Christmas Day Starters


We definitely want something light and deliciously refreshing…
How about a platter of oysters nestled on the bed of glistening seaweed with some crushed ice to keep them nicely chilled. Native Irish oysters are a very special luxurious treat, could be from Rossmore in the estuary of Cork Harbour, Kelly’s of Galway, Harty’s in Dungarvan Bay, Carlingford Oysters in Co Louth….

Each has their own unique flavour and needs no further embellishment other than perhaps a tiny squeeze of juice from an organic lemon.

The curvy Portuguese oysters can take on lots of flavours. How about these rock oysters with Asian vinaigrette?

Order them ahead to be delivered by courier and keep them well refrigerated until needed. Just love the way they arrive in those timber boxes, often packed with bladder wrack seaweed and if you’re lucky it’ll include an oyster knife too, an essential tool to open oysters.
I also love the super fresh combination of watercress with blood oranges, Medjool dates, Macroom mozzarella and chopped pistachio nuts…
You can do lots of riffs on the combination,  maybe omit the dates and add a sprinkling of pomegranate seeds instead. Also delicious for vegetarians and if you remove the cheese, you’ve got a tempting vegan starter too.

Hopefully, you’ll have had time to make a few pots of chunky soup to have ready to reheat as a moment’s notice. There’s so many Winter roots to choose from, they all make delicious soup in many combinations, freeze two/portion tubs so you never get caught out.
But I’m still wanting a light, fresh and easy to combine starter before my juicy roast turkey or goose on Christmas Day.

If you’re a bit jaded from mediocre smoked salmon, how about gravlax (you can make your own but Ummera and Woodcock Smokery make a delicious version), or how about some smoked trout or a piece of warm smoked salmon or my absolute favourite smoked eel.

Really good smoked fish needs little in the way of embellishment either although I do love some horseradish cream with smoked trout, a juicy smoked mackerel and of course smoked eel. Once again, a simple combo can be put together in minutes. All are delicious with the Ballymaloe brown yeast bread which can be made in minutes, (the recipe is in The New Ballymaloe Bread Book). There’s no kneading involved and only one rising. Make four loaves together, it’ll keep for the best part of a week over the Christmas period.

Smoked eel from the Burren Smokehouse or Lough Neagh Fisherman’s Co-operative is recognized as the largest producer of wild caught eel in Europe. Goatsbridge Trout Farm in Co Kilkenny for trout, be sure to get a jar of trout roe. Just gorgeous as an extra treat to top off little canapés.

Merry Christmas to all our readers and remember, the way to everyone’s heart is through delicious dinners all year long…

A Plate of Locally Smoked Fish with Horseradish Sauce and Mustard and Dill Mayonnaise

We have fantastic smoked fish in Ireland. Artisan Smokers like Sally Barnes of Woodcock Smokery in West Cork, Frank Hederman of Belvelly, near Cobh, Anthony Cresswell of Ummera have developed a cult following for their wild smoked Irish Salmon and other fish.

Serves 4

a selection of smoked fish, such as smoked salmon, smoked mackerel, smoked trout, smoked eel, smoked tuna, smoked hake and smoked sprats

Mustard and Dill Mayonnaise (see recipe)

Horseradish Sauce (see recipe)

Cucumber and Dill Pickle (see recipe)


segments of lemon

sprigs of watercress or rocket leaves

Occasionally we serve just three different types of smoked fish, for example salmon, mussels and trout, on tiny rounds of Ballymaloe brown yeast bread, topped with a small frill of fresh Lollo Rosso.  A little cucumber pickle goes with the smoked salmon, while a blob of homemade Mayonnaise is delicious with marinated smoked mussels and a dollop of horseradish cream, and a sprig of watercress compliments the pink smoked trout. These three delicious morsels make a perfect light starter.

Slice the smoked salmon into thin slices down to the skin. Allow one slice per person.  Cut the mackerel into diamond-shaped pieces and divide the trout into large flakes.  Skin and slice the eel.  Thinly slice the tuna and hake. 

To Serve

Choose four large white plates. Drizzle each plate with mayonnaise and divide the smoked fish between the plates, arranging it appetizingly. Put a blob of horseradish sauce and some cucumber pickle on each plate. Garnish with a lemon wedge and sprigs of watercress or rocket leaves.

Mustard and Dill Mayonnaise

Super delicious with any or all of those smoked fish and gravlax.

1 large egg yolk, preferably free range

2 tbsp French mustard

1 tbsp white sugar

150ml groundnut or sunflower oil

1 tbsp white wine vinegar

1 tbsp dill, finely chopped

salt and white pepper

Whisk the egg yolk with the mustard and sugar, drip in the oil drop by drop whisking all the time, then add the vinegar and fresh dill.

