Christmas dinner: The ultimate guide to getting through the big day

These recipe suggestions from Ireland’s top chefs will help you plan an epic festive feast

If you’ve never before attempted getting the Christmas feast to the table, there's plenty of fail-safe recipes to help you put on a real spread

If you’ve never before attempted getting the Christmas feast to the table, there's plenty of fail-safe recipes to help you put on a real spread

 

There’s just a little over a week to go until the biggest dinner of the year is served. 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.

If you’ve never attempted getting this feast to the table before, we have plenty of fail-safe recipes from some of the country’s most trusted authorities.

Before you start tackling the Christmas feast however, here’s some top tips from chefs around the country such as Carmel Somers on how to survive Christmas in the kitchen, JP McMahon with last minute tips on keeping it simple, while chefs such as Paula Hannigan and Barry Fitzgerald give their advice on Christmas cooking.

Starters

For some starring role starters look no further than seafood, from Richard Stearn’s classic prawn cocktail to Vanessa Greenwood’s individual smoked salmon terrines with avocado and crab which can be prepared entirely in advance. Or, for something lighter, try Domini Kemp’s crab and fennel salad.

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

Non-seafood lovers could do worse than to try Trish Deseine’s pan-fried foie gras with passion fruit glaze and toasted brioche for a luxurious, old-school option. While Paul Flynn’s cinnamon-rubbed quail with pomegranate salad (which sounds like Christmas on a plate) or this spicy squash soup from Carmel Somers, are certain to be crowd pleasers.

Mains

Turkey: Before you even begin to prepare the big bird, read these words of wisdom on turkey cooking times from John McKenna. The type of bird you are cooking, whether or not it has been frozen, and the size of your oven, all come into play when determining cooking times.

Inserting a skewer into the thickest part of the thigh and checking that the juices run clear, not pink, is the way most cooks check that their bird is done. But, as McKenna recommends, buying a meat thermometer and checking that the meat has reached 70 degrees Celsius, will take all the guesswork out of the equation.

Rolled turkey breast flavoured with ras el hanout for a Moroccan slant
Donal Skehan's Rolled turkey breast flavoured with ras el hanout for a Moroccan slant

It also helps to write out a timetable, working backwards from when you want to serve the meal, building in time for the turkey to rest (again depending on its size, but anywhere between 30 minutes and two hours), and listing all the side dishes and when you’ll need to start cooking them.

For explicit instructions on how to roast the bird, Neven Maguire’s recipe for roast turkey with streaky bacon, from his book, Neven Maguire’s Perfect Irish Christmas, is about as straightforward and reliable as they come.

You’ll also find instructions for Maguire’s Christmas gravy in that link, but note that you’ll need a pint of turkey stock, and that is best made in advance. Do so by simmering the giblets (make sure to ask your turkey supplier to include them) in water with an onion, a carrot, a celery stick, six black peppercorns, two bay leaves, and a few thyme leaves and parsley stalks, for an hour, then straining. No giblets, or can’t stand the thought (and smell) of that simmering pot? Use a good quality chicken stock cube or powder instead.

For some, Darina Allen is the highest authority on home cooking, and her classic roast turkey with stuffing and gravy recipe has legions of fans. Her recipe also gives instructions on making turkey stock, for the gravy, and bread stuffing, which she cooks inside the bird. This is a comprehensive and ultra-coherent, step-by-step guide, perfect for the first-timer.

Darina Allen’s classic roast turkey with stuffing
Darina Allen’s classic roast turkey with stuffing

Carmel Somer’s tips for a perfect roast chicken works just as well for turkey, and if you’re thinking of brining the bird, her recipe talks you through the process step by step and advises a trial run so you can have it perfected for the big day.

For something entirely different, try Donal Skehan’s alternative Christmas dinner, the jewelled pot roast Moroccan turkey breast is still festive but might be a welcome break from tradition.

Goose: 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.

Beef Wellington: 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.

Ham: If your Christmas meal plans also include ham, here is Suesey Street head chef Richard Stearn’s recipe for honey glazed ham (with bonus recipes for braised red cabbage and glazed carrots).

Richard Stearn’s honey glazed ham
Richard Stearn’s honey glazed ham

Vegetarians

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.

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Nut roast pairs well with the traditional Christmas side dishes and won’t leave vegetarians feeling left out
Nut roast pairs well with the traditional Christmas side dishes and won’t leave vegetarians feeling left out

And if it has to be a nut roast, Lauren Murphy has a recipe for one that pairs well with the traditional Christmas sides and trimmings “and won’t leave the vegetarian feeling left out”.

Sides

Potatoes: Irish Times columnist JP McMahon believes that we don’t need roast potatoes as well as mashed on our Christmas plates, but he is a bit of a contrarian – he serves tiramisu instead of plum pudding, after all. Here is his ultimate mashed potatoes recipe.

