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FOOD Bluffers’ guide to Christmas dinner

Image of a turkeyThe bluffers’ guide to Christmas dinner

Food and wine
Redmond Cabot

What a year we have had. Despite economic ruin we can look with really positive eyes at our food scene. More and more people are sourcing local and organic produce. More and more people are growing their own produce, and more than ever there is an interest in where our food comes from.
More and more Irish small producers are creating wonderful food stuffs and here in Mayo we are blessed with great local produce and committed producers. With less of a rat-race mentality, more families are able to give more time to sourcing and preparing food from the source ingredients. Remember, great learning, humour and life lessons always takes place across the kitchen table! That can only be a good thing. Here is my gourmet guide to Christmas.

Chill out!
Although Christmas is a time when families come together to eat, drink and be merry, it can sometimes be a daunting challenge in the kitchen. Relax, your family and guests are lucky to get your cooking and will be thankful even if they are served burnt toast! Don’t get your knickers in a twist – we are lucky to be able to worry about how to cook and present the food, and not have to worry about how to actually get the food.

Goose v turkey?
We eat Turkey more often, and although it has a more neutral flavour, it's the kind of  manageable meat that you can go back and pick at. As for drying out, if you cover it initially then baste it regularly, it's fine.
Some people appreciate having something different like duck or goose for a holiday. Goose is more of a speciality bird. It has a wonderfully rich, buttery flavour, bordering on the beefy, thanks to its grass diet. It's certainly a fatty bird, but don't let that put you off. The flavour is worth it. Remember to remove extra fat from cooking though – it is normal!
Whether going for turkey or goose, the most important thing is to buy a good, fresh, bird. Buying a bird from a good free-range farmer will be a better choice than one from an organic farmer who pushes the limits to get maximum mark-up. Picking free-range is a step in the right direction, but a really worthwhile bird for the table will come from a small producer who selects traditional, slower-growing breeds and puts every effort into the rearing and butchering.
Top tip: If cooking Turkey, rub butter with salt and herbs under the skin all over the bird to increase its succulent nature. Prepare the bird on Christmas Eve, packing the butter under the breast skin to guarantee juicy meat, and let it rest for two hours after cooking – yes two hours! Resting will make it even more succulent and frees the oven up for your veg.

Stick to the old reliables and what we know in this part of the world. Lovely fluffy roast potatoes with goose fat, roasted parsnips, or turnip and carrot mash. Don’t throw away your left-over veggies as they can be used easily enough to make that favourite English dish, bubble and squeak. Makes a roast-vegetable mega-mix, or indeed boiled-and-mashed veg mega-mix, using nut oils for interesting flavours. From parsnips to carrots, you’ll be amazed what brings out the best in your veg.
Top Tip: Bubble and squeak is basically mashing any potatoes/parsnips, adding any chopped green vegetables, and frying in a pan

Gravy and  stuffing
With gravy and stuffing it’s all about keeping it simple (…remember the KISS system: Keep It Simple Stupid!).
For stuffing just cook together pork, bacon, bread crumbs and chestnuts with herbs and spices.
For gravy, make sure you use some of the roasted fat left over in the oven tray from cooking the bird. Start off with a quarter cup of fat, sprinkle in flour while stirring with wooden spoon, when that is cooking into wet bundles add some water from cooking veggies, some red wine and hey presto – a delicious gravy.
Top Tip: Top and tail two onions, cut them in half and roast them in the tray with the bird. Use them for the gravy by mashing them with a wooden spoon into the sauce.

Very happy season’s greetings to all.

Cooking guidelines
Raw meat contains bacteria such as Salmonella and Campylobacter, so it is important to cook it thoroughly. When the bird is fully cooked the juices should run clear, not pink. A helpful tip to make sure the bird is cooked thoroughly is to simply pierce the thickest part of the drumstick and check that the juices are clear in colour. If you have a meat thermometer or temperature probe, check that the internal temperature reaches 75 degrees Celsius.
The following are the recommended cooking times for roasting an unstuffed turkey in an oven preheated oven to 180ºC/350ºF/gas mark 4:

Cooking time by weight of turkey
3 hours – 4 hours 20 minutes

4 hours 20 minutes – 5 hours

5 hours – 6 hours 20 minutes

6 hours 20 minutes – 7 hours

7 hours – 8 hours 20 minutes

*Source: www.safefoodonline.com and www.safefood.eu