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You try your best to host the perfect family Christmas dinner, so why are you frazzled and way too busy when your guests arrive? My friend, it’s because of mistakes you don’t even know you’re making. We asked nationally acclaimed chefs John Besh and Alon Shaya for advice on the subject and learned that the source of many cooking goofs is POOR PLANNING. Considering these top chefs turn out hundreds of delectable meals a day, their recipe for success is worth following.
1. Make a detailed shopping list, says Alon Shaya, James Beard 2015 Best Chef South and New Orleans-based restaurateur. He suggests that first you write your menu, go over the recipes for each dish, then make a list of what you need—not only the ingredients but also the special tools the recipe requires, like parchment paper, a meat/candy thermometer—they can keep a fantastic dish from being a flop.
2. Next, categorize items on your shopping list. “You don't want to walk down the same aisle at the grocery store three times in a 20-minute period,” Shaya says. Do it right and they’ll be no more last minute trips to the store.
3. “Don't want to be stuck in the kitchen while everyone else is mingling? Always get your prep done ahead of time,” advises Shaya. “Even something as basic as picking out serving platters can save time and stress.” Some prep, like setting the table, can be done the day before. While you’re at it, label the serving pieces with the items they’ll hold.
4. Want to be sipping bubbly instead of slaving over the stove when guests arrive? Make a cooking schedule so all the food is hot and ready at the same time. Include time for meat to “rest” before slicing in order to retain its natural juices (15-20 minutes for roasts; 5 minutes for steaks and chops).
Tips for cooking roasts
5. If a recipe says to cook a roast on a rack, but you plan on making a gravy—stop. “In that case, don’t use a roasting rack,” advises John Besh, New Orleans-based chef, restaurateur and author. “It keeps the roast elevated but, the problem is, those luscious drippings burn on the bottom of the pan. To avoid that, I cut a mirepox of onions, celery, and carrots to place the roast on. (Mirepox is a mixture of chopped veggies and sometimes herbs and meat.) This elevates the roast from the bottom of the pan. I also add water to the pan. This keeps the drippings from burning and creates the perfect pan sauce—all at the same time.”
6. Don’t want to cook a sixteen-pound turkey for three people? Innovate! Instead of roasting a whole bird, brine and roast just one or two parts. A breast and a drumstick may be all you need, especially if you don’t want leftovers.
7. If what you’re cooking is going to produce a lot of smoke, use an outdoor grill, advises Shaya. “I've had to apologize to my wife for smoking up the house because I really wanted to get a hard sear on the ribeye roast.”
8. Ran out of fresh herbs? It’s okay to substitute dried herbs for fresh ones. Just remember to use about one third the amount since dried herbs are more concentrated.
Clean as you go
9. “I’ve been in a situation where I'm in shorts, the dishes are piled up and my dog is licking up spilled gravy when my first guests arrived. Not a good look,” says Shaya. It only takes a minute to wash out a pot and put it away or to place dirty dishes in the dishwasher. Clean as you go for a company-ready kitchen.