Christmas dinner hacks to reduce your energy spend

From cooking your veg in the microwave to creating air-fryer roasties, these energy-efficient suggestions will keep the oven turned off…

From this year's golden gadget, the air fryer, to the good old microwave to the reliable slow cooker, there are plenty of ways to save energy while cooking Christmas dinner. On social media, we asked what alternative cooking methods our readers will be using this year to save money, and talked to experts who could advise on the best foods for each device.

Air fryer

Jenny Tschiesche author of The Air Fryer Cookbook explains: “Anything you can put in an oven you can put in an air fryer and typically you're going to take away about 20 percent of the cooking time and about 20C.”

“You can cook a turkey crown if the basket is at least 7-8 litres capacity. You could add pigs in blankets towards the end of cooking too.”

A nut roast will also work well. “A 3.5-4 litres air fryer basket would fit a one pound loaf tin in. So, you could at least make a small nut roast.” Another option is a filo parcel. “Filo works wonderfully in air fryers; it really crisps up. You could make something like brie and cranberry filo parcels, which would also work as a starter.”

Roast vegetables – including hasselback potatoes and sprouts work wonderfully in them and you could pre-make your stuffing using an air fryer too. If you're cooking your meat ahead, or in an alternative device air fry the sides, “then you don’t have to turn the oven on for just one dish,”

Air fryer roast sprouts

For Christmas nibbles Tschiesche also recommends: “Turn your vegetable peelings into crisps. Toss them in a little bit of oil, season, and then air fry until they're nice and crispy.

“You can also make spiced nuts which go great with Christmas cocktails. Just whisk up a little bit of honey or maple syrup and add some spice and salt. Then you need a little bit of egg white to bind the mix to the nuts, then it’s straight into the air fryer.”

Slow cooker

For a budget-friendly starter author Sarah Cook suggests: “A smooth, creamy and seasonal-veg based soup, with a colourful or crunchy sprinkle. This will keep it low-cost, make sure it’s not too filling before the big event, but look special enough for Christmas… You could essentially just shove the veg, stock, some onions, garlic and herbs in the slow cooker, then once soft, whizz with a drizzle of cream or crème fraiche.”

Mulled wine is a festive slow-cooker staple. “It’s so easy! Chuck in a cheap bottle of red wine, brown sugar, and your favourite festive spices like cinnamon sticks, cloves and star anise. Fresh ginger slices will give it a warming kick, while orange or clementine slices give a citrusy finish.”

Slow cooker mulled wine

As for the main: “I love turkey thigh and leg meat the best, and with the slow cooker you can achieve that deliciously soft, confit-style finish (like pulled pork). Use a low-liquid recipe like my chicken shawarma and cook the turkey on low so it doesn’t dry out. Bones in are fine.

You could slow-cook a turkey crown, but Cook recommends “a lovely moist breast joint – just use a trivet of vegetables in the base, and a buttery herb rub over a boneless turkey breast. A 2–3kg joint will take about 5–6 hours on low. If you’re missing that crispy skin just flash under a low grill to finish.

Gammon is particularly suited to slow cookers as it needs to be gently boiled anyway. Add your gammon, liquid (like water, apple juice, coca cola or ginger beer) and flavourings and cook on low. A 1.5–2kg joint will take about 5½–6 hours. Do this up to a couple of days ahead, and then you can finish in the oven with a sticky glaze on the day.”

“Making Christmas pudding in a slow cooker means you can forget about it for the day (or night). There’s no chance of the water running dry like with the classic saucepan method, so there’s no need for regular checking. A pudding in a one litre basin will take 10 hours on the low setting – just make sure your basin fits into your slow cooker with the lid on, before you start assembling it.”

Slow cooker cola ham

Microwave

Jennipher Marshall-Jenkinson, author of Microwave Magic, says: “If you were going to microwave just one dish at Christmas I’d go for vegetables - because nutrients are retained, you’re saving on energy costs and the flavour and the colour of the vegetables is absolutely beautiful.”

