On The Table: Christmas Dinner Alternatives
Want to jazz up your festive dining? Need something to impress with at the dinner table? Keen not to burn the house down this year? We have some suggestions for you...
Christmas dinner – a time for friends and family to gather round a table that isn’t quite big enough, to wear paper hats while drinking heavily in the mid-afternoon, and to cover everything and everyone in gravy. And yet, when there’s YouGov research that shows the only thing we can all agree on about Christmas dinner is we like roast potatoes, there’s clearly some room for improvement. So improve we shall!
The Big Meat Manifesto
Still want to eat a large white bird this Christmas, but don’t fancy dealing with turkey's enormous size and uncanny ability to go a bit dry and mealy? What you need is a goose! Geese are fatty, tasty, fatty, raised free range in Scotland, and extremely fatty. This means succulent meat, delicious roast potatoes (which, as we've established, is the most important thing anyway), and everyone falling into a culinary coma by 2pm. This option is ideal for the carnivores who want to be extremely decadent while also buying themselves an hour of Christmas day rest.
Equally OTT is porchetta. Of Italian origin, a porchetta is a boneless roast that’s part pork loin (meaty, tasty, and liable to hold together) and part pork belly (fatty, unctuous, and liable to drip all over the loin and baste it from the inside) that’s all rubbed down with herbs and spices, tied up into a big meaty ball and slow roasted. It looks the part, even before you pour hot oil over the skin to turn the entire outside of your Christmas dinner into one giant pork scratching. As Munchies host and ‘Loudest Man in TV Cookery’ Matty Matheson says in his YouTube tutorial, “if you treat this thing with disrespect, it will burn your fucking life away.” Duly noted.
For those of you who don't want to celebrate the festivities by gnawing on the charred remains of a sentient animal, there are two words that loom large – 'nut roast'. Sorry, but no, we won't stand for it. Nut roasts look odd, they try to emulate meat but never get anywhere close so just end up disappointing your carnivore pals, and frankly the expression 'nut roast' is rank and horrible.
Thankfully, there are other options with less offensive names, such as Tasty's Seitan Roast which combines beans and herbs with the festive fun of nutritional yeast and vital wheat gluten. Mmmm, 'vital'. The result appears to have a lot of the bounce and spring associated with roasted meat but without the aura of death, even if visually it does have more than a touch of 'mystery meat' about it. If nothing else, it looks fairly straightforward and easy to get rid of if it all goes to hell.
For a more involved vegan option, J. Kenji Lopez-Alt of the much-revered Serious Eats website has turned his full arsenal of scientific food ideas on to the issue of veggies at the Christmas dinner table. The result is a 3,000 word recipe for a multi-stranded, outlandishly complicated but extremely appealing Vegetable Wellington. Do you have family or friends visiting this Christmas, and need something for them to work on for an extended period of time? Well let's hope they like peeling veg and layering up pastry!
Christmas Pudding is as traditional as they come, but frankly we aren't fans. And it's not just because mostly-apocryphal tales of brandy-soaked puds going on fire and scorching houses to the ground (we found one instance of a Christmas Pudding-related blaze in recent years, and even then it was only a tiddler of a housefire). It's the fact that it takes ages to make and tends to sit extremely heavily on the ol' tummy. Oh, and because it's packed with dried fruit, if the family dog gets their paws on it they'll be in a world of trouble.
What you need is a festive dessert that won't burn down your house, block up your bowels or kill your dog. If you want something that still has that festive spiciness about it, go for a German lebkuchen – it's a spiced biscuit flavoured with many of the usual suspects like nutmeg and ginger. The advantage it has over a Christmas Pudding is you can't dunk a slice of pudding into your cup of tea, or surreptitiously stuff it in your pocket to eat later. Well you can, but you probably shouldn't.
If you fancy taking things in a lighter and more interesting direction, the bibingka is a Filipino Christmas staple. It's made with rice flour, coconut milk, eggs and butter, with the whole thing cooked in banana leaves. Plus it's traditionally cooked over hot coals, so if you insist on your Christmas dessert posing some kind of fire risk, your wishes have been granted.
And if you want to make your Christmas veggie-friendly this year, we have just the thing – it's the kinda weird half-juice half-water stuff in your jars of chickpeas. Aquafaba turns out to be a pretty decent substitute for egg whites, which means you can crack out animal-free meringues if you're willing to put in the time with your blender. That in turn means you can serve up an enormously festive pavlova to your overly-traditional relatives, but the joke's on them because there isn't a single bit of squeezed-out animal in there. Truly, a Christmas miracle.
Digital thermometer: Christmas often means excess, and that often results in overly large bits of meat being thrown in ovens that really aren't big enough for them. An instant read thermometer allows you to make sure you aren't going to poison everyone or disappoint them with a dinner that's half-underdone and half-incinerated.
Knife sharpener: No matter what you're working on, we assume you're going to need to cut your food. If you're cutting in the kitchen, you need sharp knives – the sharper your blade, the less likely it is to slip and the less force you'll need to put into your potato chopping. Either go old school with a honing steel, or pick up a knife sharpener like the AnySharp, which features a nifty suction feature to stop it flying away mid-sharpening.
Mandoline: Or if you really want to make some headway in the kitchen, a benriner or Japanese mandoline is the way to go. You'll be getting through piles of veg in seconds, cutting anything and everything in your path into lovely uniform slices. We'll warn you now, these things are razor sharp and if you look away mid-stroke you will slice the top of your finger off.
Salad Spinner: Don't dry your salad by hand like a fool; let one of these wild contraptions do the work for you. Stick your damp leaves in, spin it a bit too hard, watch as it almost takes flight, take the salad out, find out it's still somehow wet, pop it back in, repeat several times and you've got yourself a salad.