Time to Think Outside the Turkey

By Jan Mercker

Even the best cooks can get into a holiday cuisine rut. Why not try something a little different this year—whether you’re looking to shake things up in a major way or just spice up old standards?
While turkey is still king at Thanksgiving, some home cooks are getting away from the bird, while others are just looking to innovate a little while staying true to tradition.

Andrew Arguin, owner of the gourmet meat and wine market The Wine’ing Butcher in Ashburn, is seeing more people open to swapping the turkey out for something different for their holiday meal centerpiece.

One idea that’s gaining traction, Arguin said, is “flipping” Thanksgiving and Christmas: serving beef (often a Christmas tradition) for Thanksgiving and turkey for Christmas. Many of his customers are also checking out more experimental poultry like goose or duck—especially for Christmas.

Beef Wellington is an increasingly popular Thanksgiving and Christmas dish for non-turkey fans, he said. This beef tenderloin wrapped in puff pastry (usually with mushrooms and pâté or prosciutto) is sure to impress guests. Sound intimidating? Arguin’s got you covered—offering beef Wellington in family or mini sizes.

Another old-school, end-of-year favorite is the pork crown roast: a loin roast arranged in a circle with rib bones sticking up like a crown. This visually fascinating roast was huge a few decades ago and is making a comeback, Arguin said.

Whole suckling pigs are also trending, he says, particularly for Christmas and New Year’s—a reliable way to wow your guests.

Those who say it’s not a winter holiday without a turkey on the table can still take advantage of various ways to make the bird more interesting. Brined turkeys are popular, Arguin says, but take about 24 hours, and many home cooks don’t have the time, space or patience required. Flavor brining is one of the shop’s most popular services.

Spatchcocking (essentially butterflying a turkey) also is hot and allows folks to to cook their turkeys in around half the usual time. But it’s something less experienced cooks are often hesitant to take on. So if spatchcocking is calling your name but you’re a little shaky with a cleaver, Arguin and crew will take care of it for you, getting your bird split and ready for the oven.

“It’s a lot for people to do at home,” Arguin said. “People aren’t as intimate with their meats as they used to be.”

As far as sides go, traditional favorites like mashed potatoes are not going anywhere, but trends include lighter, fresher options like soups and salads. The Wine’ing Butcher’s fall salad, featuring apples, pears, cheese and candied almonds, is in high demand this time of year, as is their beloved butternut soup

Crispy Brussels sprouts are also a thing—and they’re a far cry from the mushy unpleasantness some of us (not-so-fondly) recall from our childhoods. Brussels are now so hot they’re on Arguin’s menu most of the year.

The showroom at The Wine'ing Butcher in Ashburn offers just the right wines to pair with your holiday meal, no matter the main entrée. (Photo by Douglas Graham)
The showroom at The Wine’ing Butcher in Ashburn offers just the right wines to pair with your holiday meal, no matter the main entrée.
(Photo by Douglas Graham)

In the Glass

In the beverage department, both Arguin and Jason Strzemienski, beverage buyer at Whole Foods Market in Ashburn, agree that pinot noir is where it’s at for Thanksgiving. It’s lighter body and minerality make it the perfect red to complement turkey.

Arguin is also a fan of dry rosé for the Thanksgiving table, and Strzemienski likes a dry Riesling or un-oaked chardonnay. With food and beer pairing on the rise, many Loudouners may be opting for great beer at the holiday table.

“There’s nothing like a really well-balanced American pale ale [for a holiday meal],” Strzemienski said. “The maltiness creates a sweetness and the hops balances it out.”

Imperial stouts can pair well with pecan pie, and a Belgian-style Saison can go nicely with pumpkin pie, he added.

Strzemienski also encourages folks to checkout the county’s burgeoning hard cider scene for a festive, old school holiday libation.

“If you think back to colonial times, that’s what they were having on the table.”

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