A different Christmas doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy really good food

Christmas Day is going to be very different this year with restrictions on the number of people who can meet up in households.

This doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy good food though. Most years I make noises about doing something different for Christmas lunch but this year, the thought of good old traditional turkey and ham is a comforting and familiar one.

Spending some money on the bird will result in a better quality of meat. Cheap turkeys will invariably have been crammed into grim conditions inside whereas a free range turkey is allowed to do exactly that. When any animal is allowed to roam freely and eat naturally, then you’ll get a much more superior product to eat. There are many producers of fine turkeys in Northern Ireland – go to a good butcher or visit nigoodfood.com for information on where to source great birds.

My bird of choice this year is a Bourbon Red from Seaview Farm outside Portrush. Susan Chestnutt and Shay O’Neill rear rarebreed pigs throughout the year and have added free range turkeys to their repertoire for the festive season. Bourbon Reds are a heritage breed that originated in Kentucky and Pennsylvania in the United States in the 19th century.

They almost died out in the 1930’s with the introduction of more commercially viable breeds but have had a resurgence in popularity in recent times. The meat is rich and almost gamey. Whatever turkey you pick, butter is going to be its best friend on December 25. Slather plenty onto the bird or melt the butter, dip it in muslin and enrobe the whole bird to ensure moist, delicious meat.

When cooking allow 15 minutes per pound and add an extra 20 minutes at the other end. Rest the turkey for 20 minutes before carving. I watched a cooking show once where the chef carved a slice off the turkey and announced “oh that’s perfectly pink”. In my house that would be an unmitigated disaster.

The first recipe is for properly cooked turkey with gravy.

Seaview Farm also do hams from their Berkshire pigs. The meat is naturally cured and extremely flavourful. There are many fantastic ham producers in this country – ask your local butcher for advice. Ham is an integral part of the Christmas lunch and my other recipe is for a spiced cider glazed one. Boil cider, sugar, allspice and cinnamon to a thick syrup. When the ham is cooked, remove the rind and score the skin.

Brush over some of the glaze and roast, basting with the glaze frequently until bubbling and golden. The ham will take about half an hour to cook – just enough time to cook some stuffing balls beside it. They’ll pick up extra flavour from the glaze and ham juices.

Whatever you’re doing for Christmas have a happy and safe one.