Shhh - don’t tell anyone, but Christmas dinner is just a Sunday roast wearing a top hat and tails. However, a lack of funds doesn’t mean forgoing the finery: a thrifty Christmas dinner can be top-notch if you’ve got the appropriate tips and tricks up your trousers.
The first thing to reconsider is your centrepiece. A turkey, whether it’s for two or twelve, is going to set you back a lot more than a couple of decent quality chickens, which are always my first choice due to the abundance of pan juices they give in comparison with the leaner, more traditional bird. And you must, whatever you do, make the gravy from those pan juices, flour and a splash of cheap wine. This might be Christmas on a budget, but it’s certainly no place for Bisto.
Of course, the most frugal Christmas meals forgo meat altogether, and showcase a fab veggie centrepiece instead: think densely packed nut-roasts - chestnuts, cranberries, lentils, hazelnuts and plenty of onion gravy. Another option is making a juicy wellington with puff pastry, squash and gorgonzola. Dress it all up with some sage crisped up in oil, and absolutely no one will question why you’ve not spent £60 on drying out a turkey instead.
The cheapest part of any Christmas dinner, (or indeed, any dinner) is root vegetables. Potatoes, carrots and parsnips can be picked up for pence at Christmas, and with a little help from our old friends salt and fat, can easily obfuscate a smaller meat offering with their abundant deliciousness. If you’re feeding omnivores, cook the tatties in beef dripping or lard rather than goose or duck fat - or forget about animals altogether and crisp them, coated with flour, in a bath of hot sunflower oil. Carrots can benefit from a trip to the microwave before being basted in a mix of butter, orange juice and dried thyme on the stovetop; parsnips can be parboiled with the potatoes to save energy, and then tossed in wholegrain mustard and honey and roasted at the same time as the tatties.
Right, that’s your shirt, waistcoat and trousers sorted: now for the bowtie, spats and tailcoat. Premade pigs in blankets are often an expensive disappointment, so make them yourself by twisting good quality sausages in the middle, severing the joint and wrapping each baby sausage in a sheath of smoked cooking bacon. Stuffing from a packet is pretty good when augmented with the meat from another (cheaper) packet of sausages, some chopped dried apricots and a splash of that value white wine again. Cranberry sauce is cheapest when bought in, but melt it down in a small pot (microwave or stove) and add a dash of red wine vinegar to take off any cloying sweetness. Don’t even think about boiling your sprouts either; shred, then stir fry those brassica with some soy sauce and lime juice, and ignore your granny’s protests.
And the tophat? Homemade yorkies. Traditionally used to bulk out cheap dinners, they can serve the exact same function in this capacity - let the batter stand overnight to go huge in the oven while your chickens rest under foil and your tatties go a deep, burnished gold.
If you need a pudding after all that (and no shame in that game), make a shallow mincemeat tart with some shortcrust pastry and marmalade to glaze. Serve with warm cufflinks because you’ve mixed your metaphors up again.