Christmas food - Game on!

By Richard Fox

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Christmas eve Christmas Christmas dinner

Christmas food - Game on!
Give turkey the red card this Christmas, says Richard Fox. Instead, why not take a goosey gander at his hero Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's tempting...

Give turkey the red card this Christmas, says Richard Fox. Instead, why not take a goosey gander at his hero Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's tempting recipe ideas.

Question: What do a domestic Christmas dinner and female mud wrestling have in common? Answer: Both feature tough old birds swimming around in a turgid brown liquid. And, fuelled by alcohol, both can quickly degenerate into an unsavoury bun fight.

When it comes to Christmas dining, the area of greatest competition to the licensed premises is not so much the pub or restaurant round the corner, but that last bastion of cold turkey: the domestic household. In the face of such stiff competition,the solution is obvious: mud wrestling nights in the car park. Unfortunately this may not endear you to your normally broadminded local authority. Given the forthcoming changes in matters of licensing, it may be best to opt for providing top seasonal fodder instead. In an attempt to determine the best way forward on this front, it's worth trying to understand the factors that affect our cooking choices.

At Christmas time, people who "can't cook, won't cook" have an unexpected change of heart. A combination of too much Baileys and industrial-strength trifle tend to blur the lines of rationality. This leads to water-burning kitchen-phobes attempting culinary gymnastics that would make Gordon Ramsay wince. The results don't bear thinking about. How then, do we tempt these diehards to cross the pub threshold and avoid the ignominy of defeat? While slogans such as: "Be saved" and "Love thy neighbour" may well work on the ecclesiastical front at this time of year, such straight talking doesn't work at the pub door. Time then, for some good old Freudian psychology.

Identify the decision maker. This is one of the first rules of successful advertising. And that person has to be Mum - even if she's delegating the cooking itself to spouse, siblings or caterer. Tap into her psyche and you're going to have a good chance of increased Christmas business. Originality without losing the essence of the occasion is what's needed on this level. Producing a "same old" traditional Christmas lunch - turkey with all the trimmings, Christmas pud etc, is not going to get Matriarch to the mountain. The home cook will just regard this as a less personal version of their usual Christmas plan, while the rabble around them will simply see the eating-out alternative as a sign of defeat.

Given these criteria, it's red card time for the turkey. Bring on the goose. Apart from the fact that goose is a damn sight tastier and no harder to cook than turkey, it's undeniably associated with Christmas. And because it's so unfamiliar on our domestic dining tables, it allows the perfect excuse for eating out without loss of face. Just to add further weight to the argument, the legs can be removed and made into confit for a delicious restaurant-style starter. I owe my inspiration for such festive fare to my guru of good taste Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, who, in his book The River Cottage Year, extrapolates on the preparation and cooking of this fine bird far better than I can. Do check it out.

One of the best things about Christmas dinner is all the trimmings. The good news is that the goose embraces bread sauce, apple sauce, bacon and sprouts as much as any turkey - if anything, it complements them more. Out of that list, the controversial sprout certainly warrants further investigation. Traditionally eliciting emotions ranging from cries of eye-closing ecstasy to spontaneous vomiting, the sprout, like it or not, is as Christmassy as Santa himself, and if used correctly can add a further twist of temptation to the "fence sitters".

Once again, it's Hugh to the rescue with his "creamed sprouts with bacon" - sounds a little more appetising than "boiled sprouts" eh? Essentially, this is simply boiled sprouts blitzed up with a little cream and butter, some chopped chestnuts stirred through, before sprinkling with fried crispy streaky bacon bits. Hold me back! If you want to offer an alternative meat dish, just about any game will fit the bill - particularly guinea fowl, which is traditionally served up with bread sauce anyway. Poached, whole-roasted or jointed, it's got flavour and oozes style.

And for a little extra seasonal flavour, why not serve it with a roast chestnut mash? Slit the chestnuts to avoid explosions, roast on top of the stove in a heavybased saucepan for 10 to 15 minutes then remove the outer husk and skin. Simmer the chestnuts until tender and then blitz to a purée, before adding to the mash.

The marvellous thing about this menu is it won't look out of date once the big day is over. Keep it prominently displayed throughout the festive period, and even those die-hards you failed to persuade to leave the home on Christmas Day are sure to come running for a festive fodder fix, once they hit that cold turkey for the third time.

Top 10 Christmas dishes​ Roast goose Goose confit Roast guinea fowl Roast chestnut mash Ham hock terrine Roast chestnuts (serve in bowls on the bar) Creamed sprouts with bacon Prune and apple stuffing Brioche bread sauce Chocolate hazelnut terrine

Desert island Xmas dish:

"At Christmas, I take a big chunk of Stilton home. It's produced just a few miles away from us and tastes superb. I like to wash it down with a few glasses of Californian dessert wine."Ben Jones​, co-owner at the Olive Branch in Clipsham, Leicestershire.

"Roasted goose makes a great Christmas dinner. It's such a beautiful flavour and I rate it over turkey."Darron Bunn​, head chef, the Greyhound, Stockbridge, Hampshire

"Roast goose; I haven't had turkey for a long time. I love it well done when it's so tender you can almost carve it with a spoon."Brent Castle​, chef/co-owner, Three Crowns Inn, Bleak Acre, Herefordshire.

"An Indian takeaway because I'm sick to death of Christmas by the end of service."Tom Zsigo​, Lion Inn, Trellech, Monmouthshire

"I'm a big fan of home-made traditional Christmas pudding. I like to serve it with some cognac-flavoured ice cream."Sean Hope​, head chef at the Olive Branch in Clipsham, Leicestershire.

"Roast duck with a Madeira or port sauce. After years of cooking turkeys I don't want to see another one on Christmas day."Kris McKie​, the Bell Inn at Alderminster, Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire.

"A turkey lunch, which would have to be cooked by my Nan, because I love her cooking."Andrew Tyrrell​, head chef at the Coach & Horses at Ray Street, Clerkenwell, London.

"Organic free-range turkey with extra special trimmings: Jamie Oliver's Parmesan stuffed onions, red cabbage with port, fresh cranberry sauce, fresh bread sauce, al dente Brussels sprouts presented with crisp Parma ham, honey glazed chanterey carrots and roast potatoes. I would serve it with a gravy reduction cooked using the meat juice, a splash of Madeira and whatever else comes to hand."Clare Gane​, food-marketing manager, Greene King Pub Company.

"A fresh fruit compote made with the best British fruits."Steven Schaffer​, catering development manager, Punch Taverns.

"A big steaming bowl of fish and shellfish in white wine, onion, parsley and bay sauce with crusty bread and butter. If I was on a desert island I would catch the fish myself and cook it over a campfire. When it was ready I'd share some with my bevy of scantily-clad women."Tony O'Reilly​, the Bridge at Fenny, Milton Keynes.

Christmas menu tips:

"Don't serve turkey - it gets overused. A goose provides a superior alternative. People like to get something different."Darron Bunn​, head chef, the Greyhound, Stockbridge, Hampshire.

"Get your menus in place early. Companies were already looking to book their Christmas dinners in August. I'd advise again

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