I’m all for tradition and have a great respect for the classic recipes that have evolved over the years because they work brilliantly. Nonetheless there’s no reason why you should have to slavishly adhere to the same old routine if you feel stressed and less than thrilled at the prospect. It doesn’t have to be turkey or goose either and you certainly shouldn’t bother unless you can get a really well reared bird. Taste must have precedence over tradition.
Christmas food should be a little luxurious, festive and of course suitably seasonal.
For those feeling like something non traditional, I have cooked up a Christmas menu with a little twist. Those who are wedded to familiar flavours needn’t fret, we’ve still got the turkey and sprouts but not in the predictable way.
I’ve chosen some gorgeous Dublin Bay prawns as a starter – for me they are always a treat, one of nature’s great blessings. In fact every time I eat a beautiful prawn I offer up a silent thank you to the Good Lord of the Oceans. They can be cooked ahead and served in a myriad of ways but as ever I believe less is more, I like to cook them in the shells and serve them with a big bowl of unctuous homemade mayonnaise and some delicious crusty brown soda bread. I am also including a Parsley and Chilli Oil Dressing as an alternative for those who would like a lighter sauce with the Prawns, this too has the advantage that it can be made ahead and is also delicious on pasta, or a pangrilled chicken breast or squid.
The recipe for the Brussels Sprout Salad came from the lovely Skye Gyngell of Petersham Nurseries Café near Richmond in London, one of my all time favorite lunch time restaurants. She was guest chef at the school earlier this year and we loved her food.
For the main course I have chosen a Chinese cooking method to poach the crown of turkey. Make sure you choose a saucepan with a tight fitting lid. This gentle cooking method produces a tender succulent texture and can be served warm or at room temperature.
The little salad of crunchy leaves – cucumber ribbons and fresh herbs is deliciously fresh tasting and doubly welcome on Christmas day. Kale is in season now too and is the most nutritious of all brassicas, it also has cholesterol reducing qualities.
For pudding the boozy Rum and Raisin Ice Cream Plum Pudding is the hedonistic choice, but a less calorific and equally delicious option might be a Ruby Grapefruit and Mint Granita sprinkled with cholesterol busting pomegranate seeds.
You may not have room for some farmhouse cheese at this meal, but be sure to have some delicious handmade dark chocolate from the growing number of Irish artisan chocolatiers to nibble with a cup of coffee before you settle down in front of the fire to open presents. Spare a thought for those who are less fortunate this Christmas and reflect on how we can enhance their festive season.
Ballycotton Prawns with Dill Mayonnaise or Chilli and Flat Parsley relish.
We get the most wonderful juicy prawns straight from Ballycotton Seafood. – they are known as Dublin Bay prawns but the species is Nephrops norvegicus.
We eat them in several ways but they are best freshly cooked and served with homemade Mayonnaise and some crusty bread. If you don’t fancy or can’t get fresh dill, fennel would also be good, or leave it out.
24 large very fresh prawns
4 pints (2.3 L) water
2 tablespoons salt
4-8 tablespoons home-made Mayonnaise (see recipe)
1 tablespoon freshly chopped dill
Chilli and flat parsley relish – (see recipe)
Wild watercress leaves
4 segments lemon
First Cook the Prawns
Bring the water to the boil and add the salt. Put the prawns into the boiling salted water and as soon as the water returns to the boil, test a prawn to see if it is cooked. It should be firm and white, not opaque or mushy. If cooked, remove prawns immediately. Very large ones may take ½ to 1 minute more. Allow to cool in a single layer.
Note: Do not cook too many prawns together, otherwise they may overcook before the water even comes back to the boil.
Put 5 or 6 cooked whole prawns on each plate. Add the dill to the mayonnaise. Spoon a tablespoon or two of homemade Mayonnaise into a little bowl or oyster shell on the side of the plate. Pop a segment of lemon on the plate. Garnish with some fresh wild watercress. Serve with fresh crusty brown soda bread and Irish butter.
I know it is very tempting to reach for the jar of ‘well known brand’ but most people don’t seem to be aware that Mayonnaise can be made even with a hand whisk, in under five minutes, and if you use a food processor the technique is still the same but it is made in just a couple of minutes. The great secret is to have all your ingredients at room temperature and to drip the oil very slowly into the egg yolks at the beginning. The quality of your Mayonnaise will depend totally on the quality of your egg yolks, oil and vinegar and it’s perfectly possible to make a bland Mayonnaise if you use poor quality ingredients.
2 egg yolks, preferably free range
¼ teaspoon salt
Pinch of English mustard or ¼ teaspoon French mustard
1 dessertspoon White wine vinegar
8 fl ozs (250ml) oil (sunflower, arachide or olive oil or a mixture) – We use 6 fl ozs (175ml) arachide oil and 2 fl ozs (50ml) olive oil, alternatively use 7/1
Serve with cold cooked meats, fowl, fish, eggs and vegetables.
