Chew on this instead: My beef with roasting a monster bird for Christmas

·9 min read
Alex Wilkie/Submitted by Andie Bulman
Alex Wilkie/Submitted by Andie Bulman

We always talk turkey at Christmas time, but I'm burnt out on it.

I've spatchcocked the whole thing and had turkey on the table in 90 minutes. The overnight wet brine and the spicy dry brine? Been there, done those.

I've roasted turkey until the skin was a gorgeous, dark, crackling caramel and served it alongside a chipotle gravy that you could drink straight from the ladle.

Last year, after months of begging, I finally talked my family into letting me deep-fry the turkey. That event, however, came with conditions and provisions. I had to solemnly swear not to burn down my parent's house, while my sister's partner was appointed safety officer. Picture him, hovering around the steaming fryer, a beer in one hand and a fire extinguisher in the other, while my siblings looked on.

Meanwhile, my husband was put in charge of the deep-fried turkey playlist and made everyone very nervous by blaring Alicia Keys's Girl on Fire.

Too much time in the oven

My beef with this monster bird? Well, it should be juicy and succulent, but more often than not it's dry and depressing. Most folks get nervous while roasting a turkey and they accidently turn the whole thing dusty by roasting it much longer than needed.

"Let's leave it in for another 15" is often the death sentence of a decent meal.

Plus, that carcass and those leftovers take up fridge real estate that should be reserved for peanut butter balls.

Finally, I resent turkey because it is a bit of a culinary Stockholm-syndrome situation. Doing something just because we always have done that thing is the kind of logic that drives me batty.

Traditions are living things that need to evolve and this holiday is going to look unfamiliar and feel a bit different, so we might as well shake things up.

Without further ado, here are some alternative Christmas main courses for when a big turkey doesn't make sense.

Stuffed turkey breast with hazelnuts, sage and whipped goat cheese

OK, so this isn't reinventing the wheel entirely, but for many of us Christmas is going to be happening on a smaller scale. Instead of gathering with our extended families, we'll be cooking Christmas dinner in smaller bubbles (what a surreal sentence this is).

That's why a stuffed turkey breast is a great option.

For one, you don't have to deal with the leftovers. Turkey breast stuffed with goat cheese, dried sour cherries, bread crumbs, hazelnuts, and sage, give the whole thing a sense of pop and occasion. Pair this with a gratin of winter greens, mashed potatoes, and a nice glass of Gamay.

This is an excellent Christmas dinner option for two.

Ingredients:

6 ounces goat cheese, softened

2/3 cup dried sour cherries or sun-dried tomatoes (both work!)

1 cup cooked bacon, crumbled

2/3 cup toasted hazelnuts (pine nuts are beautiful here too, but pricey so keep that in mind)

2 teaspoons fresh thyme, minced

2 teaspoons fresh sage

1/4 cup butter, softened

1 tablespoon fresh chopped oregano

1 tablespoon (15ml) lemon zest

4 pound (1.81kg) boneless turkey breast, skin on

salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. (204 C.)

In a medium-size bowl mix together the goat cheese, dried cherries, bacon, toasted hazelnuts, sage, and oregano until well combined.

Season with salt and pepper and set aside.

Mix together the butter, thyme and lemon zest.

Carefully lift the skin from the breasts and spread a thin layer of the seasoned butter evenly underneath the skin.

Lay the breast skin-side down and season with salt and pepper.

Spread an even layer of the goat cheese mixture over the breast, leaving a half-inch border around its edge.

Gently (but firmly) roll the turkey breast into a tight bundle and tie together with butcher's twine. There are plenty of great YouTube tutorials that explain this better than I could.

Season the outside with salt and pepper.

Place the stuffed breast skin-side up on a roasting pan and place that on a lower oven rack. Roast for about 20 minutes.

Turn down the oven temperature to 350 F. (176 C) and continue roasting for 45 minutes.

Remove the roasted breast from the oven and let it rest in the pan for 15 minutes.

Remove any twine and then carve the roast into half-inch slices.

Place desired amount on each serving plate and drizzle with pan juices.

Fried oysters

Alex Wilkie/Submitted by Andie Bulman
Alex Wilkie/Submitted by Andie Bulman

I'm from Prince Edward Island. My siblings and I are all seafood-obsessed.

This means Christmas tends to come with a box of oysters, some lemons and hot sauce. Christmas morning involves someone scooping up snow and presenting the others with breakfast oysters on a little platter. One of us usually gets a new shucker in our stocking.

My niece Cecily is a big seafood lover and there's something really satisfying about watching a five-year old squeeze a little lemon onto her oyster, throw it down the hatch, and then clap her little hands together.

