If you want to have time to open your presents and chat to guests on Christmas Day, it’s a good idea to get ahead on Christmas Eve. Splitting the cooking over two days will allow you to have a far more pleasurable time. We estimate the tasks below will take the average cook around 2 ½ to 3 hours. Making use of willing helpers for peeling and chopping will considerably reduce this time, easing the load and making it a time for catching up with family. Follow our simple instructions, using tried-and-tested techniques favoured by the Leiths chefs, and you’ll have plenty of time to enjoy the festivities.

1. Make the stuffing. Blitz 1 loaf of sourdough to create breadcrumbs and add to a mixing bowl, add 2 grated onions and 500g grated apple. Mix in 100g chopped parsley, 20g sage, the juice from 2 oranges and the zest of 1 orange and 1 lemon. Season with salt and pepper and a generous glug of olive oil. 

2.  Stuff the stuffing into the neck end of the turkey, making sure that the breast is well plumped.  Draw the skin flap down to cover the stuffing. Secure with a skewer. If you have extra stuffing, you can cook this separately in a suitably sized oven-proof dish.

3.  Weigh the turkey to establish a rough cooking time.

Weight of oven-ready turkey, before adding stuffingCooking time at
200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6
Cooking time at
180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4
Internal temperature
4-5 kg2½ to 3 hours-82°C/185°F
5-6kg3 to 3¾ hours-82°C/185°F
6-7 kg30 minutes then...3¼ to 4 hours82°C/185°F
8-9 kg30 minutes then...4 to 4½ hours82°C/185°F
9-11 kg1 hour then...4 to 4½ hours82°C/185°F

4.  Make the red cabbage: Melt 20g butter in a large saucepan and sauté 2 thinly sliced red onions until golden, then add ¼ tsp ground all spice and cook for a further minute, before adding 1 finely shredded red cabbage. Mix 2 tsp molasses and the juice of 2 oranges together. Pour into the pan together with 2 tbsp light muscovado sugar, 90g dried cranberries and 2 strips of orange peel. Cook gently for 30 to 40 minutes, stirring now and again, until the cabbage is softened, adding a little water only if necessary. Season with salt and pepper. Leave to cool then place in a Tupperware container and keep in the fridge to be re-heated tomorrow.

5.  While the cabbage is cooking make a start on the remaining dishes. Wash and peel 2.5kg floury potatoes. Cut into even sized chunks. Bring them to the boil in a saucepan of salted water. Simmer for about 10 – 15 minutes, until soft on the outside and slightly resistant on the inside when tested with a cutlery knife. While the potatoes are boiling, melt 300g goose fat in a saucepan. Drain the potatoes and while still steaming, shake the colander vigorously to roughen up the edges. Transfer the potatoes to a large bowl, pour over the melted goose fat and shake to combine until thoroughly coated. Transfer to a non-metallic container, and leave to cool completely before covering and putting in the fridge.

6.  Prepare 1kg Brussels sprouts by trimming off the outer leaves, if necessary, and trimming the root end, leaving the sprout intact. If they are very large, cut in half lengthways. Cook in simmering salted water for 2 minutes until just tender, then drain and quickly refresh in cold water to stop them over-cooking. Leave to cool then place in a Tupperware container and keep in the fridge until needed tomorrow.

7.  Peel 1.2kg chantenay carrots and leave them covered in damp kitchen paper in the fridge until needed tomorrow.

8.  Sharpen the carving knife.

9.  Choose the serving dishes you want to use tomorrow.

10.  Take 170g salted butter out of the fridge to soften, for covering the turkey tomorrow. 

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