Subscriber OnlyFood

What’s in your Christmas shopping trolley? Irish chefs and food-lovers share their favourite products

From caviar and oysters to supermarket mince pies and Irish cider, foodies tell us about their favourite festive products and how to cook with them

Richie Castillo and Alex O’Neill, owners of Bahay

Feighcullen goose

Last year, chef Richie Castillo, his family and his partner, Alex O’Neill, spent Christmas at his grandmother’s house in Manilla in the Philippines. It was the first time they had spent Christmas there, and celebrating it outside in 30 degrees heat with his dad’s brothers and their families made it very special.

Richie’s grandmother is a notably good cook, and Christmas is a huge deal in the Philippines. Feasting starts in the morning and continues until late at night. The parade of dishes includes lechon, a whole roast pig, pancit (noodles), Filipino spaghetti, seafood lasagne, caldereta stew and grilled mussels.

This year, Richie will be spending Christmas with Alex, her parents and her sister. In the O’Neill household, the day kicks off with a traditional Christmas breakfast, followed with visits to neighbours down the road. For Christmas dinner, it will be Feighcullen goose, as that’s what Richie always cooks for the Castillo clan, who prefer it to turkey.

He removes the legs, which he confits in duck fat with orange zest, and roasts the crown on Christmas day. There’s a good chance that lechon will feature instead of ham, and there will be a whole roast celeriac and plenty of vegetable dishes for Alex’s dad and sister, as they are both vegetarians.

READ MORE

Aishling Moore, head chef, Goldie restaurant, Cork

Tom Durcan’s spiced beef

Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas in Cork without Tom Durcan’s spiced beef, which Aishling Moore cooks in medium-dry Stonewell cider. She always cooks it on Christmas Eve so that she can start the Christmas sandwiches a day early. She makes them with English mustard, piccalilli and lots of butter.

For the last few years Moore has been making a fish pie for dinner on Christmas Eve. They always have visitors on Christmas Eve, so the fish pie has become something they all look forward to. It’s a dish she says is relatively easy to pull together while she’s doing the Christmas Day preparation. She likes to do as much as she can in advance.

On Christmas morning, Sally Barnes’s smoked salmon is a favourite. Barnes is a master craftswoman, says Moore, and a couple of slices of her cold smoked salmon with some softly scrambled eggs on toast makes the perfect Christmas morning breakfast. She also loves Barnes’s smoked tuna.

When they’re finishing off their dinner with her mum’s Christmas pudding, a bottle of Killahora Apple Ice Wine is the perfect match.

Kevin Burke, head chef, Library Street restaurant, Dublin

Pheasant from Co Clare

All the favourites are rolled out on Christmas Day for Kevin Burke’s family. There’s a glass of Baileys to start the day and plenty more throughout. The past few Christmases have been spent with his wife Claire’s family in Kiltoom, Co Roscommon. Margo, Claire’s mother, does the majority of the planning and cooking. For starters, they have langoustines, in the classic prawn cocktail. They are quickly blanched in salted water, cracked open and lathered in Marie Rose sauce.

Kevin plays “a minor role” looking after the turkey and the pheasant. Pheasant for Christmas is a new tradition he and Claire started a few years ago. He gets it from Co Clare, roasts it whole, but is very careful not to overcook it as it’s a lean bird that can easily dry out. He says that it’s a great substitute for turkey for a small family. His pro tip is to add healthy amounts of port to the red cabbage, for a richer flavour and just to be properly festive about things.

Niall Davidson, head chef, Allta

Caviar

December 23rd is the last day of service at Niall Davidson’s Allta and the team starts the day with a glass of Champagne and a full Ulster fry, with the mandatory four types of fried bread.

At home, on Christmas morning, hot wheaten bread, made to Davidson’s grandmother’s recipe is a tradition, served with smoked salmon and lemon, and Champagne and caviar. In the past, their smoked salmon was a wild salmon caught by his dad earlier in the year and smoked, but lately this has become nearly impossible, so he buys Burren Smokehouse salmon.

Lunch starts with a shellfish platter, sourced from Union Hall in Cork: oysters, langoustines, crab claws, and sweet Mulroy Bay shrimp with a nice orange wine and more hot wheaten bread.

When it comes to dinner, it’s a traditional approach, with a free-range bronze turkey from Michael Brogan’s butcher shop in Athboy taking centre stage. He brines the turkey then roasts it slowly over a mirepoix trivet, with white wine and chipolatas wrapped in dry-cured bacon. It makes the best gravy, he says.

His organic vegetables come from McNally family farm: roast parsnips, heritage carrots and Brussels sprouts. Dessert is a steamed whisky sponge with custard spiked with Laphroaig whisky, a St John Bread and Wine classic.

Sophie and Robbie McCauley, owners, Homestead Cottage

Flaggy Shore Oysters

The year was a busy one for Sophie and Robbie McCauley, with the arrival of their second daughter and the opening of their new restaurant in Doolin, which has been getting a huge amount of love from the Michelin inspectors.

