All butchers know how important Christmas is to their business. With the average household spending £161 on food & Drink, they know that they have to pull out all the stops to get their share of this money in the ever-competitive food market place. Butchers know that they need to look after customers well at this time of the year because for most people Christmas dinner is the most important meal of the year, and if anything goes wrong people will remember.
Around 76% of families will eat turkey as their main meal although a large proportion of this is now consumed as boneless turkey breast joints, as opposed to whole birds. There are a wide variety of turkeys available, from cheap frozen commercial birds right through to Dry Plucked Free Range Bronze birds. Your local butcher will avoid the commercial frozen birds at all cost and instead concentrate on local barn reared turkeys, offering a superior flavour, and usually a premium variety like the Free Range Bronze Birds, benefiting from being hung longer with a slightly gamey flavour. The increasingly popular option now is the boneless breast joint, which should come from the local barn reared birds. These joints offer a few distinct advantages. They can be stored in your household refrigerator, they only take 2 to 3 hours to cook, giving you some extra time in bed, are so easy to carve, and when you have finished your meal the remaining joint will easily fit back into your fridge to use for salads or sandwiches later, rather than having a large skeleton with no where to put it!
Beef however has continued its upward trend and has become a more popular centrepiece over the last few years, even though its price has risen significantly over the same period. Favourite Beef cuts are Ribs of beef and rolled sirloin, for their excellent flavour, and topside/silverside joints for their lean, easy carving meat and lower price.
Pork has always been a popular Christmas treat and butchers will always point you in the direction of a rolled loin of pork joint, offering tender succulent meat that is easy to carve. If you are a Jack Spratt and like no fat then you would be better off with a joint from the leg. Either way make sure you get your butcher to score the skin well so you will have some nice crackling. If the pork is good quality outdoor reared this should be no problem but to help the process rub some sea salt into the skin and if possible leave in your fridge overnight uncovered allowing the skin to dry out.
Although a first choice for some people Lamb is not as popular at Christmas as it is at New Year, but it is often purchased to give some variety to the menu on the days before and after Christmas. The most popular being leg joints and racks of lamb, which are great served with a pink centre.
Game is always a popular choice by customers looking to do something a bit different. Local venison makes a great roasting joint or diced up can be made into a delicious casserole, both methods can benefit from the addition of some winterberries and red wine or port.
Wild duck and pheasant are also available at this time of the year, as it is the middle of the shooting season, and with their relative cheapness these small birds can be served one per person for good presentation.
Large cock chickens, also known as capons, are ideal for those who find turkey a bit on the dry side and can be purchased up to 10lb plus. Chickens have more natural fat and always cook juicy, but if you are cooking one of the larger size birds, make sure your dish is deep enough to hold the excess juices.
This can also be said about geese where the rendered fat left in the dish is also one of its attractions. There is no finer way to cook roast potatoes than to use goose fat. They come out lovely and crispy yet fluffy in the middle. A few years ago goose was by far the most expensive bird you could buy at Christmas but things have now changed and goose prices are much more in line with other poultry options these days. Do bear in mind however that you do not get the same yield from a goose as you would a turkey. The breasts are not as thick and the legs are tiny, therefore a goose will not feed as many people as the same size turkey.
Your local butcher will also have a wide range of extras to make your special meal a memorable one. One of the most popular is the home made bacon and sausage rolls, otherwise known as “Pigs in Blankets” these are delicious and you will know that they are made from your butchers own delicious sausages. A Christmas spread just isn’t complete without them. There will also be some home made forcemeat stuffing, chestnut is the favourite, which is a 50 -50 mix of sausage meat and stuffing mix. It is ideal for stuffing birds but maybe even nicer made into balls and roasted off.
The Christmas holidays are not the same without some real English breakfasts, so don’t forget your Dry cured bacon, pork sausages and black pudding, not forgetting your butchers local free range eggs.
Some butchers bake their own bread and Bank holidays are notorious for causing bread to sell out. Best to buy a few packs of bread cakes early and pop then in your freezer, just in case.
Christmas eve can be a really stressful time and believe it or not, besides the normal cuts for the Christmas meal, one of the best selling lines is Stir-fry, for that quick trouble free meal when customers get home!
Pick up a copy of our paper, or check the competitions page for local butchers competitions for xmas.