A Sixmas feast
With restrictions on family and friends gathering likely this Christmas, Dominic Franks suggests six courses for six people.
There’s a lot going on out there in the world and I think if you’re anything like me you’re searching for some stability and tradition this Christmas. It’s unlikely that I, or anyone else for that matter, can currently offer you that stability but a little bit of tradition should hopefully help us all feel just that little bit more festive.
With that in mind, I’ve devised a Christmas dinner menu for six people (at the time of writing, we’re currently assuming that six is still the magic number…) that takes all the best bits of the big day that I’ve always loved and offers them up in six courses.
From a fancy and very festive Christmas Cocktail through to the classic trifle with a twist, there should be something here for everyone and whilst yes, it may seem that there’s a lot going on here, let’s face it, it’s likely we’re all going to have a lot of time on our hands over the next few weeks.
It’s all pretty traditional stuff and I’d encourage you to speak with your local greengrocers and poulterers and get them to do as much of the primping and preening as possible. So settle in and feast your eyes on this lot!
Course 1: The Christmas Spritz
This is the perfect way to start any meal and I love to serve it once everyone has sat down (rather than before the meal when everyone is already giddy with booze). It’s a chance to take a moment, a breather for the chef and the guests, to raise a glass and think of loved ones. It’s a simple champagne cocktail but has rum and wintry spices to warm it up and make it festive.
First we make a spicy syrup. Gently warm the golden caster sugar in a pan with the water and allspice. Cook gently until the sugar has dissolved, then leave the mixture to cool. Strain through a sieve lined with a coffee filter (or a double layer of kitchen paper).
Pour 60ml of the spiced syrup into a cocktail shaker along with 200ml rum and 90ml lime juice. Shake with ice and strain between six flute glasses. Top up with 600ml champagne and garnish each with an orange twist.
Course 2: Roast Chestnut Soup
This soup has all the wonderful nutty flavours of Christmas in a bowl. I’m actually serving mine in coffee cups as I don’t want the guests to get too full. It’s just a little teaser, bursting with flavour to warm the palate. It can be made up to a month in advance and frozen, or make it a couple of days before as it will keep well in the fridge.
Pre-heat the oven to 200˚C and lay your chestnuts in a large roasting tin and roast them for 30 min until they soften and darken and begin to split open. Remove from the oven and if you can handle them, remove them from their shells and set aside.
In a large pan, sauté the onions, celery and carrots in butter until soft and the onions are beginning to turn translucent.
Add the chopped mushrooms and roasted chestnuts, stir and then place the lid on the pan and let them sweat down for 10 minutes.
Add the stock and then the chestnut puree, let it simmer for 25 minutes before blitzing until totally smooth, with a hand-blender. Serve with a swirl of cream.
Course 3: Smoked Salmon Terrine
This is an absolute classic and whilst it looks fancy it’s actually really simple to make. It’s light and not terribly filling. Served with a crunchy slice of melba toast is the done thing and actually won’t fill you up too much. For a simple veggie version, use thinly sliced courgettes instead of salmon. I season them well and griddle them first, then set aside to cool. Again, this can easily be made the day before and kept in the fridge.
Grease a loaf tin, a 900g/2lb one is ideal but you can use one slightly smaller or bigger. Line with cling-film, then cover just the base with one layer of smoked salmon slices, trimmed to fit neatly.
Whizz the cream cheese, cream, lemon zest and juice together in a food processor to combine. Scrape out and stir in the dill and chives with some seasoning. Spread 1/8th of the cream cheese mixture over as evenly as you can. Top with a layer of salmon slices. Repeat with the cream cheese and salmon – you should be able to do 7 layers of cream cheese. (By starting with just 1/8th of the mixture, it means as the tin widens you’ll have enough to put a bit more as you go further up creating even layers.)
Finish with a last layer of salmon (and treat yourself to a smoked salmon sarnie with any trimmings!). Cover with cling-film, pressing down gently, then chill overnight.
To serve, turn onto a platter and gently peel off the cling-film. Scatter with a few dill fronds and serve with lemon wedges and toast.
Course 4: The Main Event
OK, so go for a turkey if you want a turkey but even a small turkey is quite large for six people. Why not take a visit to your local poulterer and ask them to build you something for six.
I visited the wonderful folk at A Dales & Sons Poulterers in Louth, explained what I wanted and a week later they had created this incredible beast for me. It’s essentially a turkey crown but to keep it gloriously moist it’s got pork mince wrapped in pheasant breast which is then tied into the crown, which has a layer of yummy bacon wrapped around it. How incredible does that sound?
