Alternative Christmas Dinner: Squirrel or fish?

Chef Paul Wedgwood. Picture: Jane Barlow
Chef Paul Wedgwood. Picture: Jane Barlow
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Sick of turkey and all the trimmings? Then why not try some of the delicious alternatives that our top chefs will be having

Tree, tinsel and, of course, squirrel with all the trimmings.

Or how about Christmas pud, soufflé style?

If the last thing you can stomach is yet another Christmas dinner featuring another boring turkey, dried up chipolatas, nasty stuffing and lumpy gravy, never fear.

For some of the best chefs around have rushed to the

rescue with their individual spin on the traditional Christmas dinner.

There’s everything from squirrel – yes, squirrel – served with chorizo couscous to a deceptively easy home cured side of salmon, Christmas pud soufflé and mouth-watering venison.

So get ready to stuff the turkey once and for all, and set the table for a Christmas dinner this time around that definitely dares to be different.

Paul Wedgwood, Wedgwood The Restaurant, Canongate

Chef Paul Wedgwood enjoys making the most of nature’s produce and often forages for herbs and fungi to use in his dishes. Here he offers up perhaps the most unusual Christmas dinner of them all.

Squirrel, chorizo couscous, fried sprouts and squash puree (Serves four)

Ingredients

2 squirrels jointed and loins removed and reserved (your game dealer should do this for you – available at Edinburgh’s farmers’ market)

Half a butternut squash – peeled and diced 2cm cube

10 sprouts – blanched and refreshed

400g couscous

200g chorizo diced into 1cm cubes

20 slices of smoked pancetta

Butter

Boiling salted water

Method

Remove the meat from the bone of the back legs, trimming as much sinew as possible and place in a food processor with a good pinch of salt and pepper, add the squirrel offal from the carcass and blend until a smooth paste is achieved.

Lay out five slices of smoked pancetta, each slice slightly overlapping the last and spread quarter leg meat paste evenly over the pancetta.

Place the squirrel loin on the edge of the pancetta and roll to make a sausage shape. Brown the pancetta all over in a hot pan, transfer to a baking tray and place in a preheated oven at 200C for around five minutes. Once cooked remove from heat and allow to rest.

Boil squash in salted water until tender, strain and allow to dry. Place in food processor with melted butter and blitz until smooth and silky, season to taste.

Add the couscous to 600ml boiling water, stir, cover and simmer for five minutes or until all the water has been absorbed. Add the chorizo to the couscous and a good knob of butter, separate grains and serve.

In a hot pan toss the blanched sprouts with butter until hot and starting to colour, serve immediately.

Perfect way to get the pâté started

Neil Forbes, Cafe St Honoré, Thistle Street North West Lane

Head chef Neil suggests getting Christmas dinner under way with a homemade pâté served with fresh salad leaves, saving the leftovers for a delicious Boxing Day platter dressed with chutneys, pickles and cornichons.

Pork and chicken liver pâté

(Serves 15 starter portions)

Ingredients

500g pork mince (shoulder is great)

300g chopped chicken livers

A few sage leaves

A handful of chopped parsley

100ml double cream

4 rashers of bacon, chopped

12 rashers of streaky bacon

A splash of brandy,

cognac or Madeira

Salt and pepper

Method

Line a terrine mould with cling film. Next, line the mould with the streaky bacon, allowing some to hang over the sides.

In a bowl, mix the chopped livers, mince, sage, parsley, cream, chopped bacon and a glug of brandy. Mix well using your hands and season with salt and pepper. Pack the mix into the prepared mould and fold the flaps of bacon over the top, and seal in with cling film.

Place in a deep oven dish of hot water and cover the whole tray and terrine with kitchen foil and cook at 180C until the core temperature is 65C.

Cool in the fridge and serve as required.

Lighten up pudding

Craig Sandle, The Pompadour by Galvin at the Caledonian Hotel

It’s not Christmas without the pud, but for those not keen on the traditional fruity dessert, head chef Craig, below, suggests a souffle with a less intense flavour and a light balance to the heavy main course.

Christmas pudding soufflé

(Makes six)

Ingredients

350g Christmas pudding

150g cold custard

200g egg whites

80g caster sugar

Butter

6 soufflé moulds (220ml)

Method

Butter your ramekins twice with soft butter then line with caster sugar. Beat the Christmas pudding and the custard together. If it’s still a bit chunky blend very lightly.