You can keep things simple when cooking them, for example with sprouts, “just peel them, put a cut across the bottom, rinse them under a tap and cook them in a covered dish.”

You could make steamed puddings including Christmas pudding. “Steamed sponges really work well in a microwave. The bottom line is because they cook so quickly, they come out the same colour as they go in.”

5 minute treacle pudding

Consider ingredients that could add to the colour – “I use a dark brown muscovado sugar in my Christmas pudding – and do the same with my Christmas cake. Then, even though they come out of the microwave the same colour they went in, they’re going to be nice and dark.”

As for the cooking time, a Christmas pudding for four people will take between 7-9 minutes on a medium-high power setting (70 percent).

You can, says Marshall-Jenkinson, cook your main in the microwave. “I’d put a chicken or small turkey in a roasting bag, put it upside down for 20 minutes and then turn it the other way and to continue to cook.” To get the browned appearance you could rub some paprika onto the skin prior to cooking, or Marshall-Jenkinson’s personal favourite, Worcestershire sauce.

Barbecue

Genevieve Taylor author of Seared: The Ultimate Guide To Cooking Meat, explains the golden rules for barbecuing turkey, chief among them is to have the right kind of barbecue and enough time.

“You couldn't put a turkey on a small camping barbecue but equally you don't need anything fancy. Mine’s a standard round kettle barbecue and that’s fine.

“When cooking turkey you use heat, not flames… You light two small fires at either ends of the barbecue and then that gives you an area in the middle without any charcoal underneath and that's where [on the grill bars] you put your turkey. You’ll need a lid to retain the heat too.”

“If you want to have a smoky flavour, you need to put little blocks of wood onto the fire.” To add to the flavour, Taylor’s preferred liquid to baste the turkey with is coffee, butter and maple syrup. “Mopping your turkey will keep the surface moist which is really good for attracting smoke to stick to it.”

“A 6kg turkey can take a couple of hours,” says Taylor. However, you shouldn’t “cook to a time, cook to temperature,” says Taylor. “It's much more reliable to use a meat probe and cook it until it's done.” A safe temperature is 73C, says Taylor.

“On the base of the barbecue, under the turkey, I would put an old roasting tin with vegetables such as carrots, onion and celery, some herbs and liquid, then as the turkey's cooking, the juices drip into the tray under it. And then by the time the turkey’s cooked, your gravy is nearly done.”

The Food Programme: Barbecuing turkey
Christmas pudding in the pressure cooker

Pressure cooker

Catherine Phipps, author of Modern Pressure Cooking, uses the cooking device for speeding up Christmas dishes and saving on energy.

“You can par-boil veg – like potatoes, parsnips and carrots – in a steamer for just a minute and then they’ll be ready to roast [or air fry]. Put a little water in the base, just a centimetre is plenty, then salt it, bring it up to pressure, cook for one minute, fast-release and they’ll be done.

Red cabbage is the same, if you want it to be fairly al dente, cook for a minute but if you want it soft and melting, with apple in there as well, it needs three minutes.”

The festive dish most associated with pressure cookers is Christmas pudding: “Steam it conventionally for the first 15 minutes – to allow it to rise. Then, you seal the pressure cooker and cook it. A large pudding will take two hours, a medium an hour and a half and it’ll be 40 minutes for a mini pudding. On the day re-heat it for 30 minutes.”

“If your pudding is large, but your pressure cooker isn’t,” says Phipps, “you don't have to put it on a trivet. Fold up a fabric napkin or a torn piece of tea towel place it at the bottom, add your pudding to it and a couple of centimetres of water in the base and that will stop it jiggling around.”

The pressure cooker will also make it easy to cook large joints of meat to fall-apart tenderness in half the time of conventional cooking. Perfect for a buffet pulled pork or honey roast ham.

Originally published November 2022