Christmas dinner: starring role starters

Each week until December 25th, we’ll be bringing you a selection of recipe suggestions to help you plan an epic festive feast

 Prawn and crab cocktail, by Richard Stearn, head chef at Suesey Street in Dublin 2,  Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Prawn and crab cocktail, by Richard Stearn, head chef at Suesey Street in Dublin 2, Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

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Smoked salmon, prawn cocktail, or pâté? The traditional choices for kicking off Christmas lunch or dinner are embedded in tradition, and for good reason. We have excellent seafood readily available, and Irish butter, found in great quantity in a good pâté, is unsurpassed.

They are all dishes that can all be prepared in advance, too, which is music to the ears of busy cooks responsible for one of the year’s most important meals.

Richard Stearn, head chef at Suesey Street restaurant in Dublin 2, recently shared his recipe for a classic prawn cocktail, using both crab meat and prawns for a bit of extra indulgence. Serving them in martini glasses, as he suggests, will add a bit of extra glamour to the festive table.

Sourcing good quality crab meat is important if you want it to be the star of your starter. Earlier this year, I tasted some from Lambay Crab & Lobster and it was superb. You can order it by telephoning Robert Markey on 085-2740922. If lobster is your preference, the man to call is Howth fisherman Stephen Farren of Celtic Lobster, 085-7351361.

Vanessa Greenwood’s individual smoked salmon terrines with avocado and crab can be prepared entirely in advance, and will sit happily in the fridge waiting to be upurned onto serving plates. Just factor in enough time for them to lose their fridge chill and for the flavours to develop.

Savoury smoked trout profiteroles from the Fishwives charity cookbook
Savoury smoked trout profiteroles from the Fishwives charity cookbook

For a change, you could use smoked trout instead of salmon, and Claudia Marl’s savoury profiteroles with smoked trout and goat’s yoghurt, from the Fishwives cookbook edited by Mag Kirwan of Goatsbridge Trout in aid of Hospice Uganda, are both pretty and interesting.

Domini Kemp has a lighter suggestion, for crab and fennel salad, but with this one, you’ll have to prepare it last minute to avoid it discolouring.

Béatrice Peltre’s red lentil salad with citrus, fennel and smoked salmon
Béatrice Peltre’s red lentil salad with citrus, fennel and smoked salmon

French-born, US-based food stylist and blogger Béatrice Peltre’s red lentil salad with citrus, fennel and smoked salmon is an interesting option, with a dressing made from tahini, lemon juice and hazelnut oil.

Lilly Higgins’s lettuce wedges with blue cheese dressing.
Lilly Higgins’s lettuce wedges with blue cheese dressing.

Another interesting salad to consider is Lilly Higgins’s Little Gem wedges with blue cheese dressing. You could substitute iceberg lettuce, and the crisp nuggets of fried salami are optional here.

Vanessa Greenwood’s oysters with oriental dressing. Photograph: Harry Weir
Vanessa Greenwood’s oysters with oriental dressing. Photograph: Harry Weir

For something a bit different, you could try Vanessa Greenwood’s oysters with oriental dressing and seaweed crisps. Or chef Gary O’Hanlon’s oysters with bacon, cabbage and scorched Guinness sabayon, which aren’t as “weighty” as their title suggests.

DK Connemara Oysters in Letterfrack will deliver three dozen oysters to your door for €36, if you have difficulty sourcing them locally.

Gary O’Hanlon’s oysters with bacon, cabbage and torched Guinness sabayon. Photograph: Harry Weir
Gary O’Hanlon’s oysters with bacon, cabbage and torched Guinness sabayon. Photograph: Harry Weir

A meatier option, though not too heavy, is chef Paul Flynn’s cinnamon-rubbed quail with pomegranate salad, which sounds like Christmas on a plate.

Trish Deseine’s pan-fried foie gras with passion fruit glaze and toasted brioche
Trish Deseine’s pan-fried foie gras with passion fruit glaze and toasted brioche

Trish Deseine’s pan-fried foie gras with passion fruit glaze and toasted brioche is a luxurious, old-school option.

And finally, here is a somewhat controversial suggestion. Skip the starter altogether, to better enjoy the feast to come, and serve these Irish cheddar and thyme gougères, perhaps with something icy cold and sparkling to drink.

Donal Skehan’s Irish cheddar and thyme gougères
Donal Skehan’s Irish cheddar and thyme gougères
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