I’m serving it with the classics. I genuinely think people overdo it on Christmas Day for no reason at all, so I’m making roast potatoes (Who needs two types of potato? That’s just mean on the host.). Then, parsnips, carrots and Brussels sprouts. I’m not going to tell you how to cook yours because we all have our favourite way but what I am going to give you is a recipe for the best gravy in the world. You can never have enough gravy for Christmas lunch and this one is simply epic. It’s a twist on an amazing recipe by Jamie Oliver and it’s quite literally a meal in itself. This you most certainly want to and can make in advance and freeze. I always double the recipe because it’s just so popular.
Peel the onions, wash the carrots, then roughly chop with the celery and bacon. Put the veg, bay leaves, sage, rosemary and star anise into a sturdy high-sided roasting tray, then scatter the chopped bacon on top.
Break the chicken wings open, bash with a rolling pin to help release extra flavour as they cook, then add to the tray. Drizzle with oil, season with sea salt and black pepper, toss, then cook for 1 hour, or until tender.
Remove the tray from the oven and transfer to a low heat on the hob. Really grind and mash everything with a potato masher, scraping up all the goodness from the base of the tray (the longer you let it fry, the darker your gravy will be). If you want to add sherry or port, now’s the time to do so; just leave it to cook away for a few minutes.
Gradually stir in the flour, then pour in 2 litres of boiling kettle water. Simmer for 30 minutes, or until thickened and reduced, stirring occasionally.
When the gravy is the consistency of your liking, pour it through a coarse sieve into a large bowl, pushing all the goodness through with the back of a spoon. Taste and season to perfection, cool to room temperature, then pour into containers or bags and pop into the fridge or freezer, ready to finish off on Christmas Day.
Course 5: Last-Minute Christmas Puddings – with a naughty chocolate sauce!
Your granny will have told you that you should have baked your Christmas puds months ago and let them mature under the bed. She’s probably right but just in case you didn’t, here’s a superfast recipe for a last-minute Christmas dessert that’s part pudding and part cake.
It has all the ingredients: fruits, candied peel, nuts and of course booze, it’s just a lot lighter than the more traditional puddings. Plus it’s served with a very naughty chocolate sauce laced with Grand Marnier for that special chocolate-orange hit.
I’m using some adorable mini-Bundt cake silicone moulds but it can easily be baked in a small loaf tin and sliced for serving.
Start with the cake. I’m using some fancy little silicone Bundt moulds but you could use buttered ramekins or a 2lb loaf tin which you should grease and line with parchment paper. Pre-heat the oven to 180˚C.
It’s an all-in-one cake and the only thing that really matters here is that your butter is very soft, so ensure you leave it out the night before making the cake. Place all the ingredients, except the liqueur, into the bowl of a stand mixer and beat well for about 5 minutes until it’s blended. Then add as much Grand Marnier as you can handle and beat in again. Spoon the mixture into your cake tins and bake for 25 minutes or until it’s gloriously golden. Set aside to cool.
Meanwhile, to make the naughty chocolate sauce, heat the cream in a pan and when it’s hot (but not boiling) take it off the heat and add the chocolate and butter to it. Stir well until the chocolate has melted, then add a generous glug of Grand Marnier and stir in.
Serve one per person, or a slice each, with the hot sauce (this can be kept warm on the hob or by a fire).
Course 6: Champagne Marmalade Trifle
Let’s celebrate the fact that we’ve reached the end of another successful Christmas meal without Auntie Enid getting too squiffy and falling asleep at the table or that the twins haven’t already broken the toys they received only a few hours ago and raise a glass of boozy trifle.
These trifles are a contemporary twist on the classic Christmas Day dessert. Served individually in glasses, they’re more of a build than a bake and if, like I’ve done, you buy a readymade sponge and custard then you’re already winning!
You will need 6 glasses. I think these work well in tall champagne glasses but would work equally well in martini glasses or small glass bowls.
Place the cranberries in a bowl and cover with champagne to soak. After 5 min, drain the cranberries (keep the champagne for later) and stir them into your marmalade.
Sprinkle some sugar into a shallow bowl. Run a cut lemon around the rim of each glass and run the rim into the sugar.
Whisk your cream to soft peaks.
Place a few chunks of cake into each glass and spritz each one with a dash of the champagne that the cranberries were soaking in. Spoon a layer of the cranberry and marmalade mix onto the cake followed by the custard. Then top each glass with a generous heap of whipped cream. Scatter one or two cranberries on top.
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