We may have a month of lockdown to get through before we reach this year’s festive holiday, but we’re already thinking about our Christmas dinner.
Turkeys have been a mainstay for Christmas ever since they were popularised by King Edward VII in the 19th century. But it wasn’t until the 1950s that turkey became widely available and subsequently a staple on Christmas Day.
This year, turkey is expected to continue its centre-of-the-table reign with Waitrose reporting it has seen a 180% increase in turkey orders already.
Tesco is anticipating an increase in sales for turkey crowns this year, compared to whole birds, as festive gatherings will be smaller. In fact, it has already seen a 22% year-on-year increase in sales for turkey crowns.
When is the best time to buy a Christmas turkey?
While some may stick to the tradition of racing out to get a turkey at the very last minute (Waitrose reports its busiest shopping day in store last year was 23 December), those who like to plan ahead can rest assured that, while turkey sales are up, slots are more readily available for home deliveries in the week leading up to Christmas, too.
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Waitrose has trebled the amount of online slots it offers each week to 190,000 – but 107,000 of those slots are already booked for the week of 20-24 December.
Aldi’s fresh turkeys will be available to buy in store from 19 December, but those with freezer room can get a bird now. A spokesperson said: “Aldi’s core range and frozen turkeys are currently available, and fresh turkeys for Christmas will also be available to buy in store from 19 December.
“We will look to extend store opening hours for key Christmas trading days, ensuring that we can serve all our customers and that they can get everything they need for an amazing Christmas.”
Marks and Spencer has opened its pre-booking slots up now too, with pre-booked turkeys available to be collected from its stores in the lead up to Christmas.
Is it best to buy frozen or fresh turkeys?
While there’s no set date on when you should buy your turkey, you need to consider whether you will want a frozen or a fresh turkey.
Frozen turkeys can be bought ahead and stored for weeks in advance – but you will need to make sure you have enough freezer space.
Fresh turkeys can be bought a few days before Christmas and stored in the fridge. So if you don’t have much freezer space, booking in a slot to pick up a fresh turkey a few days before Christmas could be the way to go.
This year, you’ll also need to consider how much social contact you want to have while you do your Christmas grocery shopping. If you’re vulnerable or have been isolating, the week leading up to Christmas is often the busiest for supermarkets, so it might make sense to place an order online.
What can I cook as an alternative to a turkey?
According to the Tesco report, 52% of Brits pick a turkey as the centrepiece for their Christmas dinner. A further 9% opt for chicken, 6% like beef, 4% choose lamb and 7% opt for a vegetarian or vegan alternative.
If you want to cook a turkey but can’t get your hands on one this year, Stuart Ralston, chef and owner of Aizle and Noto in Edinburgh, suggests buying a guinea fowl. “It’s a little more exciting than chicken and has more depth of flavour. The legs are a much darker meat and have a robust flavour,” he explains.
For vegetarians looking for a sumptuous alternative, Martin Hollis, executive chef of The Old Course Hotel, Golf Resort & Spa in St Andrews, recommends cooking a winter vegetable wellington complete with roasted root vegetables, sprouts and chestnuts bound in a spiced pumpkin puree, baked in puff pastry. Serve it with braised rice, kale and toasted seeds.
Hollis adds that if you’re on a budget this year, consider the amount of meals your protein main will provide for, as it could be cheaper to buy a whole turkey, rather than a crown, in the long run.
Ralston adds that if you are keeping Christmas dinner simple you could opt for, “a small turkey crown, some roast potatoes, carrots and parsnips with some redcurrant jam and gravy. All these things and any leftovers can be used the next day as a sausage roll filler.”