Although I consider myself a bit of a traditionalist, I tend to stay clear of turkey on Christmas Day. For the past couple of years, my choice has been roasted small game birds such as teal, snipe and woodcock, served with homemade rowan or rosehip jelly; that way, everyone gets to taste a couple of different birds and there is a sense of celebration – instead of that sinking feeling of, "Oh no, not turkey again".
Game birds, however, may not be everyone's cup of tea and are likely to appeal to a more serious foodie crowd. If you want to play it safe, goose is always good and another festive favourite of mine. I cook the legs separately, as they take more time than the breasts, and you can cook them nice and slowly as you would in a confit, so that the breasts and legs have two different textures.
But I think that my ultimate choice for the big day is suckling pig, which is a favourite of mine at any time of the year. A suckling pig needs little or no preparation to get a perfect and delicious end result and, surprisingly, doesn't take that long to cook.
Marinated scallop and duck liver salad
Years ago, when I worked at the Grosvenor House under the outstanding chef Anton Edelmann, we made a dish that was similar to this, but with foie gras instead. However, I am aware that foie gras is not PC these days and that a lot of people think the practice should be banned, so I thought that I would replace the fattened liver with the unfattened variety.
1 small head of curly endive salad, washed and trimmed
16 medium scallops, removed from the shell and cleaned
1 medium carrot, peeled and shredded into fine matchstick-like pieces
8 large duck livers, cleaned
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
A couple of good knobs of butter
The juice of 2 limes
32 or so green peppercorns
For the dressing
1tbsp sherry vinegar
4tbsp walnut oil
tsp caster sugar
Cut the scallops into 3 slices and arrange on a tray. Season lightly, scatter over the green peppercorns and pour over the lime juice and leave for 2 minutes. Meanwhile, season the duck livers, heat the butter in a frying pan and fry the livers on a high heat for a couple of minutes on each side, keeping them nice and pink. While the livers are cooking, whisk the ingredients together for the dressing and season. Toss the carrots with the curly endive and dressing and arrange in the centre of your serving plates; arrange the scallops around with a few green peppercorns and place a duck liver on the salad.
Roast suckling pig
This is probably my favourite of all roasts, as it has that wonderful celebratory feeling and look when it arrives at the table. Most good butchers should be able to get you a suckling pig, but do order it now if you want it for Christmas lunch. A suckling pig probably won't fit whole in a standard oven, so you may want to chop it in half to cook it and just push it back together again afterwards.
1 suckling pig, weighing about 5-6 kilos
2-3tbsp olive or rapeseed oil
2tbsp flaky sea salt
1 head of garlic, halved
A few sprigs of rosemary
For the potatoes
8-10 baking potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
Preheat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6. Flatten the pig by just pushing down on its back so that it sits flat on its belly. Rub the skin of the pig with salt and leave for 30 minutes. Lightly season the potatoes and layer them up in one large or 2 smaller roasting trays, depending if you have a small or large oven.
Tuck the rosemary and garlic into the belly cavity and lay the pig directly on to the oven racks with the tray of potatoes on the rack below. Brush the pig with oil and cook for 1¼ hours. The skin should be nice and crisp and the largest leg joint hot in the middle when a skewer or sharp object is inserted. If not, just return it to the oven for another 30 minutes or so.
The potatoes should be nice and crisp on top; if not, you can finish them under the grill. Present the pig whole on a large board or tray, then chop it into pieces through the bone with a heavy knife.
Trying to dream up some new vegetable for Christmas Day – apart from the ubiquitous parsnips, sprouts and carrots – can be tricky, but one that we often forget is the humble onion. Stuffed onions are a great alternative to making a stuffing, as everyone gets their own little package of stuffing encased in their own onion.
Ask your butcher to reserve the kidney and liver from the suckling pig – if not, you can just buy, say, 200g of liver (either pig or chicken).
8 small to medium onions
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
200g pig or chicken livers, cleaned and finely chopped
tbsp thyme leaves
100g fresh white breadcrumbs
2tbsp chopped parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 5. Cut about 1cm off the top of the onions (the opposite end to the root), replace it and wrap the onions in foil. Stand them on a baking tray and cook for an hour, or until they are fairly soft. Remove from the oven and leave to cool. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a thick-bottomed pan and fry the garlic, liver and thyme on a fairly high heat for 2-3 minutes, stirring every so often, then remove from the heat. Once the onion is cool enough to handle, scoop out the onion with a spoon, leaving a couple of layers from the skin to hold it together and leaving the tops intact. Finely chop the onion flesh you have scooped out and mix with the liver, breadcrumbs and parsley and season to taste. Spoon the mixture back into the onions and replace the lids. Place the onions back on a baking tray, cover with foil and return to the oven for about 30-40 minutes. You can keep these warm for about 30 minutes or serve straight away.
Cranberry and pecan cheesecake
I think if you gave most families the choice between a cheesecake and Christmas pudding, they would probably opt for a cheesecake.
There is something so comforting about a creamy cheesecake with its biscuity base – and made with traditional Christmas fruits, it keeps everyone in the festive spirit.
150-200g fresh cranberries
Grated zest and juice of 1 orange
150g caster sugar
200g Hobnobs or digestives
80g butter, melted
For the cheesecake
500g cream cheese, such as mascarpone, softened
300ml double cream
120g caster sugar
120g pecan nuts
Put the cranberries in a saucepan with the sugar, orange juice, zest and water, bring to the boil and simmer gently for about 5 minutes; then dilute the cornflour in a little water and stir into the cranberries. Continue simmering for a few minutes until the cranberries are just coated in the 3-4 tablespoons of the thickened liquid, then remove from the heat and leave to cool to room temperature.
Place the pecans on a tray lined with foil and scatter a couple of tablespoons of sugar from the 120g you need for the cheesecake. Lightly toast under a medium grill, turning them as they are cooking, for 2-3 minutes.
In a food processor, crush the biscuits to a coarse breadcrumb-like consistency. To do this by hand, put the biscuits in a plastic bag and smash with a rolling pin. Mix the biscuit crumbs with the melted butter.
Line a 14-18cm round or square removable-bottomed cake or deep flan tin (or one of those with a side that unclips) with greaseproof paper. Because the cheescake is soft, the sides of the tin must be detachable. Pack the biscuit mixture into the tin, firming it down with the back of a spoon.
Using a mixing machine or by hand, whip the double cream and sugar until fairly stiff. In a clean bowl, again by machine or hand, soften the cream cheese then add the whipped cream. If you're using softer mascarpone, rather than Philadelphia, you may need about 50g less cream. Carefully fold in half of the cranberry mixture and half the pecans to form a rippled effect. Now spoon the mix on to the biscuit base, leaving the top a bit rough. Leave to set in the fridge for 2-3 hours until firm.
Remove the cheesecake from the tin – you may need to run a hot knife around the edge – then slide it on to a serving dish. Spoon the rest of the cranberry mixture on top and then scatter the rest of the pecans all over.
Read part one of Mark Hix's alternative Christmas feast here