Ottolenghi founder Sami Tamimi on ditching the Christmas turkey

Until I came to the UK in the late nineties, I had never had the pleasure of meeting a bird called ‘turkey’. You see, in the Middle East where I’m from, as in many other parts of the world, other meats are preferred on the Christmas table.

It was Christmas 1997, when I was working at Baker and Spice, a deli and a bakery in Knightsbridge, that I had my first turkey experience. I had to prepare a vast number of them that our customers had requested as part of their festive orders. I remember thinking to myself, ‘What an enormous, ugly thing to have on your Christmas table…’ Later on, after tasting the meat, I discovered another thing: turkey is not just ugly but also dry and tasteless. They are also a real challenge to cook properly, with over-cooking or under-cooking being perennial problems.

So, this year, I’d like to suggest a few alternatives that will give the old turkey a run for its money, and will transform your Christmas lunch into an impressive culinary celebration.

Roasting a goose for Christmas lunch is a delightful choice. Goose meat is rich and flavourful, with a succulent texture and skin that crisps well.

From roast duck or goose to cockerel or even a flavourful stuffed quail, there are plenty of ways to ensure a unique and festive Christmas meal. 

Duck

Duck is a rich, succulent meat with a wonderful crispy skin. Its rich, distinctive flavour adds a luxurious touch to a holiday menu, and it takes a quarter of the cooking time of turkey. I like to add a few layers of flavours to mine, like orange peel, star anise and pomegranate to compliment the deep, rich meat. It’s utterly delicious when served with whole roasted apples.

Goose

Roasting a goose for Christmas lunch is a delightful choice. Again, goose meat is rich and flavourful, with a succulent texture and skin that crisps well. Just ensure proper cooking to achieve a truly juicy result. I would recommend cooking it with plenty of shallots or small onions, cranberries and cinnamon.

Cockerel

With cockerel, the smaller the bird you can get, the better. Cockerels cook faster than larger birds, making them convenient on a day like Christmas, plus they easily absorb the flavour of marinades, herbs and spices. Overall, the flavour of a cockerel is wonderfully balanced, with a slightly sweeter taste compared to a regular chicken, and is exceptionally good when paired with lemon, garlic and hard herbs, such as thyme, sage or rosemary.

Partridge has a distinct, rich flavour that is often described as slightly gamey, but milder than some other game birds

Partridge

Choosing partridge for the festive meal offers an exciting alternative to the usual. Partridge has a distinct, rich flavour that is often described as slightly gamey, but milder than some other game birds. It pairs well with cider, chestnuts, bacon and a variety of herbs and fruits. Partridges are small birds, so great for smaller gatherings, or for those who prefer individual servings. Serve one partridge per person.

Quail

Quail is a real delicacy with a delicate, slightly gamey taste. When stuffed with flavourful ingredients, it provides an elegant dining experience. Stuffing for quail can vary, but a mixture of ingredients such as freekeh, breadcrumbs or couscous, herbs, spices, dried fruits, and nuts would be a great choice. Stuffed quails are best roasted or grilled, allowing the stuffing to infuse the meat and impart its aromatic savoury and sweet notes. The result is a dish that is not only visually appealing but also rich in taste, making it a great option for the Christmas table. I would recommend serving one quail person (with an extra for possible seconds). They’re small birds, but there is always so much other food to eat.

I wish you all a joyous Christmas, filled with love, happiness and lots of delicious food.

Sami is author of Falastin: A Cookbook Follow him on Instagram @sami_tamimi


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