The best turkey alternatives for Christmas dinner

We all know what to expect for Christmas dinner.

All the classic components and familiar flavours make the day what it is, but that doesn’t mean you have to be boring with your menu.

Let’s be honest – turkey doesn’t always do it for us. It can be dry, bland, and just pretty dull. But who’s to stop you doing something other than turkey for the big day? It’s your Christmas after all.

This year, why not mix it up and try something a bit different for the centrepiece of your festive feast. If you’re struggling for inspiration, don’t worry – we’ve asked top chefs and restauranteurs to share their favourite turkey alternatives (including veggie option), and tips for how to cook them.

Keep all the best bits on your menu – from the fluffy roast potatoes to the buttery sprouts and chestnuts – but read on for top tips to mix up the main event, and make your dinner really memorable this year.

Dane Barnard, executive chef at Humble Grape has shared the following recipes – succulent pork, and a more interesting meat-free option:

Pressed pork belly

The best thing about this pork belly is that you can cook it up to two days before you want to serve it, making more space in the oven on Christmas day. 

Method:

  • Remove the bones from the belly (you can ask the butcher to do this).
  • With a sharp knife score the skin of the pork belly.
  • Roughly chop an onion, carrot and garlic and place in a tray.
  • Put the pork belly on top of the veggies and then cover with water, enough to cover the whole of the pork belly.
  • Place a sheet of parchment paper over the pork and then cover the tray with tin foil.
  • Cook in the oven at 160 degrees for 3-3.5 hours.
  • Take another tray and place some parchment paper and then transfer the pork belly onto the tray. You can use the water as a stock for gravy.
  • Place another sheet of parchment paper on top of the pork belly and then put something heavy over the top of the belly. This will press the belly and make it easier to portion on the day. 
  • Place this in the fridge overnight .
  • On the day you wish to serve the belly remove from the tray and remove the pork skin. If you want crackling then you can put this pork skin in the oven at 180 degrees until it becomes crispy. 
  • To warm up the belly, cut into the size pieces you wish to serve and then place in a warm pan fat side down, finish in the oven for 10 mins.

Root veggie fritter

This is a good vegan option that is different to the usual wellington or nut roast. This can be made the day before and also freezes well if there is any left over.

You can add extra seasonal ingredients like chestnuts or cranberries. 

Ingredients: 

  • Root veggies, 800g
  • Garlic minced, 4 cloves
  • Parsley, ⅓ bunch 
  • Red onion, 3
  • Cumin ground, 1 tbsp 
  • Gram flour, 300g (may need little extra)
  • Water, 100ml 

Method:

  • Grate the carrots, slice the onions, season with salt and leave to sit for 15 mins. Water will start to release from the veg.
  • Add the rest of the ingredients in a separate bowl and mix well together, you should have a batter that looks similar to a fish and chip batter.
  • Leave this for 15 mins as well, then add the carrots to the batter mix and make sure it’s all combined.  
  • Once you have the mix made, you can now get a tray and line it with parchment paper, place the mix in the tray and push down to spread across the tray. Its best to have this about an inch or 2 thick. Cover the tray with foil and cook in the oven at 170 degrees for 20 mins. 
  • Once the fritter is cooked, leave to cool down a bit then you can tip the tray upside down and the fritter will release from the tray, then you can portion it.
  • If you are not serving it the same day you cooked this then simply place this on a tray and re heat in the oven for 5-10 mins.

Tony Hindhaugh, butchery expert at Parson’s Nose, has shared two recipes for alternative Christmas Day birds:

Baked Christmas goose

Method:

  • Your goose should be room temperature before cooking, so make sure to leave the bird out of the fridge for at least an hour before you plan to cook.  
  • Your oven should be pre-heared to 180°C. Poke small holes in the skin (being careful to avoid piercing the meat) and season with salt and pepper and herbs of your choosing.  
  • Put the bird into an oven on a rack in a large tray. Leave to roast for 3-4 hours, depending on the size of your bird.  
  • Use any excess fat to drizzle over your potatoes to roast to provide the perfect accompaniment to your Christmas roast.
  • Before serving, allow to rest and cool.  

