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Chef Dean Banks shares his favourite Christmas traditions plus top tips for a perfect festive feast

Dean Banks says his family are his "biggest critics" on Christmas Day but he loves cooking for his family, and going "all out" with an extravagant menu.

Chef Dean Banks talks Christmas Day and how to make the special meal perfect. Image: Steve Brown/DC Thomson
Chef Dean Banks talks Christmas Day and how to make the special meal perfect. Image: Steve Brown/DC Thomson

When cooking for guests throughout the year is all said and done, MasterChef finalist Dean Banks looks forward to cooking for his family on Christmas Day.

But, he admits, his nearest and dearest are by far his “biggest critics”.

Dean says: “We all love it because it’s a way to get the family together once a year for a big slap-up meal. That’s what I love.

“Obviously, with being in hospitality you serve a lot of people throughout the year, but how often is it my family that I’m cooking for?”

However, being so close means that Dean’s family aren’t afraid to let him know when something on the plate has gone awry.

“They are way worse critics than everyone else,” he laughs, “they’re so honest.

“When something is not quite right, they will say it, whereas other people may just hide it.

“You know when you’ve pan-fried something, maybe Brussels sprouts and there are a few darker ones? My sister will be there pointing them out.”

What does Christmas Day look like for MasterChef finalist Dean Banks?

Dean, unsurprisingly, is the designated chef on the day itself.

He says: “My favourite part is that because I’ve done the cooking, I don’t need to clean. I’m the first one to fall asleep on the couch after dinner.”

One of the family’s many festive traditions occurs on Christmas Eve.

“On Christmas Eve, we do a celebration of food,” says Dean.

Dean Banks opts for some nostalgic dishes and “fancy” ones for his family Christmas. Image: Steve Brown/DC Thomson

“My own little family tradition between me and my wife and our two kids that we started four years ago is that we have carbonara.

“It’s carbonara with truffle and a little bottle of champagne.

“We treat ourselves on Christmas Eve on our inner family meal together.”

And, after Santa’s arrival, then comes breakfast.

“On Christmas morning, simplicity is best so it’s bacon rolls all round. That’s my go-to,” he says.

“That’s because that’s what I had when I was younger.

“So Christmas Day isn’t Christmas Day for me without a bacon roll.”

‘Christmas Day is the luxury day of the year’ with a champagne Magnum, caviar and lobster

“Growing up, we were quite a simple family from Arbroath,” says Dean.

“There was nothing really fancy on our Christmas [plate].

“It was still a great Christmas Day, but there were not the luxury products that we’re having now.

“It was more of a simple, classic upbringing with tattie soup, roast turkey and banoffee pie. That was always the go to.”

And while Dean has stuck to his roots with those three dishes staying the same, he has also brought in some luxury additions.

“Christmas Day is the luxury day of the year,” continues Dean, “so we have lobster, we have truffle, we have some caviar.

“If you’re going to do it, that’s the day to do it.”

Some of the delicious dishes chef Dean Banks serves his family at Christmas. Image: Grant Anderson/Dean Banks.

Buck’s fizz on Christmas morning is a tradition for many, and Dean recommends surprising your friends and family with a Magnum of champagne.

“If you come out with a Magnum of champagne on Christmas Day, even your close  family’s eyes are so awed, everyone is so happy.

“And when you pop one, it’s such a special occasion, you know?”

Throughout the day, in the lead up to Dean’s Christmas lunch, there’ll serve “little nibbles” as people start to arrive.

One of these is Dean’s trout pastrami on blinis with crème fraiche, or some caviar.

Now, we tuck into Christmas lunch itself. To start with, each of the adults are served lobster.

“It’s my signature lobster dish,” Dean says, “and my nana’s tattie soup for the kids. I always have a bowl too because I love it.”

The lobster entrée to start off with is a great alternative starter to the traditional prawn cocktail.

The adults have a half lobster, some nice bread and a Mirin butter sauce, which you can order yourself from Dean’s website, Haar at Home.