But for most of us, crisp, burnished roasties, maybe cooked in duck or goose fat, or in James Whelan Butcher’s award winning beef dripping, are an essential part of the roast dinner to top all roast dinners. Here are chef Gavin McDonagh’s instructions for beef dripping roasted spuds. Alternatively, try these goose fat roasted potatoes, with garlic and thyme, these Dauphinoise potatoes from Carmel Somers or these Hasselback potatoes from Jess Murphy.

Gavin McDonagh’s beef dripping roasties, part of his Christmas feast
Gavin McDonagh’s beef dripping roasties, part of his Christmas feast

Sprouts, whether you like them or not, and many of us do not, are often unavoidable on December 25th. Many cooks go to great lengths to make the cruciferous vegetable more appealing by adding other flavours. Lilly Higgins serves her sprouts roasted, with tahini sauce. Vanessa Greenwood stir-fries her sprouts withsmoked bacon and wine. Domini Kemp goes for shredded sprouts with truffle oil.

Vanessa Greenwood’s stir fried sprouts with smoked bacon and wine
Vanessa Greenwood’s stir fried sprouts with smoked bacon and wine

Dessert

And now to bring that Christmas lunch or dinner to a suitably show-stopping conclusion. Caterer Eunice Power can always be relied upon for a festive dessert to wow everyone at the table, and who could forget these little guys – choux snowmen that look too good to eat.

Eunice Power’s choux snowmen, filled with cream
Eunice Power’s choux snowmen, filled with cream

Trifle is the most popular alternative, or addition, to the traditional steamed pud. Nothing wrong with the classic sponge, jelly, custard and cream affair, with or without a liberal glug of sweet sherry, but Power’s mandarin orange, mascarpone and whiskey trifle is an alternative stunner.

Meringue is another light, sweet option, and Vanessa Greenwood’s roulade with mixed berry coulis comes with just enough wow factor to put the flaming plum pudding in the shade.

Vanessa Greenwood’s meringue roulande with mixed berry coulis
Vanessa Greenwood’s meringue roulande with mixed berry coulis

For the chocolate lovers, Jamie Oliver’s cherry chocolate mousse is bound to be a hit but if you’d prefer to keep it it traditional, try making your own mincemeat this year, with this simple, foolproof mince pie recipe

And finally, if you’ve left it too late to make a Christmas cake, fear not, Lily Higgins’s Dundee Cake brings a warm glow of nostalgia to Christmas baking.

Dundee cake
Dundee cake

Leftovers 

It wouldn't really be Christmas without plenty of leftovers to contend with. Here’s some of Donal Skehan’s top tips on what to do with that leftover turkey and ham

Three recipes for a perfect Christmas dinner 

Starter: Carmel Somer's Twice-Baked Cheese Souffles 

Ingredients

  • 6 medium eggs
  • 55g strong Cheddar
  • 55g Gruyère cheese
  • 110g goat’s cheese, from a log
  • 425ml full-fat milk
  • Slice of onion
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 85g butter
  • 85g plain flour
  • 1tbsp Dijon mustard
  • Salt and pepper
  • Cayenne pepper

1 Put the milk in a pan with the onion and bay leaf and bring to the boil. Turn off the heat, cover the pan with a lid and let the milk infuse while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

Separate the eggs, putting the whites into the bowl of a food mixer for beating later. Grate the hard cheeses and cube the goat’s cheese. Preheat the oven to 190 Celsius.

In a pan melt the butter and stir in the flour to make a roux (a thick flour-and-butter paste). Bring the infused milk back to the boil and gradually beat it into the paste, whisking as you do, and letting it simmer after each addition until the mixture thickens.

Next add the Cheddar and Gruyère, mix well and remove from the heat. Season with the mustard, Cayenne pepper, salt, pepper and a pinch of nutmeg.

Beat the egg yolks in well, then add the goat’s cheese.

Beat the egg whites with a food mixer until stiff, then fold them lightly but firmly through the souffle base, using a large metal spoon. (This helps to cut the mixture.)

Fill the buttered ramekin dishes with the mixture to just below the rim.

Take a roasting tray and line it with a tea towel. Put the souffles on top and pour hot water into the tray so it comes just under half way up the ramekins. Cook in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes, or until the souffles are well risen and set.

Allow the souffles to cool a little before turning them out. (They will sink a little, but don’t worry.)

10 Once they have cooled down you can store them in the fridge or freezer.

11 When you are ready to serve them, preheat the oven to 200 Celsius and bake for 15 minutes, until well risen.

12 Serve with a seasonal salad.

Mains: Neven Maguire’s roast turkey with streaky bacon and Christmas gravy

Neven Maguire’s roast turkey with streaky bacon
Neven Maguire’s roast turkey with streaky bacon

This is the easiest way to roast a turkey, and fortunately, for many people it’s also the best. Forget about having the time to brine it or trying to turn it over while it cooks - this method is absolutely foolproof.

