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Donal Skehan's step-by-step Christmas dinner guide


Donal Skehan

Donal Skehan

Donal Skehan's Christmas dinner

Donal Skehan's Christmas dinner

Donal Skehan's Honey Glazed Ham

Donal Skehan's Honey Glazed Ham

Donal Skehan's Smoked Maple Bacon and Pecan Brussel Sprouts

Donal Skehan's Smoked Maple Bacon and Pecan Brussel Sprouts

Donal Skehan's Chocolate Tiramisu Triffle

Donal Skehan's Chocolate Tiramisu Triffle

Donal's Skehan's Goose Fat Roast Potatoes with Garlic and Rosemary

Donal's Skehan's Goose Fat Roast Potatoes with Garlic and Rosemary

Donal Skehan's Brandy Butter Pudding

Donal Skehan's Brandy Butter Pudding

Donal Skehan's Beetroot Gravadlax with Dill Creme Fraiche and Cucumber Pickle

Donal Skehan's Beetroot Gravadlax with Dill Creme Fraiche and Cucumber Pickle

Donal Skehan

Donal Skehan


Donal Skehan

Even if you are an experienced cook, the sheer scale of Christmas dinner can be pretty daunting and overwhelming. From giant birds to rugby tackle first thing in the morning to explosives (crackers!) on the table - and what other meal ends with setting the dessert on fire? - it's a wonder we get through the day at all.

The key to Christmas success is timing and preparation. Get it right and the result will be an epic dinner and smiles all round.

In my family, we have always had a tradition of delegation - my mother would cook the turkey and my aunts would make the Christmas cake and bake off the ham. It's a great way of taking the pressure off the host and allows everyone to enjoy the day.

Jobs such as peeling potatoes, preparing Brussels sprouts and making stuffing can be done the day before and made far less of a chore if there are many hands helping out. Making a detailed to-do list, taking small steps and deciding who will do what early on will allow you a stress-free Christmas filled with festive cheer.

Even if you do end up cooking solo on the big day, my step-by-step Christmas dinner guide will give you all the essential tips and instructions for making the main meal. From the turkey to the pudding, the sides to the starters, and all the great little bits in between, you'll find everything you need in the following pages. Wishing you and yours a very merry Christmas!

Five steps to a stress-free day


Do all food shopping and ordering well in advance.

Make the Christmas puddings

Clean out the fridge. Get out and wash all of the crockery, cutlery, glasses and table decorations you want to use over the holidays.

Make a detailed to-do list that covers the run-up to Christmas and the day itself.

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Prepare the gravadlax starter up to five days in advance.


Jar of cranberry sauce, Christmas crackers, mince pies, selection of cheese and crackers, seasonal fruit and ice cream.

Lemons and limes for food and drinks.

Make sure the freezer is stocked with plenty of ice.

A couple of loaves of bread in the freezer. ✦ Soft drinks or non-alcoholic cocktails for kids and designated drivers.


Collect the turkey from butcher or supermarket and prep so it is ready to go into the oven the next day.

Prepare the vegetables and store in the fridge.

Prepare the dill crème fraîche and picked cucumber .

Prepare the brandy butter and tiramisu  and refrigerate.

Set the table and do any last-minute tidying up.

Cook the honey and mustard glazed ham. Serve with jacket potatoes, soured cream and a nice crisp green vegetable for an easy dinner.


Remember to delegate getting the vegetables ready, getting drinks for guests drinks and setting out nibbles.

Designate a kitchen assistant, a barman, turkey carver, a rubbish collector and, most importantly, a dishwasher.


As long as everyone enjoys themselves you've done a good job, so don't worry too much if something does not turn out perfectly - and don't, whatever you do, draw everyone's attention to it.

Most importantly, make sure you get to sit down and relax during the course of the day. Bon appetit!

Roast Turkey with  Orange & Thyme Butter

I prefer to use a free range or organic bird for this special occasion. To test if the turkey is cooked, pierce the thickest part with a long clean skewer or knitting needle. If the juices run clear, it is ready, if a little pink then return to the oven and cook a little longer.

If you want to carve it at the table, fill the neck cavity with a bunch of fresh herbs and arrange the roast potatoes and Parmesan-crusted parsnips around it, draping them with redcurrant sprigs for that festive touch!

