Dec 08 – What’s Your Christmas Feast?

rob_christmasWhat’s your favourite Christmas food?

Rob Rees tells us his…

December is a month so full of traditions and for me the winter larder is a massive contribution to the tradition of Christmas. Here in Gloucestershire we are lucky enough to be living in an area well placed to bring the foody Christmas traditions to fruition.

Many of the region’s butchers bring us a variety of game, which is rich in flavour and natural goodness at this time of year. By its very nature it is extremely difficult for game to have been manipulated at the hands of mass production and the unadulterated meats sold by the man who has shot, hung and plucked it have a rich, raw and wholesome flavour unrivalled in today’s culinary world. Venison will always be a favourite for me at Christmas time. Whether it is a slow roasted haunch steeped in rich red wine, juniper and sage or perhaps some quick grilled medallions served as a winter salad or with “neeps”, it is always a winner.

Goose is always a great bird for the festive feast itself. Often now it is second best to the turkey, which is a shame. If you are thinking about goose this year then you need to take care during the cooking process to ensure maximum potential from your bird. Its important to add as much flavour as possible by filling the cavity of the bird with aromats such as thyme, bay leaf and garlic, maybe a studded onion and even pickled lemons or cooking apples if you like.

You also need to make a small incision under the wing of the goose and around the back by the parson’s nose – this will allow the fat to escape from the gland. As with turkeys and contrary to tradition it is best to cook any stuffing in a separate container so that the heat can penetrate all of the bird thoroughly till the juices are clear and safe to eat.

Whilst in the oven the goose still requires our respect. Before placing in the oven cover the legs with tin foil. I would then cook the bird on its back for the first hour and then turn it over. Take care to continue to baste with the excess fat keeping the bird moist. Cook till the back is golden brown and then recover with some foil. Cook for a further hour depending on the size of your goose – still keeping the legs covered. Sprinkle the back of the bird with a touch of sea salt, flour and cracked pepper to crisp up the skin in the final 30 minutes of cooking.

As with all meats you need to allow it time to relax once removed from the oven. 20 minutes should be enough time before your start to carve as required. Off course it has to served with great classics such as bread sauce, watercress and even game chips – simply shallow fry some thinly sliced washed and peeled potatoes to make your own crisps.

‘Tis the season to be poorly?

Of course turkey remains a firm favourite, but whatever meat you choose, make sure you know how to cook it safely to avoid the danger of food poisoning. See the FSA’s guide to seasonal food safety.

Five – a – day…

It always amazes me how we struggle to get the population to eat 5 portions of fruit or vegetables a day and yet on Christmas day we consume absolutely tonnes of the stuff. I say keep it simple, don’t go over the top – try to balance it out over the other 364 days!  

The classics are always there – Brussels sprouts are vibrant, succulent and extremely earthy. Cross the stem, parboil till al dente then sauté with some spices, bacon and herbs. Bunch carrots and parsnips once scrubbed are delicious roasted with rosemary and honey. Remember that around Christmas time we are likely to have had a number of frosts – this is great news as the starches turn to sugars giving vegetables an even sweeter taste. With this in mind adapt your traditional recipe to cut back on the added sugar.

Say cheese…

As always the “pièce de résistance” has to be the Cotswold cheese board with the many local pickles and chutneys we have to choose from.

The cheeses produced in the Cotswolds are the best in the world. Forget the foreign imports. Don’t touch the ones with bits of apricot or cranberry just go for the real quality natural flavoured cheese.

I would actually suggest that this year you take time out from endless fiddly canapés and only offer a gem of a cheese board with freshly baked breads and some mulled wine.

What a year with so much food in the headlines. Let’s hope that the next actually achieves a cultural shift for the better in terms of foods we choose, cook and eat. 

Merry Christmas everyone and a very Happy New Year to all.