P.E.I. chef offers tips on stress-free holiday cooking

Chef Jeff McCourt has a list of shortcuts he uses to take the stress out of cooking that big holiday meal for friends and family.
Just in time for Thanksgiving, we bring you a four-course playlist of podcasts about food. (jennie-o/Flickr)

You're on the clock holiday cooks, but there's no need to fear. Chef Jeff McCourt has you covered with tips to make cooking the holiday meal stress-free.

It takes the pressure off the day off when you want to be spending time with friends and family.- Jeff McCourt

"As a chef it's all about your mise en place." said McCourt, who owns Glasgow Glen Farm, an artisan cheese operation in New Glasgow.

Planning ahead is the best way to keep the big holiday meal stress free.

"We do up a holiday meal plan, break down each meal," said McCourt.

"It takes the pressure off the day off when you want to be spending time with friends and family."

In the McCourt family it means you shop early, not often, make a single run to the grocery store with the list of everything you'll need for the holiday meal. Check your recipes in advance so you're not caught on Christmas Eve.

Now, to brine, or not to brine, that is the question.

"Turkey does not have a lot of inter-muscular fat, and that's what kind of gives tenderness to the meat, so you need to kind of tenderize that protein a little bit." 

That's why Chef Jeff brines, which means adding another day to allow your turkey to sit in a cold bath of salt, sugar and water. 

There are plenty of other tips the pros use too.

  • Think about using fresh vegetables or serving a holiday salad instead of putting every pot on the stove.
  • Bake all your root vegetables together on single baking sheet adding flavour by caramelizing them.
  • Mashed potatoes can be done in advance and reheated at meal time.
  • Use your BBQ to roast vegetables, or the rotisserie to cook a ham for the holiday meal.
  • Build 30 minutes into your cooking plan to allow your meat to rest before serving.
  • Use make-ahead meals in the days around Christmas that can easily be cooked in the oven.

McCourt said the most important thing is to make sure you're ahead far enough to spend time away from the kitchen on Christmas Day. 

"It's important that we make memories for my kids, my parents did the same thing" added McCourt.

"If I can make my job easier in the kitchen in all the planning, that's what I tend to focus on." 


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