Good Food Blog
Anything but turkey?Posted at 11:15AM, 20 December 2010 by Stuart Walton - Food and wine writer
There will always be a place for the turkey on Britain's Christmas table, but growing numbers of us have begun thinking the unthinkable, and trying something else. We gave up turkey in my family in 1997, and haven't really looked back.
The arguments against the festive turkey are well enough known. It is a stupendously boring meat, the overdeveloped breast of which requires endless intervention to stop it from being as dry as the sole of an old slipper. No matter what you do to it in the way of stuffings, seasonings and gravies, it still ends up tasting like boring turkey. Then, just as you've had quite enough for another year, it turns out there is enough of it left to delight you for days on end yet.
So what else might be on the menu? The increasingly popular alternative is a goose. It has much more rounded flavour, it bastes itself, the fat is fabulous for roast potatoes (and will keep all through the following year), and - depending on how many of you there are - you'll probably only need one more meal to finish it off.
Goose is what we converted to when we abandoned turkey, and in all the years since, we have only ever had one disappointing one. That said, goose can create its own problems. It is fiendishly expensive (as much as £69 a pop in one of the high street multiples), and it isn't easy to tell how much meat an individual bird will turn out to yield. This is the one time of year when short rations are really not the point.
So perhaps we won't have goose this year. But what else might we have? One of my friends is roasting a brace of chickens, which might sound a less enthralling option until you start to eat it. Decent corn-fed free-range chicken roasted with garlic, lemon and herbs is a much more succulent and satisfying proposition than a big fat turkey.
If there are no more than two or three of you, a good duck is worth a punt. Its deeply flavoured meat is even richer and tastier than goose, and lends itself to a variety of treatments. It's also a much better partner than any of the above for a big belting red wine - and what is Christmas Day without (at least) one of those?
Christmas Day fare needs to feel as though it's more than just a Sunday roast
Does it have to be a bird? What about a whole joint of beef fillet, cooked tenderly pink, and served with a creamy, garlicky dauphinoise as well as roasties? Or a perfectly crackled pork loin? Well yes, but then what are we going to have on Boxing Day? Somehow, Christmas Day fare at least needs to feel as though it's more than just a Sunday roast.
Let this be a warning to you. If you're contemplating having a change from turkey this year for the first time, beware. You aren't so much liberating yourself for a world of possibility as landing yourself with an agonising annual debate, in which everybody has the right to put in their two penn'orth, with the risk that nobody ends up happy. Perhaps it was better when people just got what they were given. Vegetarians, take heart. You will never have to worry about this.
What are you eating this year? And are you having a big debate about it?