Their Christmases alternate between staying in Ireland, going to Sophie’s family in France and Robbie’s in Edinburgh. This year they’ll be in Edinburgh, which will be a full family affair with Robbie’s parents, two sisters and their families, a crowd of 14 in total. It will be a short trip as they are only closing the restaurant December 24th-26th.

Flaggy Shore oysters always feature on their Christmas Day. If they are in France with Sophie’s family, they always have them on Christmas morning alongside oysters from the Vendée, either with lemon or grilled, with a nice cool glass of Chablis. Sophie also likes to have snails with garlic parsley butter, which, Robbie jokes, has definitely taken a bit of getting used to by some of his family. And the menu also includes “the usual suspects” of smoked salmon and boiled prawns with good mayonnaise, lemon and brown bread.

Lily Ramirez-Foran, Picado Mexican food store and cookery school, Dublin

Mince pies

Christmas treats are a big thing in the Ramirez-Foran home and top of the list are mince pies. Alan, Lily’s husband, has convinced her that Christmas is not the same without a variety of mince pies, including SuperValu’s all-butter-pastry ones, Dunne’s Simply Better ones, M&S’s luxury mini pies and a few made by his mother.

Lily, from Monterrey in Mexico, had never tasted a mince pie until she moved to Ireland, so Alan’s mother taught her how to make them. Joan’s recipe is legendary, she says, with home-made pastry and mincemeat that is generously laced with Irish whiskey (it has to be Jameson in Joan’s recipe).

Lily loves entertaining, but with a busy shop to run, she stocks her pantry with time-saving items: a range of jams and chutneys from C&H Café, Irish cheeses, a few packets of the Isle of Crackers handmade range, a jar of Irish honey from Olly’s Farm, a tub of On the Pig’s Back pâté and Stonewell non-alcoholic cider.

From their own shop, she brings a few bags of lightly salted tortilla chips and a few jars of Irish-made Garnacha habanero sauce. With this armoury of food, she can pull a cheeseboard together in no time.

Tara Gartlan, Tara Gartlan Chocolates

Oakpark American-style smoked streaky bacon and Clonakilty gluten-free sausages

It will be five people for Christmas Day in Tara Gartlan’s home in Monaghan, with her parents, grandma and brother. Breakfast is a big thing, with scrambled eggs, Oakpark American-style smoked streaky bacon and Clonakilty gluten-free sausages.

Their feast starts at 6pm, with no starters or soup, as there is a large array of food. Turkey, roast and mashed potatoes, stuffing, roast carrots, parsnips, Brussels sprouts, cheesy cauliflower, green bean casserole, creamy cannellini beans with smoked pancetta and her grandma’s bread sauce all feature, with a gluten-free version for Tara and her brother, who are coeliac. This ensures there’s enough for continuing the celebrations on St Stephen’s Day, when more family members arrive.

Snacks and treats include Foods of Athenry’s Almond & Rosemary Toasts, which are ideal for dips; and SuperValu’s chicken liver pâté. Cheeses include Kylemore, Young Buck, Cáis na Tíre and Aldi’s goat cheese logs. O’Donnell’s crisps are another family favourite.

As you’d expect from one of the country’s top pastry chefs (now turned chocolatier), Gartlan is the one making the Christmas pudding and Christmas cake, with a few twists to her grandma’s recipe. Mince pies, brownies and cheesecake also feature, with some of her spectacular chocolates finishing things off.

Kwanghi Chan, commissioner general for Euro-Toques Ireland

Skeaganore Farm duck

Kwanghi Chan, a native of Donegal, alternates Christmases between his parent’s home there and his home in Dublin.

Christmas dinner is all about the best of Irish produce: Burren Smokehouse salmon, Skeaganore Farm duck, potatoes from Ballymakenny Farm and cheeses from Sheridan’s, in particular St Tola, Boyne Valley Blue and Gubbeen. There are eight people for Christmas day so it’s roast duck and roast turkey for the main event.

He keeps it traditional, with Brussels sprouts smothered in Irish butter, roast potatoes, honey-roasted carrots and parsnips, and a rich jus made from the roast meats. His pro tip is to marinate the duck the night before in a salt and spice dry mix, put it in a bag and leave it in the fridge to allow the flavour to do its thing.

On St Stephen’s Day, it’s always a barbecue buffet, with a slow-cooked beef rib roast on the Big Green Egg, along with large bowls of salads, vegetables, and desserts on the table so that everyone can help themselves. It’s relaxed and unfussy, he says.

He celebrates Chinese New Year in Hong Kong with his family, so it’s like having holiday dinners back to back.

Victory Nwabu-Ekeoma, founder, Bia! Zine

Honey, carrots and parsnips

Food magazine editor Victory Nwabu-Ekeoma celebrates Christmas dinner at home in Dundalk with her mum and two sisters. Her mum is a nurse, and usually works part of Christmas Day. However, on the years she’s off, they invite close family friends to celebrate with them.

