The C Word

In my work as a butcher, I’ve never really gone for the disingenuous ‘have a great day’ approach to my customers. Instead, I like to go for some good old fashioned ‘giving a shit’. It’s something that I learned from dealing with thousands and thousands of people over the counter. But it wasn’t until I had my own shop that I truly understood the logistics involved in thoughtfully planning Christmas for hundreds of people. It's a daunting task sometimes, but one that I genuinely enjoy and preparing my customers for their culinary festivities is my idea of Christmas cheer.
Christmas can be a time for Hallmark perfection but I prefer to look at it as a time for creativity. We all understand that the festive season is both a mentally and financially expensive time. Presents, food, booze – it all costs a lot of money. But Christmas on a budget does not have to be a Scroogetastic affair, or, indeed, a Nightmare before Christmas. Even if you're feeding the five thousand, it doesn't have to cost the earth. There are plenty of bargains to be had and this is why I think it’s imperative – if you want to make Christmas easier, get the best from your meat and save yourself time and expense – that you talk to your local butcher.
Once they know how many people you're feeding and what sort of meat you normally go for, they will be hugely informative in terms of helping you choose the ideal meat and cut for your needs. Don't be embarrassed if you don't go in very often - we're always just happy to help where we can. We try to get to know you so that we can figure out what works for you and your family. Many butchers operate a Christmas Club, so you can put some money aside every week to make sure that final meat bill isn't too much of a shock, but careful budgeting can be just as effective. In this spirit, here are my top tips for a cash-careful and creative Christmas fare. This time of year is a minefield when it comes to turkey prices. At the higher end of the spectrum you can pay £60 or £70 for a good size free range organic turkey, but at the lower end it could be £20. A huge disparity. From a butcher’s point of view, turkey crowns are both hugely popular but are absolutely the least cost effective way of preparing a turkey. A turkey crown, or as we butchers call them - a drunken bird - is a turkey breast on the bone but with the legs and wings removed. However, the legs don't always manage to sell, so this pushes the price up massively. These birds are eaten once a year, if that, and if they’re not cooked properly they can end up being dry and tasteless. For something so expensive, I feel it’s only right to do the whole bird justice and try not to waste anything. My advice to you is, if you only want the crown of the turkey, why not buy a whole turkey and get your butcher to bone the meat out of the legs? You can then put it in the freezer to make curry or a casserole in the New Year. Or, you could also choose to slow cook the legs (with or without the gizzards) and make a really delicious turkey gravy for the big day. Just put the legs and wings in a slow cooker or heavy- bottomed pot with water, carrots, onion peppercorns and a bay leaf on Christmas Eve for four or five hours and you’ll have the perfect base for the perfect Christmas day gravy (based on Jamie Oliver’s chicken wing ‘get ahead gravy’).


·         2 onions
·         2 carrots
·         2 sticks of celery
·         2 fresh bay leaves
·         2 sprigs of fresh sage
·         2 sprigs of fresh rosemary
·         2 Turkey Legs
·         A glug of sherry or white wine (and a glass for the chef)
·         4 tablespoons plain flour

Method (prep this a few hours before you intend on cooking)

  1. Preheat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF/gas 4.
  2. Roughly chop the veg and place in a roasting tin with the turkey legs on top. Season with salt and pepper then cook for 1 hour, or until tender.
  3. Allow the legs to cool and shred all the meat from the bones.
  4. Remove the tray from the oven and transfer to a low heat on the hob. Really grind and mash everything with a potato masher, scraping up all the goodness from the base of the tray fry off until you see the colour going darker.
  5. Gradually stir in the flour, then pour in 2 litres of boiling water. Simmer for 30 minutes, or until thickened and reduced, stirring occasionally.
  6. When you have your perfect consistency, strain the gravy to remove the fiddly bits (with a sieve or push the veg through a colander to get maximum goodness!
  7. If frozen, take the gravy out to defrost when your turkey goes into the oven. When the turkey’s perfectly cooked, remove it to a platter to rest for up to 2 hours, covered with a double layer of tin foil and a clean tea towel.
  8. Skim away most of the fat from the tray, cool, and place into a jar in the fridge for tasty cooking another day. Pour your Get-ahead gravy into the tray with the rest of the turkey juices.
  9. Bring to the boil over the hob and scrape up all those sticky bits from the base. Have a taste, then stir in the Cranberry sauce to balance the flavours.
  10. Once your gravy is piping hot, carefully strain through a coarse sieve into a pan, then leave it on the lowest heat until you’re ready to serve.
  11. Skim away any fat that rises to the top, and add any extra resting juices from the turkey before serving

How about trying a different bird? Geese tend to be pricey Anything from £50-£100- but ducks £10 each - £20 and chickens are relatively inexpensive A large duck (maybe name a type that are commonly asked for, or popular breed?) can feed 4 and a really large chicken can feed 6. You could always get chicken portions too - the whole one would work as a centrepiece and you can supplement with extras legs. A high welfare chicken can cost about £10-20 per bird.
Instead of a whole Christmas ham what about going for smaller ham shanks? You can get up to 1KG of meat off a single one - far less expensive. They give you tons of gorgeous pink shredded meat, and the stock is amazing in soup. You can get a full gammon from as little as £30 but they can go right up to £60 so it’s good to shop around – but ask your butcher - but the ham shanks are £2-4 each
If you're wanting a big centre piece, why not try a big loin or shoulder of pork for the table or a big slab of juicy pork belly - pork is always cheaper than lamb or beef. Even pork loin can be as low as £5/kg! Feel free to use diced pork offcuts for a curry – or even the cheeks which work out at £10/kg
Butchers are always happy to prep the meat in a way that suits you and meets the needs of the recipe. Beef will always be an expensive choice. However, if you choose some of the forequarter meat – meat off the shoulder – so brisket, chuck, feather. - it can work out much cheaper. For instance, if you get a bit of brisket to pot roast you could make a salt beef brisket - I do one for a customer every year and the recipe is fairly simple.
Ingredients for 2KG Brisket Salt Beef (based on Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s salt beef)
● 5L water
● 500g Curing Salt (ask your local butcher)
● 300g Muscavado Sugar & 200g Brown Sugar
● 1 tsp black peppercorns
● 1 tsp star anise
● A bunch of thyme
● 1 tsp juniper berries
● Handful of Cloves
● Loads of Bay
● Place all the ingredients into a large saucepan and heat gently until the salt and the sugar have dissolved in the pan – then bring to the boil and leave to cool. Make sure the brisket is flat. Using your hands rub the salt into the meat and also add some mustard powder or spread some Dijon mustard over the surface. Then submerge the beef in a plastic tub for a couple of days – then remove from the brine.
Butchers will normally chuck in the string so you can roll it and they are more than happy to roll it for you. This cut of meat normally costs about £12/kg.

Christmas doesn't just have to be a time for roasts - how about an ox cheek stew (£9 will feed 4) or Shin of beef (£9 will feed 5) on the bone with delicious bone marrow. The price of bones is an interesting one. If you go to your butcher all the time it is likely they will give you them for dirt cheap or if you’re a proper regular for free!