Many years ago, when we were younger, stupider and child-free (in other words, richer), we splashed out on a treat for Christmas dinner: a Yorkshire pot from the splendid Derek Fox’s butchers in Malton.
It was, if I recall, a partridge inside a duck inside a chicken inside a turkey, with a dollop of pâté at its heart. Or was there a goose involved somewhere? Whatever, it felt terribly glamorous and alternative, in an Elizabethan peacock-inside-a-swan-inside-a-phoenix sort of way. Cooking it was a terrifying experience: we had friends round for Christmas dinner, one of whom was pregnant, and I remember being convinced we’d give her some sort of dreadful food poisoning – how on earth could you tell when the beast was properly cooked through?
Anyway, all went well in the end, although I’m sorry to report that, for me, the bird-within-bird combo promised rather more than it delivered – the flavours all rather melded together. Perhaps that’s the point, and I’m just missing it.
Back then, 15, maybe 18, years ago, such things were very exotic – Fox’s was the only place we knew that did them. Now, you can buy similar cockatrices from all the major supermarkets. They tend to be a bit on the pricey side, although after a quick browse on the internet, I did find one at under a tenner – goodness knows what conditions those birds were reared in, though.
The point is that there are many alternatives to the traditional turkey, which can, let’s face it, be as dry as dust (unless, of course, you can afford a fabulous KellyBronze, or similar – but we’re talking over £70 for a 4kg turkey to serve six to eight, and in these crunched times, that’s not within everyone’s reach, even at Christmas).
Make friends with your local butcher, and who knows what delights you’ll uncover. For the last few years, we’ve had pot roast venison, and it’s been a joy – tender, dark meat, rich, aromatic gravy, and plenty left over for the traditional Boxing Day cold cuts and bubble-and-squeak (and since we’re talking credit crunch food, really, is there anything more delicious and economical than bubble-and-squeak?). This year’s haunch is already on order from our favourite butcher’s, Glaves of Brompton.
There are loads of other very festive alternatives you could try, too – goose, duck, pheasant, partridge, or a tiny quail (or two) per person. Italian porchetta’s a relatively cheap and easy thing to do – fiddly, but if you haven’t got time to relax and do something time-consuming at Christmas, when will you? We use the Gennaro Contaldo version from Passione – a boned belly of pork (rather than the traditional whole piglet!), blanketed generously with herbs (thyme, rosemary, sage, fennel seeds and garlic, but there are some lovely alternatives out there – just Google), then rolled and tied into a long sausage, drizzled with oil and honey, and roasted. Deglaze the roasting tray with some wine, sherry or Madeira to make a sauce, and Bob è tuo zio.