Christmas is traditional, with turkey, roast potatoes and vegetables, and a side of jollof rice because, she says, “what’s a Nigerian dinner table without it?”

A must-buy product every Christmas for them is honey-roasted carrots and parsnips. It was a new thing for her family, an accidental frozen vegetable purchase one year that somehow stuck. They were three things that Victory hated while growing up – honey, carrots and parsnip – but now she loves them and it has become a family tradition.

Now they make them from scratch rather than going with the frozen option, and put a good sprinkle of chilli into the honey glaze on the vegetables, “because, in typical Nigerian fashion, we like things spicy”.

Paul and Máire Flynn, proprietors of The Tannery restaurant, Dungarvan

Smoked salmon from Sally Barnes or Burren Smokehouse

Sherry, port, sweet wine and the makings of a few cocktails are the seasonal special additions to the usual list of red and white wines in Paul and Máire Flynn’s household at Christmas. Máire’s sister, Emer, comes home each year from Zurich with her husband and four children, so there is a gang in the house for a week and plenty of celebrating to do.

Top-notch smoked salmon from Sally Barnes or Burren Smokehouse is a festive favourite, as well as The Tannery pate with Dún Bakery baguette, and charcuterie and assorted Irish cheeses from Fingal Ferguson. Last Christmas, Paul got one of Fingal’s much coveted knives (sign up for the newsletter if you want to have a chance of landing one).

They always have a spread on Christmas Eve after 6pm Mass, with granny and grandad, Paul’s parents, which is a special and unbreakable tradition. Paul rushes home from work to get the food ready, light the fire and get the lighting right. It’s all about setting the mood and getting every little detail right.

Tony Parkin, head chef House Restaurant, Cliff House Hotel

Cauliflower cheese using smoked Gubbeen

Tony Parkin is looking forward to a relaxed Christmas Day this year, cooking what he loves and having a few beers. Last year was the first Christmas in Ireland for him and his wife, Laura. He was previously the chef patron of Michelin-starred Tudor Room at Great Fosters Hotel in Egham, England. He describes that Christmas as a little “renegade”, with few of their home comforts in place, so they had to make do with a Christmas lunch of charcuterie and cheese.

Having moved into a new home and with all of his cookbooks and kitchen equipment on hand, he is all set for something special, which will not include turkey. He hates it. He’ll be making a foie gras terrine with toasted brioche and quince purée for starters, followed by glazed smoked ham using honey from The Ledbury, accompanied by cauliflower cheese using smoked Gubbeen cheese.

He has fallen in love with Gubbeen since he moved to Ireland and it is his secret ingredient to elevate the humble cauliflower. A Ferrero Rocher soufflé tart for dessert is also on the menu – provided the chocolates don’t get devoured first.

Danni Barry, head chef, Oranmore restaurant, Ballynahinch Castle, Co Galway

Chocolates from Monto

On Christmas Eve, Danni Barry heads to her parents’ house in Mayobridge, Co Down. Among the Christmas goodies she stocks up on every year are the festive selection of handmade chocolates from Monto Chocolates, based in Co Derry. These chocolates are made by Monto Mansour, who previously worked as the head pastry chef in The Greenhouse restaurant in Dublin.

Hot Summerhill Honey, a raw honey from the Ards peninsula is also a favourite, as is the signature blend drinking chocolate from NearyNógs, the craft chocolate maker in Kilkeel, close to her home.

A new addition to her shopping list this year is Builín Blasta’s Smoked Onion Mayo, which she says will be perfect for the St Stephen’s Day leftovers sandwiches.

Her mother and her sister do most of the cooking. For Christmas Eve, it’s always Jim and Peter Hannan’s sugar pit bacon. The bacon is cured in a blend of sugars for 10 days, giving it a delicious sweet glaze as it cooks. They cook it slowly in the oven at 140 degrees, so that the bacon stays moist and the fat is beautifully golden. It is one of her favourite things to eat and will also feature on the Ballynahinch Christmas menu.

Hugh Higgins, development chef, Fallon & Byrne

Montellano Iberico charcuterie

Christmas Day is traditional in Hugh Higgins’s family, where turkey is the centrepiece, and there’s always Christmas pudding and Christmas cake. But the one thing he really looks forward to is his mother’s boozy trifle.

His key piece of advice is to make the day as easy as you can on yourself, with as much as possible prepped in advance. Having top-quality snacking food to graze on is also important.

Montellano Iberico charcuterie, which he buys in Fallon & Byrne, is always a hit, especially with a chilled glass of sherry. He is also a big fan of smoked salmon with brown bread, particularly smoked salmon from Sally Barnes or the Burren Smokehouse.

You can’t go wrong with a bronze, free-range Irish turkey, he says. To prepare the turkey, he removes the legs and cooks them separately on Christmas Eve, braised in chicken stock, which makes a perfect base for the gravy the next day.

For the crown, he stuffs some herb butter under the skin (thyme, rosemary or garlic butter), which not only adds flavour but helps to keep the bird succulent during cooking.