From Whitstable to São Paulo, Melbourne to Montreal, Fiona Beckett grills top chefs and food writers for the secrets of their seasonal fare, and the wines they plan to drink with it this year
One of the toughest things about Christmas catering is injecting fresh ideas without discarding favourite family traditions. So where better to seek inspiration than from a chef?
We asked eight experienced cooks from around the world what they do to make their Christmas meal special. The dish their family won’t let them drop. The twist they give to a traditional classic – and the wine they’ll be serving.
The Sportsman, Whitstable, Kent
No1 in the National Restaurant Awards 2017, and author of The Sportsman (£29.95, Phaidon)
We usually spend Christmas at our pub. We take over the bar downstairs, but there’s no brawling – a game of Scrabble is about as rowdy as it gets. My four-year-old son (pictured left, with Stephen Harris) is obsessed with Christmas at the moment so he’ll be very excited by Christmas Eve. We usually make the Christmas pudding together in the run-up, too.
My wife Emma thinks there should be Yorkshire puddings with Christmas lunch, but I think that’s ridiculous so I don’t allow it! We always like to have mash and roast potatoes, which might seem strange to some.
My top tip for the Christmas meal? When cooking the turkey, take off the legs and cook them separately from the crown. It’s easy to overcook the breast otherwise. I like to confit the legs in goose fat and last year I sous-vided the breast, which worked well. A good trick for gravy is to add a cold knob of butter and a few drops of lemon to it just before serving.
We usually have a late breakfast of smoked salmon and scrambled eggs with Champagne. I’m thinking I’ll open a Krug 2002. White with lunch will be Coche-Dury, Meursault 2006 and the red, Sylvain Cathiard, Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru aux Malconsorts 2002. Then if anyone wants pudding wine, I’ll open my last bottle of Château Rieussec 2001. On Christmas Eve we’ll leave Santa a glass of Lamarche, Marc de Bourgogne 1961.
Joe Beef, Montreal
I love being in the kitchen at Christmas. Roasting quail on the fire, braising ham with maple syrup, and a whole goose for dinner with honey and juniper! There is something very satisfying about a Christmas feast. The whole house smells amazing, and the preparation is half the fun. Aperitif is my favourite part: a big cold buffet including pâté en croute (from The Art of Living According to Joe Beef, Ten Speed Press 2011), foie gras confit, and loads of pickled mushrooms and fruits. Of course, there are always friends popping in, smores roasting in the fireplace, cookies and milk, bread pudding, and a huge, beautiful cheese tray with raw honey and brioche.
The wines are flowing – always! This year, we will be tapping into some Ganevat Jura magnums, funky natural wines from Partida Creus in Spain, the electric Chablis from Athénaïs de Béru, low-alcohol Loire reds from françois Saint-Lô, and beautiful northern Rhône Syrah from Jean-Pierre Monier. Large formats are key for the holidays!
Chef, Brunswick House, London
I’ve been cooking Christmas lunch for my extended family since my mid-teens. These days, my mother and I spend the months leading up to Christmas texting each other possible menus – she has excellent taste and a vivid imagination.
I work up until the 23rd. Everyone imagines the whole of December is mental in the restaurant, but by the 21st or 22nd bookings are starting to drop off and we can close up, clean down and send everyone home ’til the new year. I head down to the family farm on the South Downs to start cooking.
On Christmas Eve I bake a ham. On Christmas Day I’ll roast a bird, preferably a goose. I resist the urge to serve turkey with hundreds of sides. I tend to limit it to glazed carrots, roast potatoes and sautéed sprouts, and I get far greater satisfaction from the harmonious accordance of three or four things, cooked with care and love.
Every family has its traditions. Ours has an excellent one from my maternal grandmother, Diana, of frying falafel-like balls of sage, onion, lemon and breadcrumb stuffing. Cranberry sauce made with Campari & Cointreau? I think that’s a pretty successful innovation.
Wine-wise I tend to go for intense, pure white wine – Jura Chardonnay from Labet, Macle, Overnoy, Ganevat. Bourgogne Aligoté from Ramonet, Claire Naudin. Red Burgundy from Sylvain Pataille, his L’Ancestrale Marsannay. Champagne from Marguet, maybe? And a few cases of OhSomm Pinot Noir and Chablis to fill in the gaps.
Food columnist for The New York Times and author of Dinner: Changing the Game ($35, Clarkson Potter)
We always start with a table of hors d’oeuvres: oysters, smoked salmon blinis, gougères, cheeses, salami, anchovies wrapped around pickled peppers or stuffed into olives, which we accompany with Champagne (small grower non-vintage, generally) and a punch bowl. I have a friend who is a cocktail historian and he always brings a flaming punch.
Once at the table we start with a fish course, a nod to the time when I was married to an Italian-American and we celebrated Christmas Eve with the feast of the seven fishes. Then we go to a roasted leg of lamb or some other centrepiece meat – or a stew.
We don’t do turkey since we’ve just had it in November for Thanksgiving. Potato gratin or roast duck fat potatoes are a typical side, or a big bowl of polenta.
Dessert is often hot chocolate (the best stuff made with Valrhona and topped with fresh whipped cream), plates of Christmas cookies and marrons glacés, then we finish with Armagnac or Port. Or a dairy-free eggnog, which is absolutely delicious.
This year we will be going through my father’s cellar. He was a wine collector and has some very special bottles that, sadly, he didn’t get to drink (he died recently after a long illness). There’s a Petrus 1974, several bottles of Roumier’s Morey-St-Denis 1er Cru Clos de la Bussière 1971, some Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape from the 1980s and Fonseca vintage Port from 1977. I’ll get some blue cheese and serve it with walnuts for that one.
Head chef, Attica, Melbourne
No32, The World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2017
Christmas is family time. I don’t feel like there is anything clever about what I cook on Christmas Day. It is just simple cooking. The highlight for us is lasagne. We are not of Italian heritage, but it has always been our special occasion family dish. It’s what my mum has always cooked at Christmas and we celebrate every special occasion with it.
I generally do a glazed ham too. I like to score the fat and press a clove into each square and then glaze it with apricot jam, brown sugar and mustard with orange juice in the pan to keep it moist.
This year we will be having a white Christmas in Japan, so I’m feeling like saké will suit the occasion best.
André Lima de Luca,
Brazilian chef and pitmaster
I share the cooking with my mum – she’s a tremendous cook. There’s usually one or two kinds of pasta – obligatory at our table at Christmas, a baked salted cod fish called called bacalhoada (Portuguese style with potatoes, onions, tomatoes, olives, red and green bell peppers, a lot of olive oil and garlic). Last year I did a beautiful prawn risotto.
And every year we have salpicão de frango, a salad made with cubed boiled potatoes (cooked al dente), apple, celery, pulled chicken and marie rose sauce. Obviously a great rack of beef is awesome at Christmas.
When it comes to wine, it’s summer in Brazil so it will be hot, definitely. We’ll probably drink a beautiful Chardonnay. Or maybe Pinot Noir. Of course I drink Brazilian wine too – the Guaspari Syrah is a favourite. With the beef, I’ll choose a good Malbec or a gran reserva Rioja from Remírez de Ganuza, or maybe the 890 Gran Reserva from La Rioja Alta. So many choices.