Horseradish Sauce

This is a fairly mild sauce.  If you want to really clear the sinuses, increase the amount of horseradish!  Serve with roast beef, smoked venison or smoked mackerel.

Serves 8 – 10

3 – 6 tbsp freshly grated horseradish

2 tsp white wine vinegar

1 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

¼ tsp mustard

¼ tsp salt

lots of freshly ground pepper

1 tsp sugar

225ml softly whipped cream

Put the grated horseradish into a bowl with the vinegar, lemon juice, mustard powder, salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar.  Fold in the softly whipped cream but do not over mix or it will curdle.  The sauce keeps in the fridge for 2-3 days, covered, so that it doesn’t pick up other flavours. 

Cucumber and Dill Pickle

Brilliant to have in your fridge over Christmas or indeed at any time.

Serves 10-12

1kg thinly sliced unpeeled cucumber

3 small onions thinly sliced

225g granulated sugar

1 tbsp salt

225ml cider vinegar

2 tbsp chopped dill

Combine the sliced cucumber, onion and the chopped dill in a large bowl.  Mix the sugar, salt, vinegar together and pour over cucumbers.  Place in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator and leave for at least 1-2 hours or overnight before using. 

Keeps well for up to a week in the refrigerator.

Rock Oysters with Asian Vinaigrette

Even though oysters are produced all year round here in Ireland, they too are best in Winter.  Unlike the native oysters’ which are only in season during the colder months when there’s ‘an r’ in the spelling.

Serves 8 as a starter

24-32 rock oysters

4 spring onions, cut at an angle

1 red chilli, finely chopped

1 clove garlic, crushed

6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

3 tbsp sesame oil

2 tbsp rice wine vinegar

2 tbsp mirin

2 tbsp soy sauce

1 tbsp finely chopped chives

1 tbsp fresh ginger, grated

To Serve

fresh seaweed (if available)

lime segments

To make the Asian vinaigrette, mix all the ingredients in a glass jar, seal and shake well.

If you can get some, place a little fresh seaweed on each plate.  Arrange 3-4 oysters per person on top and spoon a little vinaigrette over each one.  Serve with segments of lime.

Watercress, Blood Orange, Medjool Date and Macroom Mozzarella Salad with Pistachio Nuts

The rich West Cork pasture that the buffalo’s feed on gives the Macroom Mozzarella its quintessentially Irish taste.

A few beautiful fresh ingredients put together simply make an irresistible starter.

Serves 4

2-3 balls of fresh Macroom Mozzarella

2 blood oranges

a bunch of fresh watercress

4 Medjool dates, stoned and quartered lengthways

2-3 tbsp Irish honey

a good drizzle of extra virgin olive oil

some coarsely ground black pepper

50g pistachio nuts, roughly chopped

With a sharp knife remove the peel and pith from the blood oranges, cut one into 5mm thick slices and segment the other.

Just before serving, scatter a few watercress leaves over the base of each plate, slice or tear some mozzarella over the top.  Tuck a few orange slices/segments here and there in between the watercress, mozzarella and dates.   Drizzle with honey and really good extra virgin olive oil.  Scatter with pistachio nuts. Finally add a little coarsely ground fresh black pepper and serve.

Ruby Grapefruit and Pomegranate Granita

A grapefruit granita is super versatile. Serve in chilled shot glasses as a canape or at the beginning, in the middle, or at the end of a meal but this is meant to be a starter here.

Serves 20 as a canapé or 4-6 as a starter

500ml ruby grapefruit juice (5 grapefruit approx.)

160g caster sugar approx.

1 egg white (optional)


seeds from ½ – 1 pomegranate

fresh mint leaves

16-20 shot glasses if served as a canapé or 4-6 cocktail glasses if served as a starter

Put the freshly squeezed grapefruit into a bowl, add the sugar 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 granita in one of the following ways.

Method 1. Pour into the drum of an ice-cream maker or sorbetière and freeze for 20-25 minutes until completely set and frozen.  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 granita is semi frozen remove and whisk until granular. Return to the freezer. Repeat several times. Keep covered in the freezer until needed.

Method 3. If you have a food processor, simply freeze the granita 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.

To Serve

Chill the glasses in a refrigerator or freezer.

Put 1 chilled scoop of granita into each glass. Sprinkle a few pomegranate seeds on top. Freeze until needed just before servings. Decorate with fresh mint leaves and serve immediately with a tiny teaspoon for each one.

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


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