Richard Stearn, head chef at Suesey Street restaurant in Dublin, and Imen McDonnell, food writer, photographer and filmmaker, share Christmas memories and recipes
Richard Stearn: head chef at Suesey Street in Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
Where and how do you plan to celebrate Christmas 2017?
I’ll finish work at 7pm on Christmas Eve and then I plan on getting a flight to the UK to spend Christmas with my family. I will then fly back on St Stephen’s Day to work the next day at Suesey Street. My girlfriend and I usually celebrate Christmas together early in the new year, when the restaurant closes for a few days.
What does a traditional Christmas mean to you?
I really enjoy spending time with my family and eating good food together. Food plays a massive role in my family, it has done since I was young. So for me, Christmas is all about sitting together around the dinner table, relaxing and catching up. There’s usually a few bottles of wine being shared on the day too.
What will you be eating on December 25th?
I will be eating good traditional turkey and ham with all the trimmings. We usually sit down to eat at about 2pm.
Are there certain dishes that are always on your Christmas table, dishes without which it just wouldn’t be Christmas?
For me, it varies between prawn cocktail and salmon. At least one of them has to be on the dinner table for it to feel like Christmas.
Who does the cooking?
For most of my career, I have worked on Christmas Day, but since moving to Ireland, I have had the day off. For the last three years, I’ve enjoyed Christmas dinner with my family in north Yorkshire, where my sister lives.
Sprouts – yes or no, and if yes, how do you cook them?
Absolutely! I always fry them with bacon and duck fat.
What is it like working in a restaurant kitchen in the lead-up to Christmas?
Two words – Full On! It is high pressure, fast turn-arounds, long hours.
Will you have any traditional Christmas dishes on the menu at Suesey Street?
Yes. We will have cured salmon for starters, turkey and ham with all the trimmings, Christmas puddings, and plenty of Christmas cocktails
Where and how do you plan to celebrate Christmas this year?
We will be celebrating in our home at the farm. I have four American relatives coming over who will experience their first Irish Christmas. I am looking forward to having American family in the kitchen with me preparing a traditional Irish Christmas dinner and St Stephen’s Day meal. On Christmas Eve we will do a classic American seafood spread with champagne, crab and lobster.
What does a traditional Irish Christmas mean to you? Is it different from your American Christmases?
Traditional Irish Christmas is quite different to my American Christmas holidays growing up. My husband works for most of the holiday (farm animals don’t take holiday time off), so that took some getting used to. But the main difference is that Christmas dinner and the following day’s St Stephen’s Day meal seem to be the most important gatherings in Ireland, whereas we always had more of an emphasis on Christmas Eve, which was when the whole family would gather for a meal and gift exchange.
What will you be eating on December 25th?
This year, we will keep it Irish traditional and will sit down at 2pm on the 25th with a free-range butter-basted turkey, a big heritage clove-studded ham on the bone, the potato trifecta (buttermilk mashed, roasted, and croquette), heaps of herb gravy, maple-glazed parsnips, homemade bread sauce, cranberry relish, Brussels sprouts with pancetta and pomegranate seeds, and then a dessert trolley with a selection of McDonnell family pudding (flambé) with homemade rum raisin ice-cream or custard, sherry trifle, meringue with fresh fruit and cream, gingerbread-marmalade cake, ice-cream and jelly, Black Forest gâteau, hand-rolled truffles and then tea or coffee and petit fours, and finally After Eights. Far too much food, but always special to prepare and share.
Who does the cooking, and the wash up?
For the past few years, since my dear mother-in-law passed away, it’s been a team effort. I do all the cooking and my brother-in-law and his wife host us in their beautiful home across the road, and they handle the wash-up after we eat. Works out well. This year, since we have American family guests, we will do everything at our house and I hope someone steps up to the plate to do the wash up!
