In this hour-long Christmas special, Jamie applies his quick and easy principles to the festive season. Each recipe will either be quick to cook or easy to remember, focusing on genius combinations of just five ingredients to create the most fabulous Christmas feast. Jamie’s Quick & Easy Christmas is brilliantly simple and delivers utterly delicious results – all of the flavour but none of the fuss. An easy way to an impressive Christmas.
What’s the thinking behind Quick & Easy Christmas?
Quick & Easy was all about listening to the public and where they are at with their work/life balance. People are busy nowadays, so the idea was you could flick through the book, find something you fancied and you’d probably have three out of the five ingredients at home already, so you’d just need to pick up a bit of salmon or some mushrooms on the way home from work. Clever recipes, genius combos and ingredients that work hard. And the idea really worked. The series and book went ballistic out of nowhere, so it was understandable that Channel 4 asked if I could do a Christmas special. Although my immediate reaction was no!
Why was it no?
Because to my mind, Quick & Easy is about midweek meals for busy people. Whereas Christmas is a time for indulgence when nobody wants to compromise. Everyone trades up at Christmas, regardless of their budget. But then I thought, the heart of my job is keeping cooking alive and Christmas is a time of year when everyone cooks - even people who normally don’t. You see it in all the statistics, even in data about food poisoning and knife cuts. Over 12m people came through my website last Christmas. Whether you’re a good cook or not, everyone’s nervous. You’ve got in-laws coming round or it’s your first time hosting Christmas dinner. There’s a lot of emotion in the air. So Quick & Easy Christmas is about doing an awesome Christmas with five-ingredient recipes. Empowering people to have more confidence, more free time and get a bit more organised. Christmas is the one day of the year when cooks and non-cooks can stand in solidarity. Everyone’s Christmas is chaotic. Often a TV exec will say “We wanna do a stress-free Christmas show” and I’ll say “Impossible”. But we can make it a little bit less stressful.
Will it involve spending less money too?
It can. Have a shorter shopping list that means you can either spend less, or spend the same by having fewer general ingredients but trading up on them quality-wise. So we do everything from five-ingredient awesome turkey to veg dishes to a dessert that’s just an incredible celebration of chocolate. You’ll shop less but buy ingredients that give more bang for your buck.
Is it strange filming a Christmas special weeks before Christmas?
We filmed this one in October. I’ve done Christmas specials for 18 years now, so that’s just become a weird reality of my life.
Will your five children be making an appearance?
TV people think you can just schedule in kids to be in a show but it just doesn’t work like that, bruv. The intention is to include them but if they don’t wanna come, they ain’t coming. If it all goes feral, it’s nuts. Even in the real world without cameras there, probably only three out of 10 meals go according to plan. Nobody tells you when you’re getting pregnant for the first time that it’s survival of the fittest and actually you should be taught by the SAS to problem-solve the myriad things that get thrown your way. But we shot it at home, the kids rocked up and the newest member of the Oliver family - River, who’s two-and-a-half - gets involved. He’s decided I’m great, which is lovely and I’ll take it while it lasts! So he does one recipe with me, then Jools tries to take him away again but he doesn’t want to go and kicks off, so he ends up staying. The same happened with Petal eight Christmases ago when she was the same age. Me and River do home-made doughballs with baked Camembert. It’s a lovely dish, people go nuts for it and we’ve done it in the shape of a Christmas tree. I make it one-handed with River in my arms and every time I got it looking nice, he’d just thwack it and squash it! But we get there eventually.
Did the success of Quick & Easy take you by surprise?
Yeah, it really did. It’s not planned like this but I tend to alternate between books from my heart and ones solving a problem on behalf of the public. So I did speed with 30-Minute and 15-Minute Meals, I did health with Super Food and recession cooking with Save With Jamie. They were all fairly obvious things that would get people going. But it took me 19 years to realise that camouflaged within recipes was the number of ingredients and I could tackle that. And it’s worked. Quick & Easy has definitely got more people cooking.
Didn’t your nan have an incident with her hair one Christmas?