Put the egg yolks into a bowl with the mustard, salt and the white wine vinegar (keep the whites to make meringues). Put the oil into a measure. Take a whisk in one hand and the oil in the other and drip the oil onto the egg yolks, drop by drop whisking at the same time. Within a minute you will notice that the mixture is beginning to thicken. When this happens you can add the oil a little faster, but don’t get too cheeky or it will suddenly curdle because the egg yolks can only absorb the oil at a certain pace. Taste and add a little more seasoning and vinegar if necessary.
If the Mayonnaise curdles it will suddenly become quite thin, and if left sitting the oil will start to float to the top of the sauce. If this happens you can quite easily rectify the situation by putting another egg yolk or 1-2 tablespoons of boiling water into a clean bowl, then whisk in the curdled Mayonnaise, a half teaspoon at a time until it emulsifies again.
Chilli and Parsley Oil Relish
3 cloves garlic
8 tablespoons flat leaf Italian parsley, finely chopped
1 large red chilli, seeded and finely chopped
4 fl ozs (120 ml) extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
To make the sauce, chop the garlic. Add the seeded and chopped chilli, (use a mezzaluna if you have one) and the flat parsley. Continue to chop until fine. Put into a bowl with the olive oil and season with salt and freshly ground pepper.
(This sauce will keep a week in the fridge and is also good served with pasta or steak!).
Sichuan Poached Turkey Breast with a Perky Salad
1 x crown of organic turkey -2 ½ kilos/ 5lb10oz approximately (save the legs for another dish)
4 large spring onions
1 head of garlic, cut in half horizontally
250 ml (9 fl oz) soy sauce
250 ml (9 fl oz) Chinese rice wine
1 head garlic
2 x 8 cm (2 ½ oz /7g) pieces of fresh ginger peeled and chopped
thinly peeled rind of 1 orange
2 sticks cinnamon
4 star anise
Homemade chicken stock to cover
4 tbsp rice vinegar
2 tsp sesame oil
4 little gem lettuce, leaves washed and separated
4 spring onions sliced diagonally
2 – 3 mild red chillies, thinly sliced at an angle
leaves from a large bunch coriander
2-3 tbsp toasted sesame seeds
Put the coarsely chopped spring onion, soy sauce, rice wine, garlic, sliced ginger, orange rind, cinnamon, star anise into a deep sauce pan. Add the turkey crown and enough chicken stock to cover.
Bring to the boil, cover and simmer over a gentle heat for 15 minutes, remove from the heat and allow it to stand tightly covered for 20 minutes.
Take 10fl oz of the cooking liquid, skim the fat from the surface; add rice vinegar and sesame oil.
Just before serving combine the little gem leaves, with the spring onions cucumber ribbons, thinly slices red chilies. Season with Maldon Sea Salt and freshly cracked pepper.
Remove the turkey from the poaching liquid.
Slice the turkey into chunky slices, arrange overlapping slices on a large platter and pile the salad alongside, spoon some of the dressing over the turkey and the salad. Scatter with toasted sesame seeds and serve.
Note: the poaching liquid may be used over and over again. Provided it is refrigerated. Bring to the boil before using.
Salad of Aged Parmesan, Raw Sprouts, Shaved Celery and Speck
12 large brussel sprouts – trimmed of outer leaves, washed and patted dry
240g (8½oz) parmesan cheese
6 x stalks of celery (sweet white hearts)
24 x slices of speck or parma ham
the zest of 2 lemons
the juice of 1 lemon
2 tablesp of very finely chopped parsley
6 tablesp of good quality new season extra virgin olive oil
Slice the brussel sprouts as finely as you can – they should fall apart so
that they are like finely sliced ribbon.
Wash and dry the celery and slice it into long shards (you can achieve this
by cutting it on the bias).
Slice the parmesan using a sharp knife – odd slices are nicest – some very,
very fine – some slightly thicker (in terms of taste and texture this is far
Place the sprouts, celery and parmesan in a bowl, season with a little salt
& pepper – add the lemon zest, parsley, lemon juice and olive oil – toss
well to combine!
Divide among 8 plates and lay the speck over the top.
Drizzle with a little more olive oil and serve!
Skye Gyngell told us that this is one of her favourite winter starters – it gives a whole new dimension to the much abused sprout
Curly Kale with Bacon and Chestnuts
900g (2lb) curly kale or cavalo nero
Extra virgin olive oil
250g (9oz) streaky bacon
200g (7oz) peeled chestnuts
Bring a (6litre) 10pt of water to the boil in a large saucepan add 2tbsp salt.
Destalk the kale; wash quickly in lots of cold water. Drain. Cook the kale at a fast rolling boil until tender 8 – 10 minutes, depending on how tough it is.
