Skip the standard turkey this year and try a multi-bird roast. For the best Christmas lunch yet, find out how to cook a three-bird roast

Learn how to cook a three-bird roast to make your best Christmas lunch yet. Turkey can get a bit dull year on year, so surprise your family with this spectacular offering but leave them guessing which birds made it to the centre of the table. Find out about its history and learn how to avoid the dreaded dryness when you cook a three-bird roast.

For a roast fit for the monarchy with turkey, pheasant, grouse, partridge and roe deer tenderloin, read Christmas cooking: The Royal Roast.

QUERY: I have been promised, as a gift for Christmas, a multi-bird roast. I am intrigued and wonder what the history of this dish is and whether there is a knack to cook a three-bird roast successfully?
AM, by email

HOW TO COOK A THREE-BIRD ROAST

Multi-bird roasts are particularly popular at Christmas. A three-bird roast is often known as a royal roast or turducken – a play on the words turkey, duck and chicken – but some multi-bird roasts can stretch to eight birds which include a turkey, goose, duck, chicken, pheasant, partridge, pigeon and woodcock. Throughout the centuries there have been accounts of such extravagant dishes as the Yorkshire Christmas Pie served in the 18th century, which consisted of five different birds in pastry. A French chef from the same period produced his “roast without equal”, starting with a bustard and finishing 17 birds later with a garden warbler. Apparently, the smallest bird was supposed to be tiny enough to hold just an olive.

To cook a third-bird roast, the biggest problem is to ensure the turkey meat does not dry out. Smear the skin of the bird thickly with butter or goose fat, and cover with streaky bacon and a single layer of foil. It is advisable to baste regularly throughout the cooking time and use a meat probe to ensure the centre is cooked.