Christmas dinner starts here
Each week until December 25th, we’ll be bringing you a selection of recipe suggestions to help you plan an epic festive feast
Chef Gavin McDonagh’s roast turkey with herb butter, and stuffed boned legs. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
Three weeks from today, we will be sitting down to one of the most hotly anticipated meals of the year. For most of us, that means there will be a bird of some variety gently roasting in the oven and an array of side dishes competing for space on the hob.
But Christmas doesn’t have to mean turkey – what about goose, or beef wellington? And with more and more of us adopting a diet free from animal proteins, the search continues for vegetarian and vegan dishes that match the sense of occasion that December 25th brings with it.
Over the next three weeks, we will be mining the Irish Times recipe archive to bring you some trusted favourites from top cooks and food writers. These have graced Christmas dinner tables all over the country, and come highly recommended.
First up, it’s the main course – to give you plenty of time to source a top-quality bird, or get your order in for a prime cut of beef. So will it be a classic roast turkey, with failsafe instructions from Darina Allen? A juicy roast goose from Jamie Oliver? Or festive parsnip fritters with mushroom and cider sauce, a vegetarian feast from Denis Cotter? And who could forget Domini Kemp’s brilliant recipe for beef Wellington, a festive table centrepiece if ever there was one?
But, first things first. If you are taking the turkey option, brining could mean the difference between a succulent, tender bird, and a tough, dry one. Carmel Somers recently shared her brine recipe and method. Just double the quantities for a turkey, and don’t forget to buy a bucket big enough to steep your bird in.
“Once you try it there is no going back,” she promises. If you want to know more about the science of brining, and how the magic works, you can read about it here, on the excellent Food52. com website.
If you are cooking a turkey for the first time, or if your previous efforts haven’t been that successful, Darina Allen will fill you with confidence. Here is her recipe for classic roast turkey with gravy. “This is my favourite roast stuffed turkey recipe,” she says. “Even after all these years, this buttery fresh herb stuffing is still my absolute favourite.”
If you are looking for a more restaurant-style approach to the bird, chef Derry Clarke’s turkey breast with black pudding, bacon cheeks, parsnip, chorizo, will wow your guests. You, on the other hand, might have to have a lie down having got through all the stages in assembling this partypiece. Definitely one for the accomplished cooks looking for something different.
Gavin McDonagh is also a kitchen pro, but he takes a more laid-back approach to his bird, while at the same time bringing in a cheffy touch. His roast turkey crown, herby butter, stuffed leg, sees the legs detached from the carcass, boned out, stuffed and cooked separately. This makes carving a lot easier.
For something a bit different, Donal Skehan’s jewelled pot-roasted turkey breast uses pomegranates, apricots and sultanas in the stuffing and ras el hanout butter to keep the meat from drying out.
Jamie Oliver uses Christmas spices – ginger, cinnamon, star anise and cloves – in this slow cooked roast goose recipe. This one can be prepared in advance, stored in the fridge, and crisped up in the oven before serving.
If a bird doesn’t feature in your plans for Christmas day, Domini Kemp’s definitive recipe for beef Wellington might be worth considering. We have had many requests to reprint this recipe, because it works every time. A layer of Parma ham keeps the mushroom duxelle that coats the fillet from adding moisture to the puff pastry, keeping the dreaded soggy bottom at bay.
For the vegetarians, Denis Cotter has a recipe for parsnip fritters with mushroom and cider sauce, in his Café Paradiso Cookbook, that is complex enough to convince the non-meat-eaters that they’re not at after thought. Just keep the meat-eaters away from them, they sound delicious.
Next week, we will dig out the best festive starters to get your Christmas feast off to a great start.