The Vintage Chef Olivia Potts

No Christmas turkey? No problem

No Christmas turkey? No problem
(Photo: Getty)
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According to recent reports, we might be looking down the sharp end of a turkey-less Christmas. Kate Martin of the Traditional Farm Fresh Turkey Association has warned that a lack of European farmhands means that Britain could be facing a turkey shortage this December.

Turkeys have been synonymous with British Christmas dinners since the Victorian era; what do we do without them? For many, this won’t be too much of a loss: a lot of people actively dislike turkey (although they dislike it even more when you tell them that’s just because they’re not cooking it properly). I confess, I’m a turkey evangelist: I love turkey. I think it’s juicy and full of flavour, and makes fantastic leftovers. But, I’m always willing to branch out, and try something a little different – and I’m not averse to the idea that there might be alternatives for the festive table. And as long as there’s stuffing, gravy, and some really good roast potatoes, you won’t catch me complaining. Turkeys might just be for Christmas, but Christmas isn’t just for turkey: here are some of my top suggestions.

The clear, if old-fashioned, alternative to turkey is goose. A staple of the Christmas table since the Elizabethan era, it has more going for it than simple tradition. It’s a grand and beautiful showstopper. But almost more importantly, goose guarantees you the absolute best roast potatoes. As the goose cooks, its fat cooks out: goose fat has great flavour, but also a very high smoking point, meaning you can get the fat screamingly hot before adding the potatoes, which will help you achieve the ultimate potato goal of crispy exterior and fluffy interior.

I’d always thought of ham as a Boxing Day staple, often served as cold cuts alongside pickles and cheese, or in sandwiches. But a hot roast ham, studded with cloves and glazed with something sweet and something spicy, makes a beautiful centrepiece.

A fine centrepiece - roast ham

Plus, this way round, you can divest yourself of any cooking obligations the following day.

Roast pork is always a winner: succulent meat, spectacular crackling. If you want to try something a little different, you could turn your hand to porchetta. Porchetta is a rolled loin of pork, stuffed with herbs, breadcrumbs, nuts and dried fruit, and it is perfect for Christmas day.

It almost seems too obvious to suggest a roast chicken, as it’s so close a relation to the turkey, but one which graces our Sunday roast table throughout the rest of the year. But a chicken roasted with lots of butter and salt until the skin crisps and turns golden is truly hard to beat. It produces magnificent gravy, goes with any conceivable side, sauce or condiment, and everybody loves it.

There’s something very chic about duck, with its mahogany skin, and dark meat. It’s also a good choice for a more bijoux Christmas: most ducks will feed four people (or two with cracking leftovers). Its bold flavour means that it can hold its own alongside spices and booze, so try serving it with spiced red cabbage, and a glossy port sauce. It’s another candidate for excellent roast potatoes, too.

Beef wellington might not be a simple choice, but it is a good one to prepare ahead: traditionally beef fillet is wrapped in parma ham, mushroom duxelles, and often a crèpe before being encased in pastry. It’s impossible to bring it to the table and not elicit oohs and aahs.

Beef Wellington is worth the effort (iStock)

If you’re thinking of pastry and getting ahead with your prep (which I always am), you could forgo the usual roasted joint in favour of a pie. Use all your favourite bits of Christmas – turkey, ham, stuffing, pigs in blankets, cranberry sauce – and serve up a beautiful all-in-one showstopper made a day or two before, which leaves you free to enjoy the day.

If we’re turning our minds to alternatives, then perhaps this is the year to embrace a vegetarian or vegan option. I love a pithivier (a French-style puff pastry pie, often intricately decorated), and mushrooms and chestnuts are a fantastic festive choice. A jalousie – a long, filled pastry that can look a little like a strudel – often has a sweet filling, but is a great vehicle for savoury too. Try it with beetroot, or cheese, or winter squash.

Written byThe Vintage Chef Olivia Potts

Olivia Potts is a former criminal barrister who retrained as a pastry chef. She co-hosts The Spectator’s Table Talk podcast and writes Spectator Life's The Vintage Chef column. A chef and food writer, she was winner of the Fortnum and Mason's debut food book award in 2020 for her memoir A Half Baked Idea.

Topics in this articleWine and Foodchristmas