Who doesn’t like turkey? Actually, it seems many people have secretly disliked the Christmas bird for years. Barely a year goes by without somebody complaining about turkey. The meat is dry, easy to overcook (out of fear of overcooking) and doesn’t have a great deal of taste. While there are things you can do to improve turkey such as adding herbs or slow cooking it, ultimately some people are simply bored with turkey. We all eat turkey out of tradition rather than enjoyment. Increasingly, consumers are seeking different types of meat for their big day meal. Here are some of the most popular options.
It was once the poor alternative to turkey, made famous in Dickens A Christmas Carol. Bob Cratchit is so poor that they can’t afford a turkey and have to make do with a goose. Today, goose is the more expensive choice (often double that of a turkey) but people prefer its rich, tasty skin, flavoursome meat and dripping fat that gives it the succulent texture that turkey lacks. How this was ever the poor person’s choice compared to turkey is anybody’s guess. It is said that once you’ve made roast potatoes with goose fat, you will never go back.
The game bird is ubiquitous in some parts of the UK countryside. Pheasants are small, but ideal for small Christmas gatherings – perhaps 2-3 people (4 at a stretch). A brace pair should easily do a family of 5 or 6 with some left over, and cheaper than getting a whole turkey. Pheasant is lean meat, tastes similar to turkey or chicken but with a distinct gamey flavour if you buy wild rather than farm birds. The rich, darker meat makes great gravy stock. The lack of fat on pheasant means it can dry out, but put some butter inside or wrap it in foil and it should remain moist.
Once considered the rich man’s meat, venison is relatively inexpensive compared to some other game. Price varies by cut, and so does the flavour and texture. Venison has a strong flavour of game and is slightly peppery – ideal for this time of year. Despite looking like beef cuts, it tastes nothing like any meat cut from a cow and has a lot less fat. Venison is one of the healthiest meats you can eat due to its leanness. If you tend to have beef at Christmas, substitute it for venison this year and you won’t be disappointed. Compare local prices as they can vary; supermarkets are typically the most expensive.
Once the cheapest choice of pork (as highlighted by Jamie Oliver in Jamie Saves Our Bacon), it has had a little bit of a renaissance and can be found in most gastropubs and high end restaurants today. Jamie Oliver may or may not be responsible for this, but few things in life compare to the rich, succulent flavour of pork belly and its thick layer of crackling. It feels like pure indulgence as far as meat is concerned. Another alternative is wild boar; this has a gamey flavour and a little less fat than regular pork cuts.
Arguably the most popular game bird, most of us tend to eat it in Chinese restaurants. However, duck is a great bird to roast. It is nice and juicy unlike turkey and has a much richer flavour. You would probably need two to feed a family of four or more, but with such a strong flavour, you probably won’t want quite so much meat. Slow roasted birds are succulent and like goose, the fat makes divine roast potatoes. Rather than traditional gravy, we recommend making a sauce with traditional Christmas spices or perhaps something plum based.