Life

Fed up of turkey? Try these alternative Christmas eating suggestions

Fancy a break from turkey? Here are a few ideas for serving up something a bit different this year, writes Ella Walker

Slow-roast duck from Copenhagen Cult Recipes by Christine Rudolph and Susie Theodorou

IT'S a risky business, attempting to edit Christmas. From who hosts and gets to place the angel on top of the tree (oh, the arguments), to what time it's acceptable to start opening presents (not before 7am, surely!) and which board games are played, every family has its own rules.

And that's before you get to the food part of the festive programme. Arguably no other meal is as highly anticipated and rigidly prescribed as Christmas dinner, which means making even the slightest adjustments can lead to all out family hostilities.

So perhaps this year, don't make slight adjustments that will cause passive aggressive comments over the crackers ("Well, I liked the parsnips roasted with honey; sesame seeds is a step too far"). Instead, make shocking, unprecedented, wholesale changes that will either make your loved ones go berserk, or will bring them to the realisation that there's no need to have the same Christmas dinner now as you did in the 80s.

Tempted to shake things up on the festive food front? Consider these swaps...

:: Breakfast

If you usually have: Smoked salmon blinis/ a whole chocolate orange

Try: French toast or crumpets

There's something luxurious and sophisticated about smoked salmon blinis at Christmas, but they are fiddly. And a whole chocolate orange? Totally understandable, although you may still feel full of chocolate by the time the queen's speech rolls around.

You need something that will just about keep you going until lunch, but is quick to snaffle among all the flying wrapping paper. Our vote goes to thick triangles of brioche French toast dusted with cinnamon, and drenched in syrup for a decadent, still-sweet option, or buttered crumpets – they'll soak up all that Bucks Fizz you'll be drinking.

:: Lunch

If you usually have: Roast turkey and all the trimmings

Try: Having your actual favourite meal

There's a reason we rarely eat roast turkey other than on December 25 – it's a colossal effort and requires more gravy than seems possible. So, if you'd rather avoid the stress of cooking a bird you only encounter once a year, particularly when you're cooking for every single person you're related to (which is enough to make anyone want to just order take-out), it is totally fine to give yourself a pass. Just do three chickens instead. Or a few ducks (with a mountain of red cabbage). What about pheasant?

Alternatively, steer clear of fowl completely (those with dietary requirements will thank you) and go with Chef's choice. It's the most special time of the year, right? So serve up the food that means the most to you. It might be platefuls of spaghetti Bolognese with piles of buttery garlic bread; a veg-stuffed wellington and chips; a whole salmon, perfectly pink and served alongside a forest of broccoli; or a Chinese banquet, with every type of dim sum and a tangle of sticky ribs to work through.

Why be held hostage by bread sauce and Brussels sprouts? Break free.

:: Dessert

If you usually have: Christmas cake or Christmas pudding

Try: A sponge cake – preferably ginger

It's hard to not enjoy setting something alight, especially when it glows blue and everyone around the table squeals giddily, but be honest, how many of us genuinely like eating Christmas pudding? And Christmas cake is good, but once you've picked away at the marzipan (the best bit), you're basically left with a lump of sodden fruit and too-thick icing.

Between the (many) After Eights and Brazil nuts you've been picking at throughout the day, anything too rich just isn't going to cut it either. Which means you need something light, airy and vaguely medicinal, like a ginger cake. Tea on the side, please.

:: St Stephen's Day

If you usually have: Turkey curry

Try: Turkey fajitas

Bridget Jones has immortalised the turkey curry buffet, and we have nothing against it – especially if there's naan involved, and mango chutney, and even more importantly, crisp onion bhajis. In fact, a zingy Thai green turkey curry would change things up at least a little bit, and make you feel virtuous for eating stir-fried veg that hasn't been doused in goose fat and blitzed in the oven.

However, why not consider Mexican instead? St Stephen's Day fajitas offer plenty of virtuous veg – onions, peppers and all the guacamole you can physically eat. They are also a non-parch-inducing way to reuse your leftover turkey, as they come with lots of spicy tomato sauce and sour cream, and the carbs in the wraps should help soak up the Christmas Day booze.

Best of all, fajitas are help yourself if you just place all the bits on the table – so no flashbacks to having to carefully divvy up pigs-in-blankets fairly.

:: Try our two recipes, below, as part of an alternative Christmas dinner.

SLOW ROAST DUCK

(Serves 8)

4-5kg duck

1tbsp fine salt

1tbsp freshly cracked black pepper

500g fragrant apples, cut into wedges, about 1.5 cm thick

3 French shallots, halved

100g prunes

15g thyme sprigs, plus extra to serve

1tbsp grapeseed or sunflower oil

For the roasting vegetables:

2 large carrots, quartered, cut into 7cm pieces

2 large onions, thickly sliced

2 large celery sticks, cut into 7cm pieces

1tsp sea salt flakes

For the gravy:

150ml port, sweet vermouth or dry red wine

40g unsalted butter

40g plain flour

Method:

Remove the fat close to the cavity of the duck. Wash the duck and pat dry. Rub all over with half of the salt and pepper. Stuff the front cavity (at the neck) with some of the apples, then bring the flap of skin over the apples and secure with a toothpick.