Meanwhile cut the bacon into 5mm(¼ in) lardons. Heat a couple of tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil in a frying pan, add the bacon and cook until crisp and golden add roughly chopped chestnuts and cook for a minute or two.
Drain the kale well and add to the bacon and chestnuts, toss and drizzle generously with olive oil add a knob of butter taste and season with lots of freshly ground pepper. Serve immediately
Note: Omit bacon for a vegetarian version.
Ruby Grapefruit and Spearmint Granita
Ruby grapefruit sorbet is terrifically versatile; it can be served at the beginning, in the middle, or at the end of a meal.
1 litre (1¾ pint) ruby grapefruit juice (10 grapefruit approx.)
225g (8oz) castor sugar approx.
1 egg white (optional)
4 tbsp freshly chopped spearmint
Fresh spearmint leaves
8 chilled white side plates
Put the freshly squeezed grapefruit into a bowl, add the sugar and the chopped mint and dissolve by stirring it into the juice. Taste. The juice should taste rather too sweet to drink, it will lose some of its sweetness in the freezing.
Make the sorbet in one of the following ways.
Method 1. Pour into the drum of an ice-cream maker or sorbetiere and freeze for 20-25 minutes. Scoop out and serve immediately or store in a covered bowl in the freezer until needed.
Method 2. Pour the juice into a stainless steel or plastic container and put into the freezer. After about 4-5 hours when the sorbet is semi frozen remove and whisk until granular. Return to freezer. Repeat several times. Keep covered in the freezer until needed.
3. If you have a food processor, simply freeze the sorbet completely in a covered stainless steel or plastic bowl, then break into large pieces and whizz up in the food processor for a few seconds. Add one slightly beaten egg white, whizz again for another few seconds, then return to the bowl. Freeze again until needed.
Meanwhile remove the seeds from the pomegranate and keep chilled in the fridge.
Chill the plates in a refrigerator or freezer.
Put 1 or 2 scoops of sorbet on each chilled plate; sprinkle with a few pomegranate seeds. Decorate with fresh mint leaves and serve immediately.
Boozy Ice Cream with Raisins
A gorgeous rich ice cream with a scoopable texture, serve it in small helpings!.
Serves 20 approximately
4 oz (110g) butter
8 oz (225g) Barbados sugar (moist, soft, dark-brown sugar)
1 egg, free-range
62ml (2½fl oz) port
62ml (2½fl oz) medium sherry
2 ¼-2 ½ pints (1.3-1.4L) lightly whipped cream
4oz (110g) muscatel raisins
62ml (2½fl oz) sherry
62ml (2½fl oz) rum
2oz (50g) fresh walnuts, chopped
1½ pint (850ml) bowl or two 13x20cm (5x8inch) loaf tins or plastic box
Melt the butter, stir in the sugar and allow it to cool slightly. Whisk the egg and add to the butter and sugar with the sherry and port. Cool. Add the softly whipped cream. Put into a plastic bowl, cover and freeze*.
Meanwhile put the raisins into a bowl, cover with a mixture of warm rum and sherry and allow the fruit to plump up. Chop the walnuts coarsely and add to the raisins just before serving.
*Alternatively line two loaf tins with cling film, cover and freeze.
Turn out the boozy ice-cream plum pud onto a chilled plate. Scatter the boozy raisins and some chopped walnuts over the top. Decorate with a sprig of holly and a sprinkling of icing sugar snow. Serve on chilled plates.
Artisan Chocolates –
French chocolatier Gwen Lasserre makes exquisite chocolates in his shop on Main St. Schull, Co Cork, Tel 028-27853
Benoit Lorge also makes delicious chocolates at O’Connors Shop, Bonane, Co Kerry, Tel 087-9917172
O’Connaill Chocolates are available at Midleton, Mahon, Kinsale and Bandon farmers’ markets and the shop in Frenchchurch St. Tel 021-4373407
Eve Chocolates, another favourite, available at Flair, Magazine Road and some shops in the Cork area –Tel 021-4347781
Cocoa Bean Chocolate Co – Limerick, available at The Milk Market in Limerick and check out www.cocoabeanchocolates.com Tel 061-446615
Skelligs Chocolate Co. Ballinskelligs, Co Kerry, www.skelligschocolate.com Tel 066-9479119
Ightermurragh Garden Allotments, Ladysbridge, Co Cork
Give a present of an allotment to someone who would love to grow their own vegetables, fruit and flowers – various sizes available, ready for planting, water on site, private parking – great family Christmas present or maybe for somebody about to retire.
Tel Liam at 021-4667330 or 086-3003810 – Gift vouchers available
New Addition to Cork Culinary Scene –
McCarthy’s Village Food Fare, Eden Hall, Model Farm Road, Cork – locally sourced products, deluxe Christmas Hampers, outside catering and cooking classes in the New Year.