  1. Preheat the oven to 190°C (375°F/gas mark 5).
  2. Turn the turkey breast side up and pack the neck cavity loosely with stuffing (if using), then tie the top of the drumsticks together with string. Smear with most of the butter and season generously, then place the bacon over the breasts to cover them completely. Weigh the turkey to calculate the required cooking time, allowing 20 minutes per 450g (1lb) plus 20 minutes extra.
  3. Lay a large sheet of foil lengthways over a large roasting tin, leaving enough at each end to wrap over the turkey, then lightly butter the foil. Repeat with another sheet of foil, but this time laying it across the tin. Place the stuffed turkey in the centre of the foil, breast side up, then wrap loosely to enclose but still allowing air to circulate around the turkey.
  4. Put in the oven and cook according to your calculated cooking time, carefully unwrapping and basting the turkey every 40 minutes. For the final hour, fold back and remove the foil, keeping the ends of the drumsticks still covered in foil to prevent them from burning. Baste well and return to the oven. The turkey should be a rich, dark brown colour. To make sure it’s cooked, insert a fine skewer into the thickest part of the thigh - the juices should run clear, but if they are still pink, return the turkey to the oven and check again every 15 minutes, until you are happy that the turkey is cooked right through. Remove from the oven and transfer to a serving platter. Cover with foil and leave to rest in a warm place for 10 minutes (up to 30 minutes is fine).
  5. To serve, garnish the turkey with the bunch of herbs in the neck cavity and bring to the table. Carve into slices and arrange on warmed plates with all the trimmings.

For the gravy: A good gravy is a crucial component to the Christmas meal and many a dinner is judged on its success. It really is worth making a good stock with the giblets for the best flavour. If you haven’t got Madeira, use port or red wine instead. If you want to get ahead, make the gravy the day before using butter instead of the fat, then add it to the roasting tin and bring to a simmer for a few minutes, stirring constantly.

  1. Pour the turkey or goose juices from the roasting tin into a jug, then spoon off 2 tablespoons of the fat (which will be floating on the top) and put this back into the unwashed tin. Spoon off any remaining fat from the cooking juices and discard.
  2. Put the roasting tin directly on the hob over a gentle heat and stir the flour into the residue in the tin. Cook on the hob for a minute or two, stirring, until golden. Pour in the Madeira, stirring to combine, then gradually add the stock, stirring until smooth after each addition. Bring to the boil and let it bubble for about 10 minutes, until reduced and thickened, stirring occasionally.
  3. Whisk in the redcurrant jelly (if using) until dissolved, then add the skimmed juices from the roasted bird back into the gravy and season to taste. Strain into a warmed gravy boat to serve.

Sides: Lilly Higgins’s Balsamic roast brussel sprouts

Balsamic roast brussel sprouts

  • 500g sprouts
  • 100g grapes
  • 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 200g pecan nuts, toasted and roughly chopped

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C. Place the sprouts, grapes, vinegar and oil in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper then gently mix.
  2. Tip on to a roasting tray and place in the oven for 20-25 minutes till the grapes are soft and almost bursting and the sprouts are nicely golden in places.
  3. Drizzle over the honey and toss to coat everything. Place on a serving platter and scatter with the pecan nuts, serve immediately.

Dessert: Jamie Oliver’s cherry chocolate mousse

Cherry chocolate mousse Cherry chocolate mousse
Cherry chocolate mousse Cherry chocolate mousse

Ingredients
Serves 6

  • 200g dark chocolate (70%).
  • 1 x 400g tin of black pitted cherries in syrup.
  • 200ml double cream.
  • 4 large free-range eggs.
  • 2tbs golden caster sugar.

Method

  1. Melt the chocolate in a heat-proof bowl over a pan of gently simmering water, then remove to cool for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, simmer the cherries and their syrup in a nonstick frying pan on a medium heat until thick, then remove.
  2. Whip the cream to very soft peaks. Separate the eggs, add the yolks to the cream with the sugar, and whisk to combine. Add a pinch of sea salt to the whites and, with a clean whisk, beat until super-stiff. Fold the cooled chocolate into the cream, then very gently fold that through the egg whites with a spatula.
  3. Divvy up the mousse between six glasses or bowls, interspersing the cherries and syrup throughout, and finishing with a few nice cherries on top.
  • Taken from 5 Ingredients: Quick & Easy Food by Jamie Oliver, published by Penguin Random House. Recipe copyright Jamie Oliver Enterprises Ltd. Photography copyright Jamie Oliver Enterprises Limited, by David Loftus