Glittering dish set to ruffle feathers in an age of austerity

GOLD has long been worshipped – notably associated with kings at this festive season – but this year, the gilded turkey will, it seems, be gracing dinner tables.

Whether the height of Christmas chic, or a shining metaphor for all that is of questionable taste, golden-coated turkeys look set to be the latest culinary craze.

Aesthetic considerations aside, a gilded turkey might not be as alarming as it first sounds. Gold is edible and largely harmless and is a popular inclusion in drinks in Britain and on the Continent, albeit in small flakes.

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Chefs with a flair for a particular kind of festive alchemy are already drooling at the prospect and BBC Food blogger and writer Stefan Gates says for those with a taste for flair, bling is the thing this Christmas.

"The gold costs about the same as a bottle of cheap Champagne," he says.

"So, yes, it's not cheap, but I think it's a small price to pay for a Christmas lunch that you'll never forget. Gold is perfectly safe to eat. It passes straight through you and doesn't taste of anything – other than pure magic.

"For maximum effect it's best to do this secretly and only reveal what you've done when the turkey hits the table.

"It takes about 15 minutes to gild the bird. You need a booklet of gold at least 23ct or above, and you can get it cheaply from retail or online art shops – or expensively from edible gold leaf suppliers. It usually comes in booklets of 25 x leaves in either loose leaf (which works best) or transfer leaf (where the leaf sits on a piece of paper).

"One booklet is just enough to do a 4kg/8lb 11oz bird if you manage to do it without too much wastage.

"If you've got loose gold leaf , the technique I've developed is to hold the booklet firmly so the leaves don't all slip out (it's so thin that it floats away very easily, even on your own breath), then open each page gently and press the gold from the booklet straight onto the bird.

"Use a dry brush to dab it into place if you need to, around legs and crevices. It takes a couple of goes to get right, but then it's dead easy.

"Transfer gold leaf is great, you just need to press it against the slightly fatty skin and the gold should come away from the paper, but can give a slightly patchy effect, rather than the appearance of pure golden turkey."

Gold flake was first used by the nobility in Medieval Europe as a decoration in food and drinks, in the form of leaf, flakes or dust, either to demonstrate the host's wealth or in the belief that something that valuable and rare must be beneficial for one's health. Gold foil along with silver is sometimes used in South Asian sweets such as barrio. Danziger Goldwasser is a traditional German herbal liqueur, containing flakes of gold leaf, is produced in what is today Gdansk, Poland, and Schwabach, Germany. There are also some expensive cocktails which contain flakes of gold leaf.

However, since metallic gold is inert to all body chemistry, it adds no taste nor has it any other nutritional effect and leaves the body unaltered.

"I can see the attraction of the gold, but personally I think it is a bit daft," says Yorkshire chef Brian Turner, a man whose head is clearly not turned by this year's culinary fad.

"I'd much rather either have a bottle of champagne or advise people to put the equivalent amount of money in a charity box for their favourite cause in these hard times.

"Yorkshire folk are famous for being careful with their money and I think they'll see sense when it comes to cooking for the Christmas table as always."

Somehow after a year of massive public spending cuts and the prospect of more job losses in the New Year, a gilded turkey doesn't quite seem to fit with the age of austerity.

"If people want to put gold leaf on their turkeys then good luck to them," says three-times Michelin-starred chef Marco Pierre White, who was born in Leeds. "People have been using gold in cooking for years, especially in chocolate, to great effect.

"But the best dish is still traditional turkey on Christmas Day. I will be enjoying Honey Roast Ham on Boxing Day, turkey on December 25 and then a lovely roast goose on New Year's Day. The most important thing is that people enjoy themselves whatever they do over the season. We should also raise a glass to the great Bernard Matthews who played such an important role in making turkey – which was once expensive – so affordable to everyone. Happy Christmas everybody."