Merry Meats

It’s the most bountiful time of the year

Roast duck

The gathering of family members around the holiday table is akin to a pack of predators gathered around a fresh kill—there’s a constant chorus of blood, bones and satisfied groans. Whether roasted, seasoned, sliced or served whole with all the trimmings, ’tis the season for big hunks of meat. The list of roast beasts best fit for the holiday table includes classic preparations, as well as more modern interpretations of oven-bound animals—bone-in and bone-out.

Topping the list of quintessential holiday meats is undoubtedly the glorious ham, which is equally desirable as a fresh ham or the honey-glazed, cured variety. Even those tin-can hams have a place at the table this time of year, with the iconic Dak Premium Ham 16-ounce ham-shaped can making a wonderful stocking-stuffer.

Roast pork

But if your pork preference is the unadulterated version, go with a fresh ham, which is basically roasted pork—the same cut used in cured ham, only without the cure. This version of ham is usually sold with skin on, which offers the double gift of pork cracklings to go with the juicy, roasted cut. The classic rosemary, garlic and lemon application suits this ham well, though it might be more fun to go the sticky route with a recipe featuring either a maple-mustard or a soy sauce glaze. Fresh ham tends to go for about $3 per pound and while most butchers have fresh ham on hand, it’s best to place your order about a week ahead of your party.

Lamb is another holiday regular in the roaster, with multiple cuts led to the slaughter as the celebratory roast on the holiday table. Whether it’s the leg or the more eye-pleasing crown roast, lamb tastes of the earth—with the gaminess of a beast that spends most of its time with its snout to the ground. The price-per-pound for a leg of lamb fluctuates wildly, according to local butchers, with the price currently hovering at about $6 per pound. As for the crown roast, which is lamb racks tied together end-to-end into the shape of a crown, many butchers will do the work of assembly for you. Either a leg or a rack, thyme, rosemary and even some coriander make perfect barn-mates.

Leg of lamb

For those who don’t eat pork and can’t stomach lamb, beef is a beautiful, classic fall back option. London broil, which gets unwarranted flak for its perceived lack of flavor, stands up well to any preparation and can be sliced in a way that really stretches out it’s approximately $10 per-pound price tag for the sirloin cut. But this is the holidays—the time of year when meat is more than food, it’s an event. With this in mind, order a bone-in standing prime rib roast—an expensive cut at about $20 per pound from a butcher, gifting this cut to your host will send all the right meat messages.

For a fancier preparation, try your hand at mastering beef Wellington, which sees a beef tenderloin coated with pâté and duxelles—a finely chopped mix of mushrooms and herbs—before it’s wrapped in puff pastry.

Cornish game hens

The planet’s plethora of birds also swoop in for the holiday meal. The classic roast chicken—basically the mini version of that Thanksgiving turkey you’re still having nightmares about overcooking—flocks together perfectly with all of the traditional holiday herbs, including rosemary, sage and thyme. And an even tinier bird is the downright adorable cornish game hen. These itty-bitty birds are obviously tender and, if you can believe, have an even more reserved flavor than full-sized chickens. And when it comes to plating, few meals are as instantly eye-catching as each guests’ own personal bird.

And finally, when chicken gets boring and turkey’s been done, go for the dark and fatty option with a whole roasted duck. At about $2 or $3 per pound, these water fowls can be specially ordered from a butcher or from a farm specializing in duck. There are various methods of prep with duck, including orange or blueberry, but perhaps most fitting this holiday season is the more uncommon and singular raspberry duck. With a hint of cinnamon and a tangy raspberry sauce, this particular preparation is powerful enough to make everyone forget that you neglected to bring any gifts other than various cuts of meat.

Christmastime is very much a meat-forward holiday. And that’s a good thing—something has to soak up all that eggnog.

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Steve Mosco
Steve Mosco, the former editor-in-chief at Anton Media Group, is a columnist for Long Island Weekly's food and sports sections. He fancies himself a tastemaker, food influencer and king of all eaters.

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