Chef shares cheap food swaps to ‘elevate’ your Christmas dinner

Chef shares cheap food swaps to ‘elevate’ your Christmas dinner


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Christmas dinner may look different for many households this year as food inflation, and climbing energy bills continue to stretch budgets. However, according to one chef, it doesn’t have to be completely on the back burner. While tucking into a large, fresh turkey may not be possible, chef Mickael, Michelin-star trained private chef at HOMETAINMENT explained that focusing on the more affordable elements of your festive meal is the best way to cut costs. He shared some “inexpensive” alternatives to traditional ingredients that will “elevate” your cooking.

Avoid whole turkeys

While a decadent turkey is often the epitome of Christmas dinner, chef Mickael noted that it’s “not the most practical option” if you’re on a tight budget.

He said: “We tend to cook more than we actually need, so to avoid waste (unless you’ll be using the leftovers for other meals) try going for turkey thighs instead. You can still have stuffing and season the thighs with your usual herbs and garnishing, but it’ll be much cheaper.”

When it comes to sourcing the meat, Mickael warned against choosing the most low-cost option as bad quality can “make or break the Christmas dinner”.

He said: “Turkey thigh joint comes in at much cheaper and can easily be sourced from your local butchers which offer better quality and value than the supermarket.”

According to the HOMETAINMENT chef, one turkey thigh can feed up to four people, though he recommended going for two to make sure there’s enough.

If buying more than one cut of meat is not within your budget, try bulking up the dinner using more affordable ingredients like vegetables and stuffing.

Buy loose vegetables

Mickael said: “Christmas is all about the trimmings, and you can bulk up most of the plate with vegetables. Not only are they inexpensive, but with the right seasoning, they can elevate a dish.”

He added that buying ready-prepared vegetable trays or packets is much more expensive than purchasing loose produce, and you will “get more for your money”.

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Most pre-packaged vegetable dishes come at around £2.30 from a supermarket, often serving just one to two people. Already, this will cost you almost £5 to feed four people – all the while you can pick up better alternatives from your local grocer.

According to Mickael, five loose potatoes cost around £1 (21p each), four carrots just 28p (7p each), and four parsnips roughly 80p (19p each) – and that’s double the quantity you’d get in prepackaged bags.

Buy cheap wine

Alcohol is another expense that can quickly drive up the cost of a Christmas dinner, with many people opting for more expensive bottles of wine as a festive treat. 

Chef Mickael said: “You don’t have to buy expensive wine, even at Christmas. If you’re drinking the wine, a really fun trick is to buy a cheaper bottle of wine and blend it to enhance the flavour.”

Though it may sound crazy, Mickael explained that blending the wine (also known as hyper-decanting) allows it to breathe.

It’s as simple as pouring the budget wine into a blender and blitzing it for around 30 seconds. Your wine will be rendered “mellower and fruitier” while tasting a whole lot more expensive.

According to Mickael, the cheapest bottle are those that can be used for drinking and making gravy.

He recommends taking a look around speciality wine shops as they have a great selection, and always have offers on. 

Shop in advance

Preparation goes a long way when it comes to Christmas dinner, particularly in those first weeks of December when the demand for ingredients soars.

The Michelin-star chef said: “The further you shop in advance, the cheaper you can get those Christmas essentials for. Naturally, as demand for items increases, so does the price, so shopping one or two months in advance is always advisable!”

This is generally safe to do as most ingredients can be easily defrosted in the fridge – particularly meat joints. Mickael recommended defrosting meat 24 hours prior to cooking, adding that the best way to improve the flavour is to brine the meat with water, lemon, and sage beforehand. 

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