This all might sound a little bourgeois, but it isn't. Oysters are very affordable on Prince Edward Island. You can throw a rock and hit an oyster farm. Someone usually "knows a guy" who can get a box at a decent price—not in an "illegal black market" way, but in a "my neighbor is an oyster farmer and he drops them off at the door" kind of way.

Newfoundland, however, is another story.

The prices are much higher here and those on sale have been shipped (by air) from other provinces, which doesn't jibe with a desire to eat locally and doesn't exactly scream "fresh"!

However, this all changed when Newfoundland started producing its own oysters! Merasheen Bay Oysters is producing really gorgeous plump beauties. Ordering a box of local oysters is a great way to treat yourself in a year where treats have been sparse.

I like raw oysters best, but when deep-fried they're a special treat. Serve with garlic sauce and lemon juice. I'd have these on Christmas Eve with homemade French fries and a good glass of minerally white wine.

Ingredients:

1-1 1/2 pints shucked oysters

Cooking oil, as needed; must be about 1/2 inch deep in pan

2 eggs

1/2 cup beer (I like to use a sour or an IPA)

1 tsp garlic salt

1/2 tsp each lemon pepper pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, cayenne (optional)

2 cups flour

1 cup panko bread crumbs

1 lemon, sliced in wedges for garnish

I like to just pan-fry these. Heat your oil to about 370 F. Take a nice big bowl and beat your eggs, beer, garlic salt, lemon pepper, garlic powder and cayenne

Heat the oil to 370-375 F.

Meanwhile, beat eggs, beer, salt, pepper, garlic, onion powders and cayenne if using.

Mix the flour and panko bread crumbs in another bowl.

Dip the oysters in the egg wash mixture and thoroughly roll them in the breading. Arrange them onto a sheet pan.

Fry for about 1-2 minutes per side, depending on the oyster's size, until they turn golden brown. Do not overcrowd the pan.

Briefly drain on paper towels and serve while still hot. Garnish with lemon wedges. I'd serve these on Christmas Eve with homemade fries and a good briny white.

Acorn squash stuffed with a vegan pine nut risotto

Alex Wilkie
Alex Wilkie

Serves 4

Pardon me for being judgmental, but stuffing a duck inside a turkey is a crime.

Stuffing a vegetable with risotto I can get behind.

This squash is stuffed with a vegan pine nut risotto. There's a bit of work involved, but I think it's worth the effort because your vegan friends usually have to make do with side dishes, or bring their own tofurkey!

Going the distance with this dish is a seasonal kindness. If you're just doing the vegetarian thing, then feel free to replace the vegan parmesan with the real thing, or a good aged cheddar.

For the squash

2 acorn squash

Salt and pepper to taste

¼ tsp red pepper flakes

2 tablespoons of olive oil

Heat the oven to 400 F and prepare the squash. Cut the squash in half and scrape out the seeds. Cut a small sliver from the bottom of each squash half to create a stable surface for the "bowl." I usually choose smallish squash for this dish. Rub the squash halves inside and out with olive oil, then sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. A few red pepper flakes at this stage adds a little base heat. Cook until the squash is gorgeous and caramelized. Set aside.

For the pine nut butter

1 cup pine nuts

2 tablespoons high quality buttery olive oil

¼ cup of cold water

Salt to taste

Toast the pine nuts in the oven for four minutes at 320 until hot but not yet browned — if they colour, it will make your risotto murky. Set a few of these aside as garnish.

Put the rest of the pine nuts into a high-powered blender and blend with the rest of the ingredients until very smooth, stopping occasionally to scrape down the sides of the blender if needed. Season with salt. Set this aside too.

Vegan parmesan

3/4 cup raw cashews

3 Tbsp nutritional yeast

1 tsp sea salt

1/4 tsp garlic powder

Add all ingredients to a food processor and mix/pulse until a fine meal is achieved. Store in the refrigerator to keep fresh. Lasts for several weeks.

For the risotto

2 tablespoons normal quality olive oil

2 small white onions

1 cup of arborio rice

750 g vegetable stock

Salt

¼ cup of "vegan parm"

Finely dice the shallots. Put the stock into a pan and bring to a simmer. Heat the olive oil in a small pan and then gently sweat the shallots until just soft, but not coloured. Add the rice and stir. Add 3 ladles of stock and cook, stirring constantly. When the stock has been absorbed, add another ladle of stock whilst continuing to stir. Continue this process, adding stock each time it is absorbed, until the rice is just cooked and the texture is like that of thick cream. Stir in 2-3 tablespoons of the pine nut butter and continue stirring until thick and creamy.

Quickly transfer to the acorn squash. Garnish with the pine nuts, herbs, sun-dried tomatoes set aside earlier and vegan parmesan. Serve immediately.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador