What size of bird (turkey) should you buy for you and your guests? Aim on 1 pound of turkey for each adult guest (1-1/2 if you’re aiming to have leftovers). Many people just go ahead and buy a great behemoth of a bird, regardless of this calculation – it’s no wonder they get sick of the sight of the thing by day two! (A simple ‘What size turkey to buy’ chart is posted at the end of this article for quick reference).
If you only have a small group to cater for, you may like to consider an alternative. Nowadays you can buy just a ‘turkey crown’ – this is literally just the turkey breast meat, so if you don’t like the brown meat anyway, this may suit you better. Disadvantages: You’re unlikely to find it complete with giblets so you won’t easily be able to make your own turkey stock for the gravy (normally well worth doing), it won’t look as impressive if you usually take the bird to the table to carve (!) and it won’t cook in the same way. Nevertheless, it’s a simpler option for a smaller family get together.
Steering away from turkey entirely, did you know that a growing number of people in the UK are opting for chicken on Christmas Day? There is absolutely no reason why you can’t still do all the traditional trimmings like ‘pigs in blankets’ to serve alongside the humble chicken.
If your group is too big for a single chicken but too small to warrant an entire turkey, there is a kind of half-way-house option of a capon. A capon is basically a castrated cockerel, the meat of which is succulent and tender. They are, unfortunately, hard to find and big poultry producers use hormones to induce caponization (never something I’m happy with). If you’re lucky enough to find a small supplier, and like me you’re bothered by hormones in food, check whether the bird has been surgically or chemically castrated. You may find capons available through small, quality butchers or farm shops.
If you pick the ‘chicken option’ don’t feel you are cheating your family by the way. I, for one, far prefer the flavour of chicken to the rather bland and often dry turkey.
Moving away from chicken and turkey, on continental Europe goose is the traditional choice in many countries. It’s moist, tasty and has the added advantage of rendering a supply of fat to use for delicious roast potatoes and veggies. See chef Gordon Ramsay’s roast goose recipe here. (Cook the goose on a raised rack in the roasting tin to keep it out of the fat …not mentioned in this recipe).
Those are the most obvious bird alternatives for your Christmas meal. No rule book says, however, that you need a bird at all. A tasty roast of beef or pork would be very nice and judging by the number of hits I’ve been getting to this site lately for ham cooked in coke, I’d say that if that takes your fancy then you’d be in good company!
If you’re going down the turkey route, here is a quick reference chart to tell you what size turkey you’ll need to buy:
5 lb / 2.25 kg serves 4 – 6
8 lb / 3.6 kg serves 6 – 8
10-12 lb / 4.5 – 5.6 kg serves 10 – 12
20 lb / 9 kg serves 12 – 15