Sourcing the perfect bird

When I first moved to St Albans we lived on Catherine Street, and on Christmas Eve first thing in the morning, there was a long queue outside the tiny butcher’s shop opposite. Everyone was there to collect their Christmas turkey, and the queue continued until into the afternoon. It was one of the first indications for me that people in St Albans are serious about their food!

The reason that so many people want to buy their turkey from A & C Meats (35 Catherine Street) is that the turkeys are free range Golden Promise (Norfolk bronze or white), and have been raised well and have excellent flavour. The same turkeys are bought by the United States Embassy for their Thanksgiving meal, which has to be an endorsement; the Americans eat far more turkey than we do.

If you are one of the many regular customers who go to A&C Meats for your Christmas turkey, then make a note that the last day for ordering your turkey is Saturday 11 December. For geese, it is Friday 10 December.

Carl and his team will be up at 3am on Christmas Eve to get ready for their busiest day, and they will open the shop at 5.30am so everyone can collect their turkey. Last year they sold over 500 free range turkeys, as well as countless free range chickens, geese, ducks, and joints of beef, pork and lamb. At some point they start serving mulled wine to the queue! Carl is hoping that because Christmas Eve falls on a Friday this year the queue won’t be too bad. If you find yourself waiting for a while, at least you can remind yourself that you are part of a St Albans tradition!

We are lucky to have quite a few good local butchers in our local area. Jelley’s in Harpenden, Real Meat in Wheathampstead, JTB Butchers in Sandridge, Ellis’s in St Albans are just some that I know, and I am sure you will have a local favourite. If we want to keep their knowledge, experience, and good quality produce, then we have to use them, so do go in and ask what they are selling for Christmas. I often find that the prices are better than supermarkets, and the quality usually far better. You can ask them for advice on cooking times, and some even do recipe book loans. Don’t forget to pick up some chipolatas and bacon for making bacon rolls.

As a guideline for buying a turkey, plan for 500g meat on the bone per person; this should give you enough for Christmas Day and for essential Boxing day leftovers. Be aware that although your butcher will try to get your desired weight, all the birds are free range, so will rarely be the exact weight. For a goose, plan for 750g per person, as there are more bones. This can prove to be pretty pricey, so Carl from A & C Meats suggests goose breasts may be a good option, especially if cooking for one to four people.


If you would prefer someone else to do the cooking, can I suggest you try the Christmas lunch at the Abbey cafe? From Wednesday 8th December to Friday 17th December  (12-2.30, excluding weekends) you can go for a full three-course Christmas lunch, or simply choose to have a main course. You do need to book as it is very popular (01727 890221 or pop in to ask). The starters will be a homemade soup, mackerel, or a pear, stilton and walnut salad. This year the main courses will be served from a carvery (roast turkey or gammon) or you can choose goats cheese wellington or salmon. There will be lots of puds, cheese and mince pies too. Prices range from £10.20 for the main course to £19.95 for three courses including coffee, mints and mince pies, which is amazing value.

RECIPE Really easy cranberry sauce

This is so easy and quick and tastes fantastic with roast turkey and game pie and cold meats. You could make it now and pop it in a clean jar and it would last until Christmas day. It is so easy and people think you’ve gone to lots of effort.

225g fresh cranberries

100g sugar

30g butter

zest and juice of one satsuma

1. Put everything in a saucepan. Add 50 ml of water and bring to the boil.

2. Let it bubble away for about one minute then turn the heat down to a simmer.

3. Cook for about 10 minutes until the berries burst. Pour it into a clean jar or if you are making it a day or two before Christmas, straight into a serving dish. It will thicken as it cools.

Published in The Herts Advertiser, December 2010



About thelocalfoodie

Food writer for The Herts Advertiser.
This entry was posted in Herts Advertiser Articles. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Sourcing the perfect bird

  1. A Mum came up to me on Monday and said that she had read this column and that she and her husband are great fans of Ellis Butchers on Victoria Road. She told me that they had ordered some lamb for a tagine they were cooking that evening for a dinner party, but that they were going to be late picking it up after work. He said “no problem” and offered to put it next door at the newsagents, and they could pay them. It is this sort of customer service that makes people return again and again.

    TIP: Ellis’s only take cash so go prepared or pick up cash at the train station cash point beforehand.

  2. MichelleLake says:

    Willows farm also have a friendly & helpful butchers with a great range or meats. You can order all your christmas meat from them and they usually throw in some free bacon with the turkeys.

  3. Chip O Tool says:

    Great satsumas! What a good idea for adding a little twist to normally a boring sauce. Thanks foodie – Merry Christmas!

    P.S. Any tips on stuffing?

    • Its only boring when it comes out of a jar Chip so get your apron on and give it a go!

      Stuffing – best advice is don’t.

      You could put a few halved oranges and lemons inside it if you must so the flavours and moisture seep out into the bird but anything else will just add to the cooking time. Merry Christmas Ho Ho Ho

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