofore denied – it’s how bucket became bouquet, after all.

Anyway, not being a domestic goddess like Neejay’a, I leave the turkey and ham in far more capable hands and have been put in charge of the Christmas Day starter for the past few years. Depending on time and mood variations, my offerings have ranged from ambitious culinary experiments to dollops of pate on (shop bought) soda bread, served with a side of cranberry sauce.

Being in organised but uninspired mode this year, I turned to How to Cook Well at Christmas with Rory O’Connell. It first aired last year, hence the blissfully unaware air of things to come – I almost had to mute the bits about having enough in in order to whip up something effortlessly delightful for unexpected – or expected – guests.

But it was actually quite a relaxing watch, like I find cooking shows tend to be. The cook actually wants you to be there, watching them in their element conjure all sorts of flavour combinations from often the most unlikely of sources. These chefs are patient and pleasant, and wouldn’t dream of screaming at you, red faced and flustered, to get out of their kitchen and out from under their feet!

Rory O’Connell fits the bill of the calm, confident chef, gently assuring hapless viewers that they too can make Turkey and Romanesco Pilaf with Chilli and Coriander out of the leftovers from the big day. Far from Bridget Jones’ mother’s famous turkey curry buffet this is, but a delicate dish that will fuel the troops.

The kitchen in which the show was filmed was suitably decked out in the most tasteful and subtle of Christmas decorations; the red tones were subdued, as mellow as the host was, and the greenery was unobtrusive, but noticeable in its restraint. An aspirational cooking space is also key in the game of culinary seduction; with an uncluttered galley such as that, magic can happen!

My head was turned by the first dish demonstrated on Wednesday’s show, the second of two (the first episode aired on Monday). It was a Red Onion, Bacon and Kale (or Cabbage) Broth with Grilled Bread Crouton, which sounded manageable from the off. Unusually for such a show, it’s not particularly photogenic, but neither is Irish stew, which can be the tastiest and most comforting dish to cross one’s lips on any day of the year.

Of course, it didn’t turn out to be quite as simple as first presented; broth requires stock, and if you are going to do it ‘right’, it needs be prepared well in advance. The remains of the turkey could be used, but then where would that leave me, starter wise? So as delicious and nutritious as it sounds, the recipe is ultimately to be filed under Things I Wanted to Try, But Probably Never Will, Let’s Face It.

Nevertheless, I would highly recommend watching a lovely cookery show fronted by curiously accented members of the Ballymaloe massive if you’re in need of some time out from reality and what is really going on in your own kitchen, whether it’s a full roast with all the trimmings or beans on toast.

Soothing and warming, they stir up nice feelings of tradition and nostalgia as well as a brief but invigorating motivation; the gently encouraging, can-do feeling invoked is a tonic in these days of despondency. Both episodes of How to Cook Well at Christmas with Rory O’Connell are available on the RTE Player, and the recipes in full can be found on the RTE website.

  • First published in The Tuam Herald on 23 12 20

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