Richard Stearn’s classic prawn cocktail
1 Baby Gem lettuce
2 tomatoes, deseeded and diced
Half a cucumber, diced
12 tiger prawns, cooked and peeled
100g crab meat
For the sauce
Juice of half a lemon
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
5 tbsp of tomato ketchup
Few drops of Tabasco
2 pinches paprika
4 tbsp mayonnaise
Pinch of salt
Pinch of cracked black pepper
Slice the Baby Gem and mix with the diced tomato and cucumber, and place in the bottom of your chosen glasses. Martini glasses work nicely. Mix all the ingredients for the sauce together and taste for seasoning. Add the king prawns and the crab meat to the sauce. Gently place the prawn and crab mix in the glasses on the bed of lettuce.
Richard Stearn’s honey mustard baked ham, braised red cabbage, glazed carrots
Stock vegetables (two carrots, one onion, two pieces of celery, a few cloves of garlic)
100g wholegrain mustard
1 red cabbage, shredded
300ml red wine
50ml balsamic vinegar
150g brown sugar
2 tbsp of redcurrant jelly or jam
2 tsp mixed spice
4 large carrots, peeled, cooked until just tender and set aside
For the cabbage
Add the cabbage, red wine, balsamic vinegar, brown sugar, redcurrant jelly or jam and mixed spice together in a saucepan. Bring to the boil with a lid on. Simmer for about one hour and check for seasoning.
For the baked ham
Cover the gammon with water and soak overnight in the fridge. This will reduce the saltiness. Drain, place in a pot and leave under cold running water for five minutes.
Place the gammon and stock vegetables (carrots, onion, celery, garlic) in a large pan filled with water. Bring to a boil, and simmer for 1½ hours.
Preheat an oven to 180ºC.
Remove the gammon from the saucepan, score the skin and rub with a little vegetable oil. Roast in the oven for 1½ to two hours then remove the gammon from the oven and brush with the honey and the mustard and allow to rest.
In a hot frying pan, add the cooked carrots with a little vegetable oil and cook until coloured, then add a knob of butter.
I like to serve the ham on a large serving plate with the glazed carrots and the braised cabbage on the side.
Imen McDonnell’s gingerbread layer cake with marmalade and juniper cream
This cake is a bit of a show-stopper. Having said that, it is easy to make and assemble, with a little bit of time and planning. I bake the cakes and infuse the cream the day before I want to serve it so I just need to whip cream and put it together the following day.
For the cake (two layers)
Quarter of a cup of juniper berries
300g light muscovado sugar (brown sugar)
6tbsp black treacle (molasses)
6tbsp golden syrup
2 tsp finely grated fresh ginger
700g all-purpose flour
3tsp baking soda
Pinch of salt
8tsp ground ginger
3tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp cardamom
6 medium eggs
215g medium-cut marmalade
Edible gold spray (optional)
To be done a day ahead
Place juniper berries into a container, add heavy cream. Cover and place back into fridge until the next day. Strain cream and then whip cream until firm.
On the day
Preheat the oven 180°C/gas mark 4 and grease and line 2x20cm round cake tins with greaseproof paper.
Gently heat the butter, brown sugar, golden syrup, treacle and grated ginger in a saucepan on a low heat, stirring often.
Measure and combine the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Sift the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, allspice, ground ginger, cardamom and pinch of salt and stir until well combined. Leave to one side.
Once the sugar has dissolved in the saucepan, take off the heat and set aside to cool down. Gradually add the eggs, continuously stirring. Next, add the milk. You can use a whisk at this point or just continue to beat with a wooden spoon. (or use a stand mixer)
Pour the wet mixture in with the dry ingredients and stir/fold until the wet and dry ingredients are thoroughly combined.
Separate the mixture into even portions in the 2 x 20cm cake tins and bake in the oven for 45-50 minutes until baked through and a knife comes out clean. Turn out onto a wire rack and leave to cool.
To assemble your cake, spoon a little of the marmalade onto your cake plate and pop on the base layer, the marmalade will help to hold the cake in place like icing would. Cover the base layer in a heavy spread of the marmalade using a palette knife or spatula. Next, dollop the juniper-infused cream on top of the marmalade. Add second ginger cake layer.
For the top of the cake, top with sugar-glazed clementine, lime, or lemon slices. Decorate by studding with juniper berries and shimmer with gold spray.
Best served on the same day, or store in the refrigerator covered in plastic wrap. It should keep in the fridge for up to three days.