We look at the array of festive fowl available to you and your kin this Christmas…
We’re all aware of the bird traditionally chosen to grace the Christmas dinner table, but what about the other feathered contenders? Although generally lower in fat and so great for the waist-conscious, turkey is a notoriously tricky bird to tackle – it’s all in the timing, and the key is to baste it like there’s no tomorrow. If time and again you tend to overcook the thing, and really don’t fancy dry turkey sandwiches once again (for what feels like forever once Christmas Day is done) there is plenty of other poultry to pick for this year.
Needless to say, chicken can be lovely when done well – Nando’s knows it – but this everyday option does lack the element of occasion that other birds have. Perhaps have it golden five-spice-style or pair it with pecans or pears. Cheap and practical, this is a good one if you’ve got fussy eaters in the house, or simply lots of mouths to feed.
TIP: Heston recommends leaving your chicken in salty water overnight beforehand, as brining changes the proteins in the meat and allows it to hold onto moisture. Or, invest in some agar-agar, made from seaweed, for your sauce.
This popular treat is a good shout if you have a smaller selection of guests gathering round your Christmas table. Although higher in calories, the duck is one of the most flavoursome choices, and best served more on the medium-rare side, due to the darkness of its meat. Best of all, you can whip up some crispy duck pancakes with any leftovers. Winner.
TIP: Nigella loves ‘Coca-Cola duck’ – achieved by dousing your duck in full-fat cola and soy sauce while cooking, which combines to create a thick, dark, delicious sauce. Although nobody knows the exact, closely guarded recipe for Coke, it’s widely believed to contain extracts of coriander, caramel, lime and cinnamon amongst others.
This rich bird offers absolutely delicious dark meat but is very fatty. Messy maybe, but it keeps the meat perfectly moist and you can always use the excess to your advantage and roast your potatoes in it – in fact, you’d be a fool not to. The goose doesn’t provide quite as much meat as a turkey, but its denseness and fattiness means it holds much more energy per kilo, so effectively you’ll need less. Not that what you actually need really comes into the business of devouring Christmas dinner… Once regarded as the preserve of the posh, this bird is gaining popularity across the board.
TIP: To ensure the legs and wings are done well while the breast meat remains tender, deconstruct the bird before cooking.
The hunter’s favourite, the pheasant is usually hung for a time before cooking, as by all accounts, slight decomposition (as unpleasant as this sounds) actually improves its flavour. It’s too rich for some, though it’s lovely in soups and the bones are great for broth-making afterwards.
TIP: Spend a little time making some bacon, apple, pistachio or perhaps roast chestnut stuffing and you’ll be onto a very good thing.
With the light colour and texture of chicken, and a superb flavour somewhere between chicken, turkey and pheasant, the guinea fowl is a perfect midway choice. It’s a little smaller than a chicken, but much leaner – and is the favourite of many a French and Italian family. Meaty, tender and tasty, this moist bird is a sound choice. Preparation is also fairly straightforward, so you could be facing a fuss-free affair if you pick this chick.
TIP: Poach your guinea fowl in chicken stock for ten minutes beforehand and you’ll reduce your overall cooking time by a third.
Of course, there are some die-hard turkey fans who, by all means, should continue with their yearly crusade, but if you do fancy a change, go for it. Just don’t forget to remove and snap the wishbone with a friend, to ensure those all-important festive fantasies become reality…