Taste Scene

Michael Devlin

The best laid Christmas plans

Have you an elf on or off the shelf in your house? We do and an annoying little bugger she is too.

This revelation was brought home to me on Sunday, when the cheeky elf (named Candy) decided to open a packet of crisps I’d been saving for my lunch on Monday.

By the time we discovered what had happened, only half the Quavers had been eaten and the rest had turned soft, wilting and sad through neglect. I nearly had a fit with me leg up, as my granny used to say. Instead, I ranted around the house swearing in French.

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“The next time she eats anything of mine,” I assured the off-spring (reverting to English), “She’s going in the bin. I don’t care if it’s nearly Christmas!”

Rather than taking this as a salutary warning, the off-spring laughed at me! LAUGHED! I resorted to French once more.

With Christmas on my mind I’ve taken an executive decision; you may want to sit down, dear reader. And no, I’m not cancelling Christmas or planning elf-icide (although the latter would be most satisfying). Instead of a turkey this Christmas, I’ve decided I’m going to do a chicken instead. Shock!

I have form on this alt-Christmas food front though and it isn’t the first or even second time I’ve replaced the traditionally dry turkey with something a little more succulent and tempting.

OK and yes, a turkey is very traditional and it looks great exiting the oven in all its bronzed glory. But, there is no denying that even the best turkey is just less-dry.

This was brought home to me some years ago when I went all out on the Christmas dinner. I sussed out and purchased a free range, organic turkey and refused to stuff it in any capacity.

My thinking was, as it takes longer to roast a turkey which is stuffed, my un-stuffed bird would take a shorter roast time and the meat would therefore be at its excellent best. To further that aim, I pinched open the skin on the big turkey breasts and applied a generous layer of butter underneath and then – AND THEN – I layered the whole breast area with dry-cured streaky bacon. This free range and organic turkey, I should add, cost me a whopping £75.

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But with all my non-stuffing, butter-basting, bacon plans, did it come out any better than previous turkeys? I can confirm, it did not. Two words: Less dry.
I am reminded of the first time I insisted we depart from the traditional turkey plan; I was living in Dublin and returning to the home-stead for the holidays. I suggested to the folks that we do a goose instead of a turkey and eventually, this was agreed. Since I was in Dublin, I further suggested that there must be a butchers in the city which had geese hanging in their windows and, following a quick ring around, I found a place which had one left.

“Howaya, bud?” I said in my best (poor) Dublin accent upon arriving at the butchers.

“Dat-ll be farty quid, plaise,” the apron-ed butcher said, presenting the goose and I duly supplied the cash.

Handing me the change, I looked at him and he looked at me. The plucked goose looked at no-one and never would again, as it was laying atop the counter, head still attached.

“Would you have a bag?” I asked. I was conscious of the fact that I was returning home by bus and a dead goose in the overhead luggage racks probably wouldn’t be a great look.

“Sure. Der ya go,” said the butcher and handed me a big plastic bag. The problem was: It was a clear plastic bag. Then, when I finally walked half way across Dublin with a dead goose strung over my shoulder for all the world to see, the luggage rack above my head was packed and so I had to nurse the thing the whole way home, the big beaky face looking up at me the whole way.

It’s funny though, I couldn’t tell you if the resulting goose was any good on Christmas Day. I suppose I was still traumatised by the trip home. Also, this was about 18 years ago.

Then there was the ill-fated attempt to replace turkey with a Beef Wellington on Christmas Day, the first time me and Herself decided not to free load with anyone. Seared fillet steak, with all-butter puff pastry, thin pancakes, mushrooms, red wine gravy… it was the mightiest of tackles but a complete one-off.

It was one of the most labour intensive culinary missions I’ve ever embarked on and by the time it came to sit down to eat, I was wrecked and the notion for Wellington was off me.

This year though, I’m banking on the chicken being handy to prepare and hopefully I won’t have to sit for three hours with it on my lap, with its accusatory eyes damning my gluttony.

Alongside the succulent chicken, I’ll do the usual accompaniments – sausages wrapped in bacon, ham, honey roast parsnips, sage and onion stuffing, potatoes roasted in goose fat, brussels in bacon, buttered carrots, velvety mash, a deep, rich gravy – and I don’t reckon I’ll miss the dry turkey one little bit.
“But sure what about the Christmas sammiches later in the evening?”

There’ll be enough chicken to do those as well and instead of hoking through the still dryer meat for a repeat of the Christmas dinner on Boxing Day, it’ll be steaks and chips and peas and a pink peppercorn sauce – all handy as bedamned.

That’s the plan anyway. All I have to do now is practise the choux pastry for the profiteroles on Christmas Day.

But that’s another story.

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