Paul Flynn: foolproof starters for your Christmas Day dinner

If you’re still undecided on your starter, here are three easy and elegant dishes


The festive season is now upon us and it has been a long run-up. By now your fridges are probably bulging at the seams and your houses will be blinking and twinkling like a constellation of stars.

Others make Christmas seem so easy. Chefs like me make it all look all so simple but yet there are so many expectations of the cook. It surely can be stressful and onerous on some.

Some of us are delegators and some can’t bear to have people around them. The most important thing for me is organisation, but then I’m always on the edge of my precipitous OCD cliff.

As a cook and a food writer, Christmas always tugs at my heartstrings. I write about abundance, comfort and luxury and the creation of wonderful memories with your family, while being acutely aware that we are the lucky ones.

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We work hard to create safe and happy homes for our children but know that not everyone has had our chances in life. We can’t ignore it, it’s increasingly all around us. We try in our home to instil in our children how fortunate we all are.

Now, back to the menu for the big day. If you’re still undecided on your starter, here are three foolproof and elegant options.

The crab claws are a festive and delicious version of crab claws in garlic butter. The pomegranate seeds settle like jewels on top. I like to serve this dish family-style so everyone can help themselves. Make sure you use an oven-to-table dish. You can prepare it earlier and just warm it through when you need it.

The blue cheese soufflé is undoubtedly a little more technical but you can make it the day before, turn it out, then reheat it in a matter of minutes. It’s really lovely and not too heavy, as the name suggests. You can use any ripe blue cheese of your choice. For extra indulgence make a really quick Parmesan cream by bringing 250ml of cream to the boil. Add 100g grated Parmesan, a twist of black pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice.

The smoked salmon custards are a dream. Again, you can make them a day or two before you need them. They are soft and silky, perfect with pickled cucumber for a stress-free starter. They are best served at room temperature.

POTTED SALMON

Serves six

Ingredients
1 egg, plus 3 egg yolks
300ml cream
200ml milk
1 tbsp horseradish sauce
100g smoked salmon, skin removed and finely diced
Salt and pepper

Method
1
Preheat an oven to 140 degrees Celsius, or equivalent. Whisk the eggs together in a bowl then add the cream and milk, horseradish and chopped salmon, then season with salt and pepper.

2 Ladle the mixture between the ramekins, making sure you stir while you ladle so that the salmon is evenly distributed.

3 Boil a kettle and place the ramekins in a baking tray.

4 Pour the boiling water around the ramekins so it reaches half-way up the sides.

5 Place in the oven for 20-25 minutes, until the mixture is just set but with a little wobble in the centre.

6 Remove from the tray and allow them to cool before refrigerating.

7 Serve at room temperature, with pickled cucumber.

TWICE-BAKED CASHEL BLUE SOUFFLE

Serves eight

Ingredients
100g very fine dry breadcrumbs
50g melted butter to line the moulds
30g butter
30g flour
240 ml milk
4 egg yolks
300g Cashel Blue cheese, crumbled
6 egg whites

Method
1
Preheat an oven to 190 degrees Celsius, or equivalent.

2 Dry the breadcrumbs by spreading them on a tray in a low oven for 15 minutes.

3 Line the soufflé moulds with butter and dry bread crumbs. Set aside.

4 Melt butter in a small pot, add flour. Cook gently for three minutes to make a roux.

5 Heat the milk and then add it to the roux gradually, a little at a time, to make béchamel sauce. Remove from the heat. Stir in the egg yolks and the blue cheese.

6 Whisk the egg whites until firm.

7 With a spatula, gently fold one third of the egg whites into the cheese mix to introduce it, followed by the remainder.

8 Spoon the mixture into the ramekins until two thirds full and place ramekins in a roasting tray.

9 Pour the boiling water around the ramekins so it reaches half-way up the sides, then place them in the oven for 16 minutes.

10 Remove the ramekins from the tray.

11 While they are still warm, run a knife around the edge of the ramekins and turn the soufflés out on to a buttered tray.

12 These are now ready to be reheated just before serving. To reheat, set the oven to 180 degrees Celsius, or equivalent, and cook for 10 minutes.

CRAB CLAWS WITH ORANGE, POMEGRANATE AND ROSEMARY BUTTER

Serves 4

Ingredients
125 g butter
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
Zest and juice of 1 orange
1 sprig of rosemary, finely chopped
400g cooked crab claws
4 spring onions, finely chopped
The seeds and juice from one ripe pomegranate
Salt and pepper

Method
Melt the butter and add the garlic, zest and juice of the orange and rosemary.

2 Add the crab claws and spring onions.

3 Warm everything through in the butter and season.

4 Scatter the pomegranate seeds and juice on top and serve with crusty bread.