Brian McDermott is the No Salt Chef. He is the author of his first and very successful cookery book, ‘Reunite with Food’ with his second book due for release at the end of 2014. Brian host’s cookery demonstrations across the country and recently opened Ireland’s first No Salt cookery school in Inishowen, Co. Donegal. Brian is an advocate of the no salt living philosophy, saying “At my cookery school I teach people the ‘why’s and how’s’ of having a healthy, wholesome and practical attitude to cooking and their diets. I cook clean and honest food with no hidden ingredients or added salt. I let the ingredients speak for themselves and instead of adding salt. Using herbs and spices that complement, but don’t overshadow the main dish. It’s important that my food is healthy, doesn’t contain any added salt, but above all tastes fantastic and this is something I am passionate to teach.” Today he shares his tips for entertaining a crowd over the festive season.
What is your first food memory of Christmas?
I’m from a family of 12. I have 7 brothers and 4 sisters and with all my brothers over six foot tall my mother certainly made sure we all got well fed. My first memory is my mother cooking the biggest pot of broth ever and it sitting on the stove for a few days. The smell of that broth I can still remember and I still sneak home when I know its on the menu these days.
Can you tell us a little about your Christmas celebrations, and what it means to you?
I love Christmas and with a large family all still living in Donegal it makes getting together the best of craic. In the days running in to Christmas I will start to make shortbread, cranberry sauce, chutneys all of which I can have done in advance then on Christmas Eve I will have a pot of curry made and in my slow cooker for the continuous trickle of visitors we get that day. Every visitor will be offered a bowl of my favourite chicken curry and savoury rice.
As the day proceeds I will go out to my “man den” which is my cookery school at the back of my house and I will start preparation for cooking 6 turkeys. This year only one of which is mine and the remainder are for good friends and family. I’m married to Brenda and we have two very excited girls who also love Christmas Niamh aged 12 and Aoife aged 10 and all three of them become my little helpers on Christmas Eve. In a relaxed way we will work our way through the day setting the table, chilling the drinks and preparing the vegetables and potatoes for the next day. On Christmas day I will have 19 for dinner and Im a fan of the traditional Christmas dinner of turkey and ham with all the trimmings. To start, I will have a seafood platter as Greencastle Fishing Harbour is on my doorstep Im spoiled for choice of local seafood.
Dessert is always a buffet of desserts which includes a Black Forest Gateau. Its not Christmas without a Baked Alaska (get the recipe here). When food is all served approx 6pm its a case of roaring fires and good company for the evening. I can’t relax as I quickly move on to the all important Turkey, Ham and Stuffing sandwiches at about 10pm. my house will see visitors throughout the day and its an open door policy throughout the day for neighbours.
Do you follow your mother’s recipe for Christmas dinner or have you evolved?
We all learn to cook from our mothers and when it comes to cooking the one thing Christmas has taught me is never to interfere with tradition, as most family Christmas dinners is a pass down of skills and stories from parents and grandparents cooking. I certainly add my pennies worth of 25 years of experience to my own cooking but I fully respect my mothers recipes. My mother is one of the most efficient cooks as I know and she managed to ensure as a family of 14 we had a hot dinner everyday growing up and her Christmas Dinner was so special.
What unusual addition is unique to your Christmas feast?
No Salt Christmas Dinner!! I have to say all of my family as guests at Christmas fully appreciate and respect my no added salt approach to cooking and its the one thing that will not appear on my Christmas table.
What are your top three tips for a person cooking their first ever Christmas dinner?
The key to success is preparation – write down what your menu is. Keep it realistic. Get some of it done in advance like the cranberry sauce, the glaze for the ham. Prepare your vegetables the night before
Time Plan – jot down timings to cook your turkey and ham. 20 minutes per lb for turkey on the bone and 20 minutes per lb for ham or gammon .
Serve Family Style – which is serving everything in family platters and allowing each person help them selves to a main coarse. That way they take what they like and it makes serving it relaxing for you.
What are your top tips for cooking roast turkey?
A preheated oven is essential. You want the heat to seal the bird quickly to keep in the juices and prevent the turkey drying during cooking. I keep turkey uncovered for first 30 minutes then loosely apply tin foil after 30 minutes for remainder of cooking. I love fresh sage leaves, nutmeg and black pepper rubbed on my turkey prior to roasting.
Ensure the turkey is not sitting directly on roasting tray. Make sure its raised and sitting on maybe a few peeled and sliced onions and peeled and sliced potatoes. This will prevent the turkey from drying throughout cooking.
Resting is as important as cooking. Rest for at least 20 minutes. That’s when you pop your ham into the oven with my sticky glaze.
What is the secret to the perfect honey roast ham?
Avoid cooking in Coke. This is a no no for me I want to taste the ham.
Place Ham in a pot and cover. Bring the water to the boil with 8 cloves in it. When the water boils reduce heat to allow the water to simmer then will ensure the Ham cooking slowly and stays succulent. Rapid boiling will toughen up your ham and you will constantly be topping up with water. C
Cook for 20 minutes per lb weight at simmering heat. You time the ham when the water reaches boiling just before your reduce to simmer. Its 20 minutes per LB from that stage. - When cooked remove from water and place on tray/ Score the ham on top and then apply the glaze. Place in hot oven for approx 10 -15 minutes.
Allow the ham to cool in its cooking liquid. Remove Ham from liquid and allow to sit at room temperature for 10 -15 minutes. This will help the glaze stick .