Bless my nan, she passed away five years ago. She was named Betty but I always called her Tiger. We did a lot of cooking together and she was incredible. Great on telly, too. I dedicated my Christmas Cookbook to her. My earliest memories of Christmas are when we served people in the pub until 2.30pm, then we’d close up, draw the curtains, gather around the fire and cook our Christmas dinner. I’ll never forget one time when we’d just started eating and suddenly my dad was beating my nan up. I knew as a seven-year-old that it wasn’t right, your dad to be bashing your nan around the head, but I quickly realised that he wasn’t abusing her, he was trying to put her out! She’d enthusiastically gone for the stuffing or the sprouts, leant over and her hair ablaze. It was a blue rinse, quite bouffant and required lots of hairspray to keep it structurally sound. She was highly flammable and she’d set herself on fire, so the old man wasn’t being an arsehole, he was being a hero.
What’s been your own biggest Christmas cooking disaster?
I used to make banoffee pie for dessert, which involved boiling tins of condensed milk for hours in a pan of water. I let it boil dry once and as I’m sure you know, if you heat a tin long enough, it’ll explode. Normally it might contain tomatoes or something quite innocent but when it’s boiling black caramel, it’s really dangerous. Luckily, no-one was in the kitchen at the time but I came back to find stalactites and stalagmites of caramel all over the room. It looked quite impressive actually! Getting distracted is your enemy, for men in general and also at Christmas.
Is planning important when it comes to Christmas cooking?
I hate plans generally in life but at Christmas, even I do a plan. Schedule it all backwards, from the moment when you put the first morsel of food in your mouth, back to carving, back to resting for that golden hour-and-a-half when you take the turkey out, free up the oven and do your other bits. Keep building your plan right back to the start of the day, back to Christmas Eve, even back to the week before. I do it on a chalkboard and it really helps. There are apps you can use and there’ll be a Christmas bot on my website that can answer questions, give you cooking times and anything else you need. Planning is a life-saver at Christmas.
Do you get stressed by cooking Christmas dinner?
Only a little bit. Not so much by the cooking as the occasion. The default Oliver Christmas is 30-odd people. If I haven’t got my shit together by the turn they turn up, it’s manic. They all turn up and want to hug and kiss and talk, which is lovely, but I want them to get tasty hot food as well. Cooking for 12 or 15 people is very common in Britain, which is kind of like running a small restaurant. It’s a lot of pressure, so you have to get prepped. If you’re clever enough and get enough done beforehand, you can actually have a nice time and enjoy the moment.
What’s your favourite recipe from the show?
I’m biased but our Quick & Easy stuffing with five ingredients is a game-changer. Guaranteed you’ll love it. We cook it in a bundt tin, so it just looks like an edible crown. Camp, fun and extravagant but also really easy to do. And by taking the stuffing out of the bird, a lot of those problems with undercooked birds start to go away.
Why is cooking turkey often tricky?
It’s a weird one. The one day when more people are cooking than at any other time of the whole year, you’re presented with the biggest object to cook. And the oddest shape, too. Little skinny breasts and little fat breasts all-in-one - like, how does that work? - and these legs that have been supporting the weight of this big old bird. If you overcook it, it’s a nightmare and if you undercook it, it’s a problem.
What are the biggest mistakes people make with the turkey?
Never cook a turkey that’s just come out of the fridge. Get it out at least an hour-and-a-half beforehand. You read stories about people running turkeys under the hot tap but that’s the worst thing you can do. Salmonella everywhere. You’ll all have the shits. A lot of people still don’t let the turkey rest after cooking, which is dangerous. People think resting the bird is some peripheral, optional, luxury cheffy nonsense but it’s not. It’s still cooking inside with what we call carry-over heat and it’s also relaxing, so juices are going back in. A rested bird is a much nicer, better-cooked, more delicious thing to eat. Don’t waste your money buying turkey crowns. People do, because they’re scared of the whole bird, which is fine if it’s more convenient for you, but you’re still paying for the whole bird so there’s no value gain. And if you can afford it, trade up to a higher welfare bird. Free range and organic birds aren’t just better ethically but have better flavour, you’ll get better gravy from its bones and it cooks about 15% quicker.
Tell us about putting up the Christmas tree…
If you think The Osbournes is funny, the Olivers is madness. Peaks and troughs of happiness and tears. I always post an Instagram picture of a lovely tree but because I don’t like to bullshit, I say “If you knew the chaos that happened before this picture…” Once I switch the lights on, everyone goes quiet and they’re happy. But the build-up to that is carnage: kids stepping on glass baubles, electric shocks from dodgy fairy lights, squabbling over who gets to do what. It’s exhausting. Afterwards, I invariably collapse on the sofa with a nice glass of whisky and fall asleep.
