Head chef, Paternoster Chop House
Call me an old Scrooge but the thought of eating turkey at Christmas fills me with dread. I know I’m in the minority here but I find it dry and tasteless, even if turkeys have come on a lot in recent years (more succulent birds include black or bronze turkeys).
Ask most people what it is they like about Christmas dinner and it’s usually not the turkey – it’s all the trimmings – the stuffing, the bread and cranberry sauces, the sausages wrapped in bacon – even the sprouts. All these things would go well with meats like pheasant, goose, duck, venison or any other game, which have a stronger (and more interesting) taste. Christmassy flavours like sage or chestnuts will bring out the earthiness of these meats without overpowering them, and adding punchy spices such as cloves, cinnamon or ginger and a hint of orange, cranberry or port will bring a festive feel to everything.
Or you could opt for something totally different and just add a Christmas twist. We always used to use my Irish grandmother’s recipe of braised blade of beef stuffed with chestnut and thyme, cooked until it melted in the mouth. A classic beef Wellington with a similar stuffing around the meat (and some wild mushrooms) would have that special wow factor when carved at the table. Roast beef with stilton (either crumbled over the top for the last 10 minutes of cooking to glaze or with a stilton hollandaise), or whole salmon with thyme, blood orange and orange liqueur could also be festive, luxurious, and unusual, alternatives.
And for pudding? Again, I’m not a great lover of traditional Christmas pudding, which I find far too heavy and stodgy after such a big meal (although my mother-in-law’s suet free version, which I have stolen the recipe for, manages to be lovely and light). If you want something to go with your brandy butter and cream, why not try a marmalade steamed pudding or, for something totally different and a bit special, how about a champagne syllabub (basically a boozy whipped cream)?
Only since Victorian times has turkey become the main event at Christmas – in days gone by, goose or venison were the most common choices. People even ate swan or peacock. I’m not suggesting you go that far (I don’t think eating either swan or peacock is legal), but it is possible to eat, drink and be merry… and stay turkey-free.