To turkey or not to turkey? Paul Flynn’s annual Christmas dinner debate

The argument rages on in the Flynn household, and chef Paul loses the battle, again

The turkey conversation usually starts in November – my capitulation comes in early December. Photograph: Getty

The turkey conversation usually starts in November – my capitulation comes in early December. Photograph: Getty

 

“I don’t want to do turkey this year,” I mumbled. Immediately I got “the look” from everybody. Even the dog stared at me witheringly.

Into the silence, I blurted, “I’m sick of it, we’ve had it for the past four years, I need a break!”

So began my yearly plea to my family to look beyond the bird. Honestly, I really don’t know why I bother; I’m always beaten down.

I dream of a glorious beef Wellington; golden, regal and glistening. A couple of discreet accompaniments would do alongside it. Okay, a few sprouts because I love them. Crisp and garlicky roast potatoes and a generous blob of Bearnaise sauce. That’s a special dinner in my view. There would be complications, of course, with such a dinner, aside from the fact that everyone would be cross with me for not doing that cursed turkey. How do you cook the beef to everyone’s liking? Either way, I figure I’m doomed.

We’ve tried duck and goose in the past. The goose was a scrawny disaster, plummeting me into a vile mood for the rest of the day

We’ve tried duck and goose in the past; they seemed right for a smaller crowd. The duck went well; at least, there were no complaints to my face. The goose, however, was a scrawny disaster, plummeting me into a vile mood for the rest of the day.

I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m a succumber. Google defines it thus: “to give way in the face of overwhelming force.” That’s about right.

The problem is that I’m torn. It’s not just about the turkey for me, it’s the sheer volume of food. In the Tannery Cookery School, I dispense supposedly sage advice on how to cook for larger crowds. Restraint, I insist, is the key to success.

The cook should not feel so stressed out that he or she feels compelled to retreat to the shed with a bottle of gin and a feed of Valium sandwiches.

I’m told by my family that I’m missing the point of Christmas, that it is all about feasting, excess and celebration. Victor Meldrew has nothing on me these days.

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They have a point, of course, even if I certainly wouldn’t admit it. It is my fault that our family is obsessed by food. I chose this life and it has become ingrained in theirs.

We plan Christmas with military precision. I am the ultimate list maker, compiling for every eventuality. That turkey conversation usually starts in November – my capitulation comes in early December.

We will be 12 for Christmas dinner this year again, as happily the cousins are coming over from Zurich. This has a big impact on turkeygate – and on the ham.

Even in the so-called grim years, as the girls refer to our turkey-free Christmases, the thing I missed the most was the ham. I can taste its sugary, spiced, salty goodness even as I stab the keyboard with my finger while writing this piece. It makes the turkey better: less bland, more succulent. It’s richer, more comforting than the thin, mean-tasting turkey.

It’s akin to a couple you know, where you adore one of them and tolerate the other. In truth the absence of ham inevitably leads me to succumb to all the demands.

There is one thing about turkey that I do love, and that is the stuffing. People frequently ask in my classes if I put my stuffing inside the bird. The answer is in the word, I reply, as I curl my lips around the answer, barely suppressing my frustration. Stuffing is one of the great joys of Christmas, and the juices from the turkey are crucial for the perfect result. Put the excess in foil, by all means, but stuff the turkey, for heaven’s sake; it’s the only hope it has.

So this year I’m going the whole hog. I have ordered a porchetta from Pat Whelan of James Whelan Butchers for tomorrow night. We had porchetta last year too, and it was spectacular.

It’s hectic fun, but, like many others, we collapse into a food coma at an unseemly early hour, rooted to RTÉ and some crowd-pleasing nostalgia

Christmas Eve is a huge day in the Tannery, with lots of regulars welcoming their children back from around the world. It can be difficult to get ready for our own home that evening, but we always manage.

The gang all go to Mass down in Fews, the homeplace. I get the house ready: soft lighting, roaring fire, lots of little nibbles, appropriate music. I am a stickler for those details. The Flynn hygge is full on.

Christmas in our house is a noisy affair. We have lucky children. It’s never far from me that others aren’t so lucky.

It’s hectic fun, but, like many others, we collapse into a food coma at an unseemly early hour, rooted to RTÉ and some crowd-pleasing nostalgia.

St Stephen’s Day is a relief – there’s no work; we go to the beach, go for a sneaky pint, then come back and eat the leftovers. The next day is back to business – it’s all over; we are back to feeding people. It’s what we do.

Sometimes it occurs to me that it all goes by in such a whirl that I have a lingering sense of regret. The build-up is so huge, then the few days themselves so fleeting. I appreciate the people around our Christmas table. It’s a lot of fuss, but it’s a special time.

At the end of every Christmas lunch, Golly (Granny), with Dada (Grandad) by her side, always announces: “Now lads, go mbeirimíd beo ar an ám seo arís.”

We all raise our glasses.

It’s just one of the many things that make Christmas special.

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