Serves 12

You will need:

12-14lb turkey, neck and giblets removed

1 garlic head, halved horizontal

Small handful fresh thyme sprigs

2 onions, thickly sliced

2 carrots, thickly sliced on the diagonal

2 celery stalks, thickly sliced on the diagonal

Handful garlic cloves, peeled

600ml turkey or chicken stock (preferably homemade)


For the orange & thyme butter:

100g softened butter

2tsp chopped fresh thyme

1tbsp chopped fresh Italian parsley

2tsp finely grated orange zest

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


Donal Skehan's Christmas dinner

Donal Skehan's Christmas dinner

Donal Skehan's Christmas dinner



Preheat oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4. Mix the butter, thyme, parsley and orange zest in a medium bowl. Season the butter mixture with salt and pepper to taste. Beginning at the neck end of the turkey and using your fingers, carefully make a pocket between the flesh and skin of the turkey breasts. Gently slide all but one tablespoon of the butter mixture into the pocket under the skin, and spread the butter to cover the turkey breasts.

Stuff the main turkey cavity with the garlic, thyme sprigs, and a quarter of the onions, carrots and celery. Truss the turkey then spread the remaining tablespoon of butter mixture over the turkey. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Place the remaining onions, carrots, celery and garlic cloves in the bottom of a heavy large roasting tin. Place the prepared turkey on top of the vegetables and pour around a third of the stock. Cover the breasts with foil. Roast for two hours. Remove the foil covering the turkey breasts and add another third of the stock to the tin. Continue roasting until an instant-read meat thermometer, inserted into the thigh, registers 80C, or juices run clear — about three-and-a-half to four hours. Remove from the oven and transfer the turkey to a warm platter and cover in a loose tent of foil, then let it rest for 30 minutes.

To serve, carve the turkey into slices and arrange on warmed plates with the ham, roast potatoes and vegetables.


Honey & Mustard Glazed Ham

A traditional ham is the perfect choice if you've got a full house with lots of people to feed. We always cook ours on Christmas Eve so that it can be enjoyed on its own and then there is plenty left over for the festive lunch.

Serves 12

You will need:

5.25kg ham (on the bone)

2 celery sticks, roughly chopped

2 onions, sliced

1 large carrot, sliced

4 fresh bay leaves

1tbsp black peppercorns


For the honey & mustard glaze:

2tbsp English mustard

1tbsp whole cloves

2tbsp brown sugar

3tbsp honey

1 small bottle cider (preferably organic)


Donal Skehan's Honey Glazed Ham

Donal Skehan's Honey Glazed Ham

Donal Skehan's Honey Glazed Ham



Although hams tend to be much less salty nowadays, soaking overnight is still a good idea. Place the ham in a large pan and cover with cold water. Leave to soak for at least six hours or overnight is best, then drain. Weigh the ham and calculate the cooking time, allowing 15 minutes per 450g. Place in a large pan and cover with water and bring to the boil, skimming off any scum.

Add the celery, onion, carrot, bay leaves and peppercorns and return to the boil, then cover, reduce the heat and simmer until completely tender, occasionally skimming off any scum that rises to the top. If you are not sure about whether the ham is properly cooked check the bone end - the meat should pull away freely. Leave to cool in the cooking liquid.

Preheat the oven to 160C/300F/gas mark 3. Drain the ham - the stock is a good basis for a soup. Carefully peel away the skin, leaving the layer of white fat intact. Using a sharp knife, score the fat in thin straight lines, being careful not to cut into the meat. Brush the fat with the mustard, then stud with the cloves and sprinkle the sugar on top.

Finally, drizzle over the honey and place in a large roasting tin. Pour around the cider and cook for one hour until golden, basting every 15 minutes to ensure an even glaze.

Remove the cooked ham from the oven, transfer to a serving platter and leave to rest for 15 minutes. The lovely juices left in the pan can be used to make a gravy for the ham or added to your turkey gravy, once you've skimmed off any excess fat.


Smoked Bacon &  Pecan Brussel Sprouts

This is a great way to ensure that your Brussel sprouts end up perfectly cooked. They can be cooked and refreshed a few hours in advance, which guarantees no more over-cooked, lifeless specimens.

Serves 12

You will need:

1kg Brussel sprouts

1tbsp olive oil

4 rindless smoked streaky bacon rashers

25g pecan halves, roughly chopped

A good knob of butter

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

25g freshly grated Parmesan

Sea and freshly ground black pepper


Donal Skehan's Smoked Maple Bacon and Pecan Brussel Sprouts

Donal Skehan's Smoked Maple Bacon and Pecan Brussel Sprouts

Donal Skehan's Smoked Maple Bacon and Pecan Brussel Sprouts



Trim the Brussel sprouts and blanch in a pan of boiling salted water for 6-8 minutes until just tender. Check by piercing with the tip of a sharp knife. Drain and cool quickly under cold running water, then cut each one in half. The blanched sprouts can now be put into a large zip-lock bag and kept in the fridge until needed. When almost ready to serve, heat a little oil in a pan and sautée the bacon until crisp and golden. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper.

