A feast at the end of the year is a very old European tradition, going back to the days before Christmas was celebrated. This holiday was often known as Yule. It has generally been replaced with Christmas, which also traditionally includes a feast.
It was common to welcome the New Year with a feast as well.
These days, people are taught to fear their food. Fat from healthy animals, one of the most vital and nutrient-rich foods we can eat, has been demonized and blamed for heart disease, and almost every other chronic disease known to humanity. This is just not true. People ate foods rich in animal fat during eras where heart disease, cancer, and most other modern diseases were unknown.
Yet the propaganda has been so effective that many people do not even know which foods were the traditional centerpieces of the holiday feast, and have never tasted them.
Certainly, skinless, boneless chicken breast, or skinless, boneless turkey breast, from birds fed GMO soy and GMO corn, were never the center of the holiday feast. Neither were vegetarian concoctions such as soy substitutes for meat, laden with chemicals and flavor enhancers.
The traditional centerpiece of the European and American holiday feast was a big grassfed roast, or pastured roast, or pastured bird, roasted whole with its skin intact.
It is time to put the fear aside, and enjoy the rich, traditional bounty of the holiday. You do not have to restrict yourself to lean factory meats devoid of taste and nutrition. We can still enjoy the feasting traditions of our ancestors and the many health benefits of grassfed and pastured meats.
Traditional Foods for the Feast
Prime Rib Roast
This roast, grassfed until the mid-twentieth century, is a magnificent centerpiece for any holiday feast. Cut from the chine area of the steer, the most prized traditional cut, sometimes reserved for heroes, it is a magnificent sight. Resting on a natural rack of its own bones, covered by a thick mantle of its own healthy fat, it produces instant hunger when brought to the table.
Prime rib has a unique taste of its own, that no other beef or meat shares. It is a truly wonderful taste, enhanced by being roasted on the bone, enriched by the melting fat that bastes the meat as the roasting proceeds. The natural fat cap helps keep the meat moist and tender, while lending a magnificent flavor.
It is an old tradition to roast vegetables in the same pan as the prime rib. The vegetables caramelize in the flavorful fat that melts from the roast, developing a depth of flavor that must be tasted to be believed, turning crusty on the outside while remaining tender on the inside. Organic potatoes reach their height of perfection when roasted this way, which also adds scrumptious flavors to peeled and sliced carrots and onion wedges. A traditional grassfed prime rib roasted with vegetables in this manner is perhaps our favorite holiday meal, which we have at least once every holiday season. You can see a photo of one of our holiday prime ribs above.
Roast Tenderloin of Beef
A whole tenderloin of beef is another holiday choice for a special meal. Grassfed tenderloin, in particular, has a wonderful flavor. Tenderloin is naturally lean, and traditional preparations add fat to it in many different ways. It often had slivers of bacon inserted in the meat, a process called larding, that used a special needle. It was often wrapped in pork fat, or beef kidney fat. It was often marinated in oil with herbs. Many times, it was coated with large amounts of butter and basted as it roasted.
Yet our favorite method of cooking this magnificent, luxury cut is to cook it in a rich pastry, made with huge amounts of butter, known as Beef Wellington. The meat is coated with a mixture of finely chopped mushrooms and onions, sautéed in butter until they have shrunk and caramelized, which greatly intensifies their flavor. The coated meat is than wrapped in butter-rich puff pastry, and roasted to tender, flavorful, perfection.
The smell of the roasting grassfed meat, butter, and mushrooms makes you so hungry, and the sight of the wonderfully browned pastry as it is carried to the table is something to behold. The combination of the tender grassfed meat, sautéed mushroom coating, and buttery pastry is wonderful beyond my ability to describe it.
Roast Rack of Lamb
The rack of lamb is cut from the chine portion of the lamb, traditionally the most valuable and cherished cut. This cut is also a great choice for a holiday feast. Many people, especially in the U.S., think they do not like lamb, but that is only because they have not had quality grassfed lamb, from a traditional meat breed, which has a mild yet wonderful taste, especially when served rare to medium rare.
A rack of lamb has been prized in Europe as a holiday feast for a very long time, and we have learned how to enjoy this tradition as well.
Racks of lamb are often “Frenched,” which usually means that all the fat is trimmed off. I do not recommend this, as the fat is crucial to a magnificent roast. Sometimes during the holidays you will come across a “crown rack of lamb,” which is cut in such a way that it is almost guaranteed to come out overcooked. I do not recommend this either. Most American butchers will cut a rack of lamb between each bone, to make it easy to carve into individual chops once roasted. I do not recommend this either, as it almost always results in an overcooked lamb that has lost far too much of its natural juices and flavor.
The rack of lamb in our holiday feast rests on a natural rack of its own bones, retains a thick crown of its own magnificent fat, and is uncut and whole—no cuts between each chop to let the flavor out. It roasts quickly at a high heat, with organic potatoes and other vegetables in the pan, caramelizing in the melting fat, and taking on a wonderful, crusty flavor and texture. The smell of this cut as it roasts is almost as good as the taste when it is finally served. It is important to serve lamb hot, and not let it get lukewarm or cold. But the flavor of a true grassfed lamb, from a traditional meat breed, is magnificent.
No article about holiday feasts in winter can be complete without at least a mention of roast goose, which was one of the favorite Christmas meals in Europe for many centuries. In fact, having a roast goose for Christmas was so important that many employment contracts provided that the employer would give the employee a fat goose at Christmas time—it was that important.
Goose is not commonly made these days, and is a bit tricky to get right, but when you get it right, it is something very special. The plentiful, crisp skin is in a league of its own, being an incredibly satisfying mouthful, with a wonderful texture and flavor. The tender dark meat has a great depth of flavor which sets off the crisp skin perfectly. Any traditional holiday goose will include a delicious stuffing, often rich with apples, which go perfectly with the goose meat. And the traditional gravy, flavored by the rich, caramelized drippings, is something special, a symphony of flavors that enhance the stuffing, the skin, and the flavorful meat.
The goose gives off a lot of fat when roasting, so much fat that it must be carefully drained at various times during the roasting. Traditionally, this fat was saved, and used for cooking, and for healing. I have saved goose fat in this matter, and it is one of my favorite fats to cook with.
There are many other traditional centerpieces for the holiday meal, including hams (both cured and fresh), duck, capon, turkey, leg of lamb, rib roast of pork, roast pork loin, roasted beef strip loin, roast saddle of lamb, and others. All of them are roasted whole, with plenty of their own fat, and usually roasted on the bone. Our ancestors knew how to celebrate with food!
My first cookbook, Tender Grassfed Meat, contains many recipes for prime rib and rack of lamb, and the best grassfed Beef Wellington I have ever tasted.
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