Heathcote’s Yule food heaven

Paul Heathcote
Paul Heathcote

There will be no arguing over who cooks dinner in the Heathcote household. Chef Paul Heathcote admits that, even though his wife is a great cook, she is happy to hand it over to him.

And while many might regard it as a bit of a busman’s holiday, Paul, 53, says he still loves cooking.

“Up until 10 years ago I worked almost every Christmas Day at my restaurant in Longridge,” he says. “I did that for 15 or 16 years, both before and after I was married. Then, Christmas was either an evening spent with friends, or Boxing Day, which tended to be more of a celebration.

“Things changed slightly when my daughter came along; I ended up cooking two Christmas lunches, one at work and one at home on Boxing Day.”

This was all sandwiched between two much more traditional Christmases – first of all as a child, with his sister, mum, dad and grandparents, and now, with his own extended family, at his home in the Ribble Valley.

Paul’s childhood memories of the two-up, two-down terrace are of moving furniture to make room for a big table in the living room.

“I remember Christmas Day alternated between our house and my grandparents,” he says. “It was always cramped, sometimes there would be two tables – one in the kitchen and one in the lounge. The meal would be soup, turkey, and then my mum would make a trifle instead of Christmas pudding.”

Paul’s choice of food on Christmas Day still includes a roast turkey, with a bronze, free range bird from Goosnargh supplier Reg Johnson taking centre stage on the Heathcote menu.

“I’ll also do cranberry and orange sauce and chestnut stuffing, roast and mashed potatoes and parsnips in golden syrup,” says Paul.

Gravy will be made with the juices from the bird, which is cooked along with some water and red wine. “When the roast is ready, strain the juices into a pan and thicken with cornflour,” he says. “You can use ordinary flour, but often it goes lumpy or burns.”

And the pudding? “I still have a pudding left over from last Christmas in the fridge, but I’ll make more this year,” he says. He will need to, because as well as his son, 15-year-old Sam, daughter Georgia, 17, and wife, Gabbi, there will be 12 other friends and family members to feed.

He is relaxed about the minutiae of the menu.

“I haven’t really thought about it too much,” he says. “I’ll probably do a platter of something so everyone can help themselves.”

And the puds will be served with brandy butter, although Paul said he still retains his fondness for trifle, a memory from his childhood Christmases.

“I’m sure I’ll get plenty of help on the day,” says Paul. “But there’s no doubt about who makes sure it happens. I love cooking at home, and anyone who knows me well will have been to our house and had lunch on a Sunday.”

For someone who has made such a success of cooking, it’s interesting to note his unpromising start.

He was refused a place in cookery class at school because it was meant for the girls, and it was only due to Paul’s persistence that afterschool classes were set up to accommodate boys.

Then the catering department at Bolton College turned him down because he had no English or maths qualifications.

“It’s ironic: I’m probably their most successful student,” says Paul, who was eventually allowed on the course from the reserve list.

As far as he is concerned, it is proof that it is possible to achieve goals even without academic qualifications.

CHESTNUT & MUSHROOM STUFFING

Ingredients

50g sliced button mushrooms

Two onions, halved and sliced

50ml of water

150ml Madeira or white wine

Picked leaves from a couple of sprigs of thyme

350g Cumberland sausages, remove the skin

Three slices of bread roughly chopped

200g pack whole cooked chestnuts roughly chopped

25g butter, plus extra

Olive oil

What you do

1. Fry the mushrooms in a little oil until golden brown, and then add the onion followed by the water. Cook until the onions are soft and the water has completely evaporated – about two minutes.

2. Pour the Madeira or wine into a bowl, followed by the mushrooms and onions, then add all remaining ingredients, except the butter.

3. Line a greased 500g loaf tin or ovenproof dish with butter. Pack the stuffing into the tin or bowl, and bake at 180C degrees for about 45 minutes.

CRANBERRY & ORANGE SAUCE

Ingredients

450g cranberries

100g sugar

Finely grated zest and juice of one orange

150ml red wine

What you do

1. Place the juice zest and red wine in a pan and bring to the boil.

2. Add the cranberries and sugar and simmer until soft.

3. Allow to cool and serve

PARSNIPS IN GOLDEN SYRUP

Forget roasting in an oven and burning parsnips with honey, this is a great way of having evenly caramelised parsnips quickly and consistently – if you prefer to use honey rather than syrup the results will be almost as good!

Ingredients

Four parsnips

Olive oil

Gold syrup

Sea salt and freshly milled pepper

What you do

1. Peel and leave whole or cut into half lengthways if parsnips are large. Boil in salted water until just cooked. Drain and pat dry.

2. In a hot frying pan, add a dash of oil and approximately one dessertspoon of golden syrup.

3. Add the parsnips, cook and toss until golden brown, for about five minutes. Season with sea salt and freshly milled pepper and serve.

SPICED CHOCOLATE POTS

Griottine cherries are ready available around Christmas, steeped in kirsch. Drain and use to decorate this simple spicy chocolate dessert.

Ingredients (makes six)

150g of good dark chocolate chopped up

375ml double cream

60g muscovado sugar

One vanilla pod

Half a teaspoon mixed spice

Two small eggs

Griottine cherries for decoration

Icing sugar and mint

What you do

1. Place the chocolate in the food processor and chop into small pieces.

2. Place the cream, sugar and vanilla seeds and mixed spice into a pan and bring to the boil.

3. Pour into a processor and leave for a minute. Switch on and add the egg for a further 20s.

4. Pour into small ramekins or coffee cups and chill for at least two hours, preferably overnight.

5.Decorate with prunes and dust with icing sugar and mint.