Five Ways To Make Christmas Dinner More Exciting
Venison with chestnut purée. Photograph courtesy of The Modern Pantry
Five chefs explain how to elevate your festive feast.
It’s the accoutrements that make the Christmas dinner table what it is. These side dishes will make up at least two-thirds of your plate, so they’re worth spending time on. We asked five chefs to give us their own creative spin on festive essentials that will take you from the main course into the side dishes and pudding, converting any sprout haters on the way. It’s festive cheer brought from all corners of the globe with every bite as delicious and innovative as the last.
Ginger kombucha and miso glazed ham
Mr Ben Boeynaems, head chef at The Zetter Townhouse, London
The festive ham is the gift that keeps on giving. As good in your Boxing Day sandwich as it is pulled and folded into a pie, it’s the one joint that unites every festive spread. This take on the ham is guaranteed to get everyone talking. It makes the most of in-vogue Far Eastern fermented ingredients, adding a layer of umami to the meat that you simply do not get with traditional Western recipes. To do it properly, start preparation early. “A week before the big day, put a handful of black tea leaves in a jar with a grated thumb-size piece of ginger, one bruised lemongrass stalk and a couple of teaspoons of white sugar, then pour over boiling water,” says Mr Ben Boeynaems. “When it cools to room temperature, add enough scoby [symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast] to fill the bottom of the jar, seal the lid and leave somewhere with a bit of warmth.” The scoby is the key ingredient here and is available from most supermarkets. It’s a bacterial culture that instigates the fermentation process and creates the kombucha blend you’ve seen in every hipster coffee shop (and your local Pret).
When it comes to the cooking, prepare your ham as usual. Boil it for 20 minutes for every 450g, then leave to cool and peel away the skin. “Now take your kombucha and mix as much of the liquid as you need with 2 tbsp honey, a sachet of miso paste and a little soy sauce. Smother the ham generously, grate on some fresh ginger and put it into a 190ºC oven for 40 minutes, basting regularly.” Leave to cool and carve at the table, ready to enlighten your guests about the joys of fusion festive food.
Ms Anna Hansen, chef-owner of The Modern Pantry, London
“I first discovered chestnuts when I moved to the UK [from New Zealand], and since then I have been hooked,” says Ms Anna Hansen. “Barely a Christmas passes where they do not appear in some form or other on the table. One of my all-time favourites is wonderfully creamy chestnut purée that everyone seems to like.” A purée is a fine addition to Christmas lunch. It makes for excellent texture contrast and using chestnuts gives that unmistakable flavour of British winter, familiar to anyone who’s been left waiting for friends outside an Underground station. Shop bought, pre-cooked are just as tasty and far less hassle than roasting your own. Simply tip a pouch of the nuts into a saucepan and mash a little with a fork. Add enough double cream to cover and a few sprigs of thyme. Heat gradually over a low heat, stirring all the time. When it comes together, allow to cool, tip into a blender and blitz until smooth. “I love it with grated tonka bean or nutmeg,” says Ms Hansen. “But it’s just as good served piping hot and plain.”
And two ways to convert sprout-haters
There’s always someone at the table who’ll turn their nose up at these mini cabbages. Try these two ways with Brussels to convert even the most ardent sprout-deniers.
Mr Hus Vedat, executive chef at Yosma, London
“My Turkish take is a twist on the one everyone knows using bacon,” says Mr Hus Vedat. “It’s super simple, with the Turkish sujuk sausage adding spice, pul biber pepper [otherwise known as Aleppo pepper] giving smoke and pickled shallots to cut through both.” To start, chop the sprouts and the sujuk (available from supermarkets) into thin strips of about the same size. Slice some shallots thinly and put them into some good-quality red wine vinegar to pickle for about 10 minutes.
Fry the sprouts for about five minutes and remove from the pan, replacing with the sujuk. When it’s crispy, reintroduce the sprouts for five minutes. Put into a serving dish, mix with your pickled shallots and sprinkle on the pul biber pepper (again, available from any supermarket with a decent dried spice selection).
“I just love Brussels sprouts,” says Mr Richard Corrigan. Not everyone does, mainly because people tend to boil them, which is a big, big no. It’s really simple to make them star of the show. Just slice them roughly, toss into a wok and add some sliced chestnuts and fry for a couple of minutes. Now add a couple of segments of clementine and some really thinly sliced back bacon. It will change the way you think about them for ever.”
Spiced orange cake
And for pudding…
As part of a modern Christmas family table, it’s pretty likely that you’re going to have at least one guest who has a food intolerance or someone who’s looking to make better food choices this year. This recipe from the two-Michelin-chef Mr Tom Kerridge is gluten free, doesn’t use flour and comes with serious festive flavour. “It’s a great alternative for someone who doesn’t like Christmas pudding,” he says. “It’s easy to make and can be done in advance and can easily serve a table of eight to 10.”
Start by boiling three clementines in water for two hours. Drain them, leave to cool and then cut in half and remove the seeds. Then roughly chop the lot – skin, pith, fruit – in a blender or food processor. While it’s blending, beat seven eggs. Now add 300g chopped almonds, 300g caster sugar and 2 tsp baking powder to a mixing bowl. Add about 450g of the clementine mix and beat everything together thoroughly.
Pre-heat your oven to 180ºC, take your cake batter and pour into a greased cake tin. Bake it for an hour and cover with tinfoil for the last 20 minutes if it looks as though the top is burning. Stick a skewer in after 60 minutes and if it comes out clean, you’re done. Leave it to cool, remove the cake tin and cover with whatever toppings you so desire.