Make a light meringue by whipping the egg whites until they start to make a ribbon, and then slowly start to add the sugar until they come to soft peak. Don’t over-whip or the soufflé will not rise correctly.

Whisk quarter of the whites into the Christmas pudding mixture to loosen it then fold in the remaining whites. Spoon into the ramekins and bake in a pre-heated oven for 12 minutes at 190C.

I like my soufflés to have a runny centre, but if you want them to be fully cooked through, allow a further four minutes.

Venison loin to clip turkey’s wings

David Hand, A Room in Leith, Dock Place

Low fat, tasty and definitely not turkey, head chef David plumps for venison as a perfect alternative to the traditional bird at the Christmas

dinner table.

Roasted venison loin with chipolatas, duck fat roast potatoes, mustard creamed sprouts and Madeira gravy.

Ingredients

Venison loin portions (approx 150g each or one large piece to carve at the table)

Pork chipolatas

Par boiled potatoes

Brussels sprouts, cut in half and blanched in salted water.

Double cream

Wholegrain mustard

Beef stock

Madeira

Method

Preheat the oven to 180C, place a roasting tray in the oven with the duck fat.

When hot, place in the par boiled potatoes, ensuring they are well coated in the duck fat. Roast until golden, turning a couple of times. Cook the chipolatas and keep warm.

Heat a pan on a high heat and cook the venison to your own taste – the pinker the better. Place on a warm plate and allow the venison to rest for at least ten minutes, turning every couple of minutes.

Place the same pan back on the heat, add the sprouts and cook on a medium heat for a few minutes. Pour in the cream and the mustard. Bring to the boil and reduce the cream until slightly thickened – keep warm.

In a small sauce pan pour in the Madeira and reduce slightly. Add the beef stock, bring to the boil and reduce slightly again.

Cure any fish blues

Mark Greenaway, Restaurant Mark Greenaway, North Castle Street

For many of us, good quality Scottish smoked salmon is a rare treat – the real thing can be eye-wateringly expensive. Mark suggests curing your own side of salmon, a cheaper, easier alternative that keeps well in the fridge and can be serve in thin slices as a Christmas meal starter or on toasted bread as a late night snack.

“It’s currently on my festive menu with beetroot purée, brioche crouton and citrus salad,” says Mark, “but you can keep it simple by serving with crème fraîche and some nice toasted bread.

“If citrus isn’t your thing, you could try beetroot and vodka as a cure. The earthiness of the beetroot marries well with the vodka and natural sweetness of the salmon.

Citrus cured salmon

Ingredients

1 side of salmon

1 lemon

1 lime

1 orange

250g brown sugar

500g sea salt

Method

Blend all ingredients together including citrus peel. Spread over the side of salmon and wrap tight in cling film. Rest in fridge for three days. Wash off salt and citrus cure and slice thinly.

Shin for the long haul

David Haetzman, Kyloe, Rutland Hotel, Rutland Street

Trust the head chef at a steak restaurant to come up with a beefy treat for Christmas dinner. And his beef shin suggestion works just as well as a tasty hot starter or a hearty main.

“The beauty is all the hard work is done the day before, which lets the cook enjoy the big day as much as everyone else,” he says.

Start by asking your butcher from some trimmed beef shin. “This will need to be marinated the day before cooking in a good quality red wine,” says David. “In the restaurant we use garlic and thyme as well but you could add cloves, bay leaves or juniper berries to help those Christmassy flavours come through. Leave overnight.

“First thing next day, put the beef shin in a deep roasting tray and add some roughly chopped vegetables – onions, carrots, celery – and the red wine that you used for the marinade, plus all the spices, and pour over the beef. Cover with beef stock, tin foil and cook low and slow. We cook ours at 100C for 7-8 hours.

“Remove the beef shin from the liquid. Pass the liquid through a sieve and place in a pan and reduce by half.”

To serve as a main course, he suggests pulling the shin into large chunks to be reheated as required by adding it to the reduced sauce. Dish up with horseradish mashed potatoes and roasted root vegetables.

As a starter, strip the shin into finer strips and mix with a little reduced sauce. Roll into a sausage shape using cling film and allow to set in the refrigerator. When cold, slice into pieces. These can be tossed in breadcrumbs and deep fried for 2-3 minutes. Served with a puree such as celeriac, cauliflower or artichoke and sautéed wild mushrooms or with a dip.