Roast of Christmas past makes a return

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The Independent Online

The Victorian tradition of multiple roasts, in which several birds are stuffed inside each other, is making a return as the mainstay of Christmas dinners.

Sales of Waitrose's free-range four-bird roast with goose, turkey, duck and guinea-fowl grew by 50 per cent last year, despite costing 200. The grocery chain expects the trend to continue this year.

Venison is proving popular too, up 30 per cent year on year, as shoppers move away from their normal meat towards more experimental cuts.

Claire Symington is credited with reviving the three-bird roast at her Leicestershire free-range farm in the 1990s. The chef-turned-farmer has sold all but five of her 2,600 joints of pheasant, chicken and goose this year, an increase on last year.

At the butchers Foreman and Field, which sells game birds by mail order, three-bird roasts and other game are out-selling turkey. "People are looking for something a bit different," said its manager Mike Stainthorpe. "I think the supermarkets have cottoned on."

Multiple-bird roasts were recorded in the Tudor era and the boneless joint was common in Victorian times. In America, a three-bird roast of turkey stuffed with duck stuffed with chicken is served at Thanksgiving and called a turducken.

Despite the rise in alternatives, turkey will still be the main Christmas dish in Britain this year, with around 10 million birds sold the same as last year. "Talking to farmers and retailers, we haven't seen the dip in sales predicted by some, either through bird flu or people diversifying away from turkey," said Jeremy Blackburn, of the British Poultry Council.

Nonetheless, Waitrose said consumers were becoming more experimental, perhaps drawing inspiration from Tudor banqueting halls seen on the BBC drama The Tudors.

At Seldom Seen farm, Ms Symington re-invented the three-bird roast around 1992, as a way of adding value to her flocks. "Over the years, it's grown and grown," she said. When she started selling her three-bird roast at Borough Market, London, she said shoppers were at first puzzled as to what it was: "Now people know what you're talking about."

Festive menu options

Turkey

Still the most popular choice, around 10 million turkeys will be sold for the festive feast. Half of them will be frozen. Around two million will have been sold fresh by butchers and from farm shops. Average cost: 10.

Chicken

Chicken is eaten all year round, leading many people to plump for something more unusual at Christmas. However, chicken is popular with smaller gatherings. Average cost: 5

Duck

Although figures are hard to come by, market research suggests that sales of mallard and other game such as grouse and pheasant are on the rise. Average cost: 8

Goose

Goose was traditional at Christmas in Victorian times and has experienced a revival recently as diners have become more adventurous. Once the birds were walked from East Anglia to market in London. Around 100,000 are reared annually. Average cost: 40

Three-Bird Roast

An increasingly popular choice, the extravagant three-bird roast is a suitable for parties 10 or more. A bird is stuffed inside a bird stuffed inside a bird. With stuffing. Average cost: 40 - 100

10-Bird Roast

Championed by celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, the 10-bird roast is the most decadent offering. A 20lb turkey is stuffed with goose, duck, mallard, guinea fowl, chicken, pheasant, partridge, pigeon and woodcock. Average cost: 160, if you make it yourself...

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