Roast duck

Method:

  • For the perfect roast duck, make sure the bird is room temperature before cooking. To achieve this take your duck out of the fridge between 1 and 2 hours before you plan on putting it in the oven.  
  • Use a skewer to gently pierce the skin all over the duck and apply salt and pepper to your liking.
  • Ensure your oven has been pre-heated to 180°C. Place the bird in the oven and cook for 1.5-2 hours. It is best to use a rack over a baking tray to catch the juice and put the bird on the rack (this also helps if you’re planning to make gravy).
  • To check that your duck is roasting nicely, the juices should run clear when done.  
  • Before serving, allow to rest for at least 20 minutes. Serve alongside other Christmas trimmings such as roast potatoes, Brussels sprouts and pigs in blankets.

Jake Taylor, head chef of Woodmansterne School in Streatham, has shared a delicious recipe that is simpler to pull off than you might think:

Braised shoulder of lamb

This dish is often met with great trepidation but fear not, it is really rather simple to do and garners wonderful results.

If you’re not confident a whole lamb shoulder will fit snugly inside you oven, ask your butcher to cut it down at the joints (or buy smaller cuts readily available in the supermarket).

Method:

  • Season your lamb shoulder liberally and sear it all over in oil in a large pan, or better yet, the braising tray you intend to put in the oven.
  • Remove the lamb shoulder and sweat down onions, garlic, rosemary and a good glug of vinegar. 
  • When this is all working nicely together. Put everything into the braising tray and top up with good chicken stock until the lamb is almost completely submerged. 
  • Cover everything with a cartouche (a piece of baking paper cut to the size of your pan).
  • Pop a lid on and put it in a low oven (say, 140 degrees C) for around 5 hours.
  • The lamb is perfectly cooked when a metal skewer easily slides through the whole shoulder and out again with no resistance.

Serve this with a celeriac mash or dauphinoise potatoes and a big watercress salad. It also sits quite confidently next to the usual Christmas lunch suspects; roast potatoes, stuffing, sprouts, pigs in blankets etc.

Sonali Cooks has teamed up with East End Foods to share a surprising option for a delicious and unique veggie dish for the Christmas dinner table:

Whole roasted tandoori broccoli

Ingredients:

  • Medium whole broccoli head, stem trimmed flat, 1 

Makhani sauce 

  • Ripe tomatoes, chopped, 500g
  • White onion, chopped, 1 
  • Garlic cloves, peeled, chopped, 3
  • Ginger, chopped, 1 inch
  • Cashews soaked in hot water for 30 mins, 10-14 
  • Oil, 1 tbsp  
  • Ghee, 1 tbsp   
  • Cumin seeds, 1 tsp
  • Double cream, 6 tbsp  
  • Garam masala, 1/2 tsp 
  • Dried fenugreek leaves, 1 tsp  
  • Tomato ketchup, 1 tbsp  
  • Sugar, 3/4 tsp  
  • Chilli to taste 

Tandoori paste  

  • Yoghurt, 120g   
  • Olive oil, 2 tbsp
  • Coriander-cumin powder, 1 tsp  
  • Cumin, 1 tsp  
  • Fennel seeds, turmeric powder, garam masala, chili powder, 1/2 tsp each  
  • Salt to taste 
  • Garlic cloves, minced, 2
  • Ginger, minced, 1 inch
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon 
  • Water, 1/4 cup  

Garnish 

  • Coriander leaves, roughly chopped 
  • Red chillies, thinly sliced 
  • Toasted almond flakes, crispy shallots, crispy garlic, barberries, 1 tsp each  

Method: 

  • In a bowl, whisk the tandoori paste ingredients together. 
  • Coat the broccoli completely with the paste. Leave to marinate for 30 mins then spray with cooking oil and bake at 200C in a pre-heated oven for 40-50 minutes until tender. 
  • In a food processor, blitz the tomatoes, cloves, cashews, oil and water until smooth. Strain tomato pulp and keep aside. 
  • Make the Makhani sauce by melting butter in a pan, add cumin seeds then the minced onions-garlic-ginger and sauté until translucent. 
  • Add the tomato pulp, chilli, garam masala, fenugreek, ketchup, cream, sugar and salt and cook for a few minutes. Remove from heat.
  • Place broccoli on a layer of the sauce and garnish. 

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