Christmas is a lot of pressure. The most wonderful time of the year often comes with stress, arguments and panic about what to put on the table. The expectation is palpable: perfectly moist turkey that oozes as much flavour as it does juice, bountiful sides that pile up the table so densely that there’s no room for plates, a piping hot Christmas pudding stuffed with heady spice. The truth is, there is no such thing as a foolproof Christmas dinner – however, there is such a thing as an impressive one, and that will rarely involve a gigantic turkey and heaps of stuffing. Turkey and stuffing are not the only options; a great way to show your cooking kudos is to opt for a centrepiece that’s entirely different. I’ve selected a trio of incredible pieces of meat to request from your butcher to cook this Christmas, and not a single one of them includes a turkey crown.
Rack of pork
Pork loin, chined, with the bones scraped clean to look extra pretty; a rack of pork is one of the most delightful pieces of meat you might ever serve. It has the makings of a truly great roast from the outset: lean, tender meat, a thick layer of insulative fat, and a hardy covering of crackling (because it’s what we all want from a pork roast). Think of it as a rack of lamb, but bigger. Ideally, you’d opt for one bone for each person you’re serving. A great slab of pork wrapped in its own portion of crackling is inspiring to plate. Roast it hot and fast, and carve it tableside. Nothing is quite so impressive.
If you and your guests are adventurous, a game pie is quite the spectacle for Christmas day. Ask your butcher for all the game they have available – right now, we should be looking at partridge, pheasant, and mallard. You can either ask them to bone it out for you, or do it at home (it’s very easy with a sharp knife). Dice it thickly and brown, before frying off shallots, carrots, garlic, and leeks in a pan. Add some stock, a dash of wine and a bouquet garnis, then simmer with the game for 45 minutes to an hour to get the flavours going. Shop-bought pastry is more than fine and easier to manipulate to make a really impressive show-stopper crust. Plenty of egg wash, 40 minutes in the oven and hey presto.
If you really are set on poultry for your big lunch, a cockerel is a more flavourful, economical option. A chicken that’s had more time to mature, and therefore develop muscle structure, and in turn flavour; a cockerel should be treated more gently, but you’ll be well rewarded. Brown the bird fiercely, before reducing the oven to a low temp and cooking slowly for a few hours. The best thing about it? You’ll only need one; these birds will feed between 4 and 8 depending on the size.