WHICH bird will you choose to grace your Christmas table this year?
Many people automatically plump for turkey and if you are going to be entertaining a large gathering then it is probably your best option.
A traditional goose will also fit the bill and a cockerel, slow roasted and stuffed, makes a really delicious meal.
If there will only be a few of you sitting round the table, you could try a succulent loin of venison perfumed with juniper.
Whichever piece of game or poultry you select, you will have to work out how much you are going to need. People often overestimate the size of their guests' appetites and purchase much more than they need. Buying a huge bird that won't fit in your oven and takes forever to cook will only add to the stress in the kitchen on Christmas Day.
Here are a few of my tips to help you stay calm and in control as you prepare the most important feast of the year.
1. First of all decide what you are going to eat and place your order with your butcher as early as possible. Allow about four to six ounces of meat per person, not counting the bones, and add a little extra for shrinkage and extra portions.
2. Check your oven is big enough to accommodate the amount of meat you have purchased and remember to allow space for other items such as stuffings and roast potatoes and vegetables. If you think it won't fit in, ask the butcher to bone the bird for you; that will give you more room to play with.
3. If you are putting stuffing into the cavity of the bird be sure to wrap the stuffing mixture in a piece of muslin or cheesecloth first.
4. If you are using a frozen bird you must allow plenty of time for it to thaw and be absolutely certain it has defrosted completely and that there are no ice particles left inside.
5. Before preparing the bird for cooking, boil up a kettle of water and scald the bird all over, including inside the cavity. This will keep the bird moist during the cooking process. Pat the bird dry with kitchen paper, season it and apply the stuffing. Place the bird on top of a bed of root vegetables or a wire rack and pour over a little cooking oil. Cover with aluminium foil, but make sure it does not touch the bird.
Preheat the oven to 400 F or gas mark 7 and place the bird at the bottom of the oven. Reduce the heat to 325 F, gas mark 5, and roast slowly for two hours. Turn the heat up to 350 F, gas mark 6, and baste every 15 minutes. Remove the foil to brown the bird one hour before the cooking time is finished.
A stuffed bird weighing 12-14 pounds will need four to five hours of cooking time depending on the type of oven. An unstuffed bird of the same weight will need only three to four hours. If the bird weighs 16-18 pounds, a stuffed one will need five to six hours and an unstuffed one four to five hours. Add an extra half an hour for every further two pounds of weight.
If you are butter baking, tuck the butter under the skin on the breast to keep it moist.
Allow the cooked bird to rest for 20 minutes before you start to carve and don't forget to serve it with cranberry sauce.
Enjoy a happy, food-filled Christmas.