In a bowl, mix the shallots, prunes, thyme, remaining apples and some of the remaining pepper. Place in the large cavity. Rub the duck with oil and rub with remaining salt and pepper. Tie the legs together and pin the wings to the side of the bird with two metal skewers. Place on a wire rack over a tray and chill to dry out the skin, up to 24 hours.

Preheat the oven to 120C. Bring the duck to room temperature. Place the roasting vegetables in the centre of a roasting tray and place duck on top. Sprinkle with a little more salt. Roast for four to five hours. The inner temperature should be 80C. If the pan is getting dry, add 150-300 ml water.

Rest the duck on a board and set the vegetables aside. Pour the juices off into a bowl and leave somewhere cold for the fat to set on top, then spoon the fat off. You should have at least 350ml duck juices. If not, make up with water.

Place the roasting pan over low heat and add the port to deglaze, scraping well. Add the butter to melt, stir in the flour, then the duck juice. Cook until the gravy thickens. Serve the duck with the gravy and vegetables, garnished with thyme.

:: Taken from Copenhagen Cult Recipes by Christine Rudolph and Susie Theodorou, published by Murdoch Books, £20.

VEGAN CHRISTMAS CRISS-CROSS

(Serves 8)

500g chestnut mushrooms olive oil, for drizzling

8 sprigs fresh thyme

4 sprigs fresh rosemary

2 sprigs fresh sage

8 garlic cloves

4 banana shallots, peeled and sliced

1 carrot, peeled and grated

1 celery stick, diced

4 sun-dried tomatoes, thinly sliced, plus 3 tbsp oil from the jar

200g cooked chestnuts

200g pecans

200ml red wine

2.5tbsp cranberry sauce

1 bay leaf

1/2tsp ground nutmeg

1/2tsp ground cinnamon

100g dried breadcrumbs

2 x 320g sheets ready-rolled plant-based puff pastry

1tbsp maple syrup

2tbsp unsweetened plant-based milk, plus extra for brushing

Salt and black pepper

Method:

Preheat the oven to 180C. Lay a sheet of foil over a roasting tin. Place 10 mushrooms in the middle of the foil. Drizzle over a little olive oil and season. Lay half the thyme, rosemary and sage sprigs on top along with three of the garlic cloves. Wrap the mushrooms tightly in the foil and put the tin in the oven for 30 minutes. Peel and finely grate the rest of the garlic cloves. Finely chop the remaining thyme, sage and rosemary leaves.

Put the remaining mushrooms in the food processor and blitz to mince. Scrape into a bowl and clean out the food processor. Add half the chestnuts and all of the pecans to the processor and blitz. Roughly chop the remaining chestnuts.

Spoon the sun-dried tomato oil into the frying pan on a medium heat. Add the shallots and fry for five minutes. Add the sun-dried tomatoes and garlic and stir for one minute. Add the carrots, celery, rosemary, thyme and sage and stir for four to five minutes. Add the minced mushrooms to the pan, increase the heat to high and cook for 10 minutes, until the mushrooms are well sweated. Pour over the red wine and cranberry sauce. Add the bay leaf. Simmer for six to seven minutes, until most of the liquid has evaporated. Reduce the heat, add the nutmeg and cinnamon and stir for one minute.

Take the roasted mushrooms out of the oven; transfer to a plate and pour the cooking liquid into a mixing bowl.

Add the breadcrumbs and nut meal to the cooking liquid in the mixing bowl and mix everything together with a spoon. Tip in the mushroom mince, removing the bay leaf. Fold everything together to form a thick, textured dough. Leave to cool to room temperature.

Lay one sheet of puff pastry on the baking sheet. Spread half the mushroom mixture lengthways down the middle of the pastry. Mould it into a flat rectangular shape, leaving at least 5cm of pastry on each side. Place the roasted mushrooms along the top of the mixture in two neat rows. Layer the rest of the mixture over the top, encasing the mushrooms. Smooth and shape into a neat rectangular mound.

Brush a little milk around the exposed pastry edge using a pastry brush or your finger. Lay the second pastry sheet over the filling and smooth it down well, ensuring there are no air bubbles. Seal the edges by pressing the pastry sheets together all the way around the filling with your fingers. Trim any excess pastry from the edges, leaving a 1.5cm crust around the base of the Criss-Cross. Use a fork to crimp all around the edges of the pastry.

Take a sharp knife and score a criss-cross pattern across the top of the whole Criss-Cross. Pierce a few air vents in the top of the pastry. Place in the fridge for 20 minutes. Preheat the oven to 180C.

Take the Criss-Cross out of the fridge and put it in the oven. Bake for 25 minutes. Meanwhile, make a glaze by mixing the maple syrup and milk. Take the Criss-Cross out of the oven and brush it all over with the glaze. Place back in the oven and bake until golden brown and crispy, about 25 minutes. Remove from oven, cut into slices and serve with all the trimmings.

:: Taken from BISH BASH BOSH! by Henry Firth and Ian Theasby, published by HQ, HarperCollins, priced £20.

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