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.
A rich venison dish with prune, bacon and sage stuffing – perfect for a Christmas feast
An easy roasted pear recipe by River Cottage chef Gill Meller to enjoy as a tasty side dish as part of your festive feast
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.
This Christmas, make celeriac and potato dauphinoise with anchovy, chilli, rosemary and garlic
Enjoy this root vegetable and barley dish as part of your Christmas dinner