Advice from the Experts
- A turkey under 8lb is not good value, as you are paying for the frame not the meat. If you need a turkey for a small number of people, it is better to buy a piece of turkey breast.
- A good bird should have fat under the skin to baste the breast as it cooks. This is the sign of a well reared and finished turkey.
- The turkey must be ‘dry plucked’ – this basically means hand plucked. A dry plucked turkey is more expensive, but will keep longer than a wet plucked ‘factory processed’ bird.
- Know your turkey: if the cavity inside the bird is red, this means it is freshly drawn. If it is purple then it means it’s older and has probably been frozen.
- The secret to a good turkey is not always about the bird, but about the farmer who rears it well and dispatches it humanely – these are not always the most expensive.
- When stuffing turkey, never stuff body cavity; just the neck end. Leave air space between stuffing and flesh.
- Allow 1lb (500g) per person for the turkey. Turkeys should weigh no less than 10lb. they are not a naturally small bird so anything much less than this tends to suggest the bird was not the healthiest of the flock.
- You should aim to spend no less than about £3.50 per head for a good quality turkey – anything less than this probably means it has been mass produced. Free range turkeys will cost around twice that amount.
- You should order your turkey in November. Most butchers give their requirements to the farmer at the beginning of December, so it is usually first come first served.
- The bird should be mature – hatched in summer and allowed to grow slowly on a corn diet. Mass produced birds are fattened too quickly and have a purple colour to them. Mature birds build up the fat in the skin and are whiter in colour and moister
- Be adventurous – one of our members sells a ‘Chuckling’ at Christmas, which is a boneless duck stuffed with chicken breast and sausage meat.
- Try a regional delicacy – steak pies for example are a popular alternative to usual Christmas meats in Scotland. Your butcher will be able to advise.
- Game is a nice change for Christmas – pheasants are an excellent choice for smaller families. A brace (pair) of pheasants serves 4-5 people.
- An economical alternative to turkey is shoulder of pork. This is still full of flavour and can serve a big family at Christmas, but is much cheaper.
- For good crackling, ask your butcher to score the rind; stand meat on trivet in roasting tin, rind uppermost. Brush with oil and sprinkle with salt, and do not cover.
- Q Guild butchers are renowned for the quality of their pork sausagemeat. These can make a great base to produce a more exotic stuffing by adding your own ingredients.
- Goose was traditionally the preferred Christmas meat before turkey became popular. Geese are big-boned so you will need to allow 750g per person; however, younger birds are smaller and more tender, so it would be better to buy two small geese instead of one large one.
- A great alternative to turkey is Beef Wellington. Choose topside, sirloin or rib, and wrap the meat in pancakes before adding the pastry – this ensures that the flavours don’t escape and the pastry doesn’t become soggy.
- Another more unusual option is a large cockerel – these are specially reared for Christmas and only available from specialist butchers.
- If you are only catering for a few people at Christmas, don’t be afraid to ask your butcher for a small joint of beef of turkey; they will be more than happy to cut joints to suit your size and budget
Fillet is the most tender and expensive of steaks, but can be a little tasteless.
Sirloin and Rib Eye are a little less tender, although if they’ve been dry aged they will still be tender enough, and the fat cover and marbling makes them far tastier.
Rump steak is the least expensive of the frying steaks but in some opinions the tastiest and the dry aging for 21 days ensures it is still succulent.
The most romantic of steaks is the “cote de boeuf” which is basically a double Rib Eye on the bone served rare with Béarnaise sauce, and is the ideal choice for Valentines’ night.
Make sure your steak is at room temperature and that your pan is red hot. Immediately before cooking, lightly oil your steak with rape seed oil (this has a higher flash point) and season well.
Place your steak flat on the pan and cook on full heat for 2 minutes (for a steak that is about ¾”). Do not move the steak about. After 2 minutes, remove the steak from the pan to give the pan time to get back to full heat, and then replace the steak with the uncooked side down for another 2 minutes. Remove the steak and leave to rest on a warm plate for at least 4 minutes while you make the sauce.
Deglaze your pan with brandy or whiskey then let it cool a little. Add a good knob of butter, cream and green pepper corns and warm through then stir in any juices from your resting steak. Pour a little of your sauce over the steak, serve with chunky homemade oven chips and a rocket salad with the best red wine you can find.
Your steak should be rare or, at the very most, medium rare- any better done than that and you will have ruined a good steak!
For the cote de boeuf cook the same way, 2 minutes each side, but then place in a red hot oven for 10 minutes and rest for another 10 minutes while you make your Béarnaise sauce. Carve on the table at an angle so you can share it with your Valentine.
Despite its growing popularity, many would argue that the English still have a long way to go when it comes to serving up haggis, neeps and tatties!
The centrepiece for any Burns supper is of course the haggis, so the Q Guild, which represents 110+ of Britain’s best butchers, has put together the following tips to help buy and prepare the perfect haggis:
- Many butchers will produce a superior haggis to the mass produced versions filled into plastic casings and sold in most supermarkets. They will also give you all the advice you require about quantity, storage and cooking.
- Haggis is traditionally made using lamb and beef offal with oatmeal and seasoning but most butchers will have their own secret formula which could include pork or even venison.
- Other variations include the addition of things like whisky, Drambuie and even curry. The meat free vegetarian version is also now very popular.
- Used as a starter, you would require approximately 4oz (100g) per person and as a main dish, 6-8oz (150g-200g) per person.
- Haggis is already cooked so all that needs to be done before serving is to reheat until piping hot (Very Important!).
- Traditionally haggis would be slowly simmered in hot water (careful not to boil or the Haggis may burst and cause culinary carnage) for around 35-40 minutes per 1lb (450g).
- It can be wrapped in tinfoil (having first removed the packaging of course!) placed in a casserole dish with a little water and cooked in a pre heated oven at 180c (gas mark 6) until ready. Time will depend in the size of your haggis.
- To Microwave it (Rabbie Burns would turn in his grave!), remove all the packaging and the skin, then cut into slices and place in a microwave dish. Cook for 3-4 minutes then break up the haggis with a fork and cook for a further 3-4 minutes. Again this will depend on the size of your haggis.
- If you’re brave enough to make your own, then you will need to order a lamb or pigs pluck (lungs, heart and liver) from your butcher and a casing either plastic or natural to cook it in.