Christmas is such a wonderful time of year. It’s a grounding, reflective time, a time to slow down, to be at home and cook delicious things to eat. I tend to feel safe at Christmas, secure in the warmth it brings. I feel assured by its familiarity, by the memories of Christmases I’ve spent together with my family and by the traditions that make it so special.


Every family has their own way of celebrating the day. They’ll have their own little rituals and foibles that make it unique to them, but of course, there are also aspects of the day that we all share, that feel universal. A celebratory lunch is one such thing and in many homes roast turkey takes centre stage. This year, I’m shaking up tradition by ringing the bell for venison, a wild meat that makes an absolutely fabulous alternative to Turkey. I’m using a cut known as venison saddle, which I like to stuff with prunes, orange zest, bacon and sage.

I’ve also included recipes for a few of my favourite side dishes and accompaniments as well as some tips and suggestions that might help to make this alternative Christmas feast a new family tradition.

For more festive inspiration, check out our Christmas section to find delicious festive bakes, decorations and homemade gift ideas.

River Cottage chef Gill Mellor's guide to the best Christmas dinner dishes

Roast saddle of venison with prune, bacon and sage stuffing

This rich venison dish with prune, bacon and sage stuffing is perfect for a Christmas feast.

Roast pears with bay, shallot and juniper

An easy roasted pear recipe to enjoy as a tasty side dish as part of your festive feast.

Roast pears in tin
Roast pears with bay, shallots and juniper (Matt Austin)

Essentials: gravy and sprouts

A simple gravy for the venison

Use a spoon to skim off the excess fat from the roasting juices so you can use the juices to make a gravy. Set the roasting tray over a low heat, add a heaped tablespoon of plain flour and, using a wooden spoon, scratch free any caramelised bits from the base of the tray. Add stock and a little fruit jelly, stir, then bring to a simmer for a few minutes to thicken it. Sieve into a saucepan and simmer. Adjust the seasoning.

Creamed Brussels sprouts

Creamed sprouts can be spiked with lovage or green peppercorns, or topped with salty pancetta or chestnuts for fragrance and texture. Simply sweat 2 diced shallots and 2 cloves of sliced garlic in butter until soft. Add 500g of sprouts and a splash of vegetable stock. When the sprouts are tender, blitz them with a stick blender, leaving a bit of texture. Add a dash of cream and season to taste.


Celeriac and potato dauphinoise

This Christmas, make celeriac and potato dauphinoise with anchovy, chilli, rosemary and garlic.

Celeriac and potato dauphinoise

Stuffed squash with fennel and barley

Enjoy this root vegetable and barley dish as part of your Christmas dinner, or as an impressive main for vegetarians.

Stuffed Squash


Gill MellerChef and food writer

Gill is a chef, food writer, author, food stylist, and cookery teacher who lives and works near Lyme Regis in Dorset.