The half lobster entrée – Dean’s Christmas lunch speciality – also available from Haar at Home.  Image: Grant Anderson/Dean Banks.

“And then,” says Dean, “we go straight-up traditional.

“It’s onto the turkey, stuffing, roasties, cauliflower cheese, Dauphinoise, roast carrots and parsnips and Brussels sprouts.”

For dessert, Dean dives once again back into the nostalgia of his childhood with his nana’s banoffee pie – a simple but well-loved family favourite.

“It’s nana’s ‘secret recipe’,” he says, “of digestive biscuits, caramel condensed milk, bananas and cream. And then she sprinkles a flake on top.

“It’s super simple but it’s just one of those things from your childhood that you absolutely love, you know?

“Then, we have always have a big cheese board as well. So there’s loads of food.”

Christmas classics on repeat

There are some Christmas traditions we all stick by, year after year.

For Dean, this is watching Home Alone.

Once everyone has finished tucking into their turkey, Dean can relax on the sofa with his sous chef, his brother-in-law, Duncan.

“After Christmas lunch,” says Dean, “the telly goes on. I love Christmas cartoons or Home Alone.

“Home Alone is not just my favourite Christmas movie, it’s my favourite movie.

“I just love Kevin so much. Not Home Alone 3 though, just 1 and 2. It’s just amazing.

“My son, Felix, is 5, so this year is the first year he can really sit down and watch a full movie, so we’ll get him on it this year.”

Dean Banks’ Christmas Dinner top tips

And if you’re feeling a little daunted about prepping so much food for a bigger group of people, Dean has some suggestions for you.

“Prepare your veg the day before,” he advises, “don’t just chop them, get them cooked.

“Veg is a great versatile thing so say your carrots, your Brussels sprouts, you can cook them the day before so you’re just reheating them on the day.

“And that saves so much oven space for you.

“With roasties, you have them pre-boiled the day before, but you do want to roast those on the day.”

You will blow everyone’s mind.”

Dean Banks on his turkey top tip

No Christmas lunch can be complete without the bird itself. So how has Dean perfected his turkey?

“Brining your turkey is the key to keeping it moist,” Dean reveals.

Brining is the process of soaking a protein in a solution to moisten, tenderise and infuse it with flavour.

He explains: “So if you get a big bucket, it’s ten litres of water, one kilogramme of salt so it’s a 10% ratio. And you just leave your turkey in there for 24 hours.

“It seasons the meat throughout and keeps everything really, really moist.

“You need to keep it cool, but since we live in Scotland, you can chuck it in your back garden. You’ll be totally fine leaving it there this time of year, just try and make sure that animals don’t get it,” he laughs.

For the roast potatoes, Dean advises using Red Rooster tatties, and a unique technique using a fork.

“After boiling the potatoes, just go to town on them,” he says.

“Bash them up, shake them as hard as you can. What you’re doing is creating all this fluffiness on the outside and the potatoes look all roughed up.

“I put a fork in the colander and shake the colander with the fork in it, so the fork will scratch all the potatoes up. It’s all of that which creates all the crispy goodness on your roast potato.”

Brussels Sprouts aren’t going to be nice when they’re boiled, says Dean Banks. Image: Shutterstock.

It’s time to get controversial – where does Dean stand on the Brussels sprout debate? Should they be on the Christmas dinner plate?

They most certainly do appear in Dean’s Christmas lunch, but not just plain old boiled ones.

“The thing is, Brussels sprouts are rubbish when they’re boiled,” says Dean.

“So if you blanch them quickly – treat it like any other vegetable – the blanching gets rid of the bitterness, makes them a little bit softer.

“Then cut them in half, fry them in loads of butter with some chestnuts, some pepper, some salt and some fresh herbs at the end.

“They’re absolutely delicious. They get nice and golden brown.”

For Dean, it’s all about being creative with veg.

“Growing up, I wasn’t a fan of vegetables because my mum would just boil them all. And then I realised you can do stuff with them and make them really nice.”