Pro tips for preparing a holiday feast

Red Seal chef Gene Batten leans back into his office chair and considers the hypothetical challenge: prepare a Yukon moose roast for Christmas dinner.

Red Seal chef Gene Batten leans back into his office chair and considers the hypothetical challenge: prepare a Yukon moose roast for Christmas dinner.

“I think I’d sous-vide it,” he says, referring to a method of cooking that sees the meat vacuum-sealed and placed in a precisely-controlled water bath. The best roast he’s ever made was cooked in the high-tech machine for 48 hours. “It was like eating a filet. You could literally cut it with your fork.”

Batten’s roast would be butterflied – cut partway down the middle, akin to opening a book flat onto the table. Then he would stuff it with cranberries, mushrooms and wild rice, and finally make it into a roulade by rolling it up like sushi.

Not many Yukon home cooks will possess the culinary chops or fancy cooking gadgets available to Batten, the culinary services coordinator at Yukon College. But his recipes could offer some inspiration for the big meal this Christmas.

Batten and fellow chef Ryan Cumming, the college’s culinary arts instructor, both like to hone their recipes by bouncing ideas off each other.

“We’ll start throwing stuff out there,” Batten says. “What if we did this, or what if we do a twist on something else.

“All of a sudden something will click for both of us that could work. And then we try it, and voila, it works.”

“Recipes are a guideline,” he says.

But one thing that doesn’t allow for artistic interpretation is the internal temperature of a roast turkey. Batten, Cumming and chefs everywhere agree on 74 C – which is 165 F – for the bird.

Stuffing inside the turkey needs to be brought to the same internal temperature to kill off any bacteria. The trouble is that by the time the stuffing reaches this temperature, the turkey meat is likely overcooked.

Cumming’s solution? Cook the two apart, then stuff it together as the turkey is resting.

“All the juices that come out of the meat still get into the stuffing,” he says. You still get that flavour, but you don’t have that dry turkey, and you don’t have that risk of salmonella poisoning.”

Between preparing a turkey, seeing to kids, and welcoming family and guests, time management in holiday cooking becomes crucial, says Batten.

That means having as many items ticked off the to-do list in advance as possible, whether it’s shopping, cutting and dicing vegetables, or even making the dessert.

“I try to plan it where I’m not in the kitchen all day,” Batten says. “On Christmas Day I’ll just put all the ingredients together and in it goes.”

“You can never be too far ahead on your plan,” Cumming agrees. “The last thing you want to do is miss out on whatever else is happening because you didn’t peel your carrots the day before.”

Another pitfall Cumming warns about is running out of space in the fridge or oven. Not having space in the fridge for a brining turkey can create a huge headache, so Cumming and Batten both agree, clearing space for items that need to be refrigerated is one of the first things they do.

“If that means you have pizza or whatever else before, that’s kind of the way it has to be.”

Contact Joel Krahn at

joel.krahn@yukon-news.com

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