Doesn’t your wife Jools have a quirk when it comes to Christmas trees?
Jools is so into Christmas. She gets really nostalgic. Christmas was very important to her as a kid because her dad wasn’t very well, so it was important to get Christmas right and of course, that carries on into her own family. She’s an amazing woman but she has this massive problem of feeling sorry for Christmas trees which, let’s be honest, isn’t normal! When we go to get our tree, she’ll find the saddest tree that looks like it’s been neglected and she’ll have to buy it. Then I’ll have to take it home and erect it. Last year, Jools found one that was like a bush. It didn’t have a top, just the bottom half. A Christmas bush. But as per usual, she was right and it ended up looking awesome. A lot of families are like that - they have their own little sentimentalities and traditions.
What other little traditions do you have?
Hacking my Christmas crackers by sticking new jokes and little gifts in there. Strategically giving the most prudish person the most outrageously filthy joke. Taking out the rubbish little nail-clippers and putting in a box of Viagra. We did that every year with my nan.
Christmas tends to be a time for over-indulgence - how would you balance that with your healthy eating message?
I think we give ourselves time off at Christmas and rightly so. The joy of food is indulgence and comfort. It’s buying, cooking and eating for deliciousness, not righteousness. And let’s be honest, life without cake would be really boring. I love sugar, by the way. My problem was the misuse of sugar. Besides, healthy recipes aren’t really the issue at Christmas, the issue is eating too much. It’s not ingredients, it’s sheer volume! Most of us get that wrong at Christmas, including me, and then we all waddle into January the same way every year.
Is there any festive food you would say is overrated?
Controversially, Christmas pudding. It doesn’t work for me. It’s too heavy, like an edible cannonball. But by fixing my hatred of it, I came up with my version: I introduced stout, chocolate and more breadcrumbs, which means lightness. And I’m telling you, my one’s badass.
What’s your festive guilty pleasure?
Cream soda. It’s the only time I buy cream soda. Buddy’s like “What is this? This is amazing.” I’m like “Don’t get used to it.”
What’s your favourite Quality Street?
The purple one. I don’t know how this happened or how it got to me but yesterday, I got presented with a box of Oliver Street with just purple ones inside.
Do you enjoy giving foodie gifts at Christmas?
Definitely. Normally a little hamper of stuff I’ve made at weekends over the last month or two. Damson gin, crab apple jelly, quince jam, gingerbread, hot chocolate, things like that. Olive oil is picked in October and November, so if you can get hold of new season stuff, it’s unbelievable: luminous, viscous and just tastes different. I like gifts that keep on giving, like a pestle and mortar. That will still be making your food taste amazing years later.
What’s the best Christmas present you ever received?
It’s a toss-up between two. When I was seven, I got an AT-AT and a bunch of Star Wars figures. That was a big landslide moment for me. Then when I was 12, I got a drum kit and that became a massive part of my youth. Basically I spent my whole childhood in kitchens or rehearsing. That kept me out of trouble and gave brought me such joy and camaraderie.
And what’s the best Christmas present you ever gave?
Probably the coolest was to Gennaro Contaldo, nine years ago. His birthday and Christmas come around the same time and he was turning 60. He’d been such an incredible friend, mentor and support to me and I just wanted to repay him somehow. His dream as a kid was to own an E-type Jag and I managed to find a good one at a fairly decent price, then spent a year doing it up in preparation for his 60th. It was just another level: perfect, black, beautiful. I knew it was going to break him. I got my book at the time, which was Cook With Jamie, got a Stanley knife, cut out the middle to hold the car keys, wrapped it up and gave him the book. I gave it to him in the office and he was confused when he unwrapped it - but then when he realised, he just went. He was in bits. I took him outside and one of the guys roared up in the Jag, with Pavarotti playing on the stereo. Everyone knew it was happening and they were all leaning out of the windows to watch. A brilliant moment for a brilliant man. Gennaro’s still got the car and keeps telling my son Buddy he’s going to leave it to him in his will.
What’s your favourite Christmas pop song?
Band Aid. It might not be the best but I was the right age when it came out and it still pulls on my heartstrings.
And your favourite Christmas film?
And favourite Christmas TV?
Only Fools & Horses. And The Queen’s Speech if we can.
Will you be making any New Year’s Resolutions?
Ooh, I’ve not set any yet but it’s bound to be dropping the kids off at school more, that kind of stuff. I’m not bad but I could probably do better.