Add the pecan halves to the same pan and sauté for a couple of minutes until lightly toasted and sizzling. Again using a slotted spoon drain them on some kitchen paper. Add the butter and garlic to the sauté pan and tip in the blanched Brussel sprouts, then sauté over a medium heat until warmed through. Season to taste and sprinkle over the Parmesan, tossing to coat. Tip in the bacon and pecans and toss again briefly, then tip into a warmed serving bowl. Cover with foil and keep warm in a low oven until needed.


Parmesan-Crusted Parsnips

Roasting vegetables is a fantastic way of feeding a crowd with little effort. They would also be delicious if you wanted to prepare selection of similarly prepared root vegetables such as celeriac, carrots or turnips.

Serves 12

You will need:

50g plain flour

50g freshly grated Parmesan

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1.25kg parsnips

Groundnut or other flavourless oil for baking

Knob of butter


Donal's Skehan's Goose Fat Roast Potatoes with Garlic and Rosemary

Donal's Skehan's Goose Fat Roast Potatoes with Garlic and Rosemary

Donal's Skehan's Goose Fat Roast Potatoes with Garlic and Rosemary



Begin by combining the flour, Parmesan, salt and pepper in a mixing bowl. Peel the parsnips using a potato peeler. Then halve and quarter them lengthways and cut each length in half across, so that you end up with smallish chunks. Cut out any tough woody centres.

Now pop the parsnips in a pan, pour in enough boiling water just to cover them and add salt. Put on a lid, bring them to the boil and boil for 3 minutes. Meanwhile have a large baking tray ready. Then, as soon as they are ready, drain them in a colander and, while they are still steaming, drop a few at a time (with the aid of some kitchen tongs) into the flour and Parmesan mixture, shaking the bowl and moving them around so that they get a good even coating.

As they are coated transfer them to the tray. Make sure you do them all fairly swiftly as the flour mixture will only coat them whilst they are still steamy!

When they're all coated they are ready to cook or store in the fridge or freeze.

To bake them, preheat the oven to 200C/400F/ gas mark 6. Place a large, solid roasting tin in the oven to pre-heat and in it put enough oil just to cover the base and a knob of butter for flavour. Then, when the oven is ready, remove the tin and place it over direct heat (turned fairly low) and, again using tongs, place the parsnips quickly side by side in the tin.

Tilt it and baste all the parsnips with hot oil mixture, place the tin in the oven and bake them for 20 minutes, then turn them over, drain off any surplus fat (a bulb baster is good for this) and continue to bake for a further 15-20 minutes or until they are crisp and golden. Serve hot.

For really crunchy roast potatoes with fluffy middles choose a floury variety of potato, such as Irish roosters, and try to make sure that they are all similar in size. To ensure really crispy roast potatoes, drain off any excess fat about 20 minutes before the end of the cooking time. This will help them to go really crispy and golden brown around the edges.

Serves 12

You will need:

1.5kg potatoes, peeled & halved

100g goose or duck fat

Handful fresh rosemary sprigs

6 whole garlic cloves (not peeled)

Sea salt



Preheat the oven to 220C /425F/ gas mark 7. Place the potatoes in a pan of cold salted water and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 8-10 minutes until the outsides have just softened. Drain and return to the pan for a minute or two to dry out, shaking to knock off all the hard edges.

Meanwhile, pre-heat a roasting tin with the goose or duck fat for a few minutes until just smoking. Roughly prod the outside of the potatoes with a fork and toss them with rosemary and garlic. Carefully tip them into the hot oil, basting the tops. Roast for about 45 minutes to one hour, turning occasionally, until crisp and golden. Transfer with a slotted spoon into a warmed serving bowl. Season with sea salt and serve immediately.


Salmon & Beetroot Gravadlax with Dill Crème Fraiche  and Cucumber Pickle

If you are looking for a slightly different starter this Christmas, this salmon gravadlax recipe is an ideal solution and can all be made well in advance.

Serves 12

You will need:

2 halves of salmon fillets, scaled


Donal Skehan's Beetroot Gravadlax with Dill Creme Fraiche and Cucumber Pickle

Donal Skehan's Beetroot Gravadlax with Dill Creme Fraiche and Cucumber Pickle

Donal Skehan's Beetroot Gravadlax with Dill Creme Fraiche and Cucumber Pickle


For beetroot cure:

2 large raw beetroots, peeled and quartered

2 good handfuls of fresh dill, roughly chopped

6tbsp sea salt

9tbsp caster sugar

1tbsp honey

2tbsp freshly ground black pepper

1tbsp wholegrain mustard

For the cucumber pickle:

4tbsp caster sugar

4tbsp cider vinegar

½tbsp salt

1 small shallot, very thinly sliced

1 cucumber, thinly sliced


For the dill crème fraiche:

Good handful of fresh dill finely chopped

200g crème fraîche

Juice of ½ lemon

Good grinding freshly ground black pepper

Crisp bread, to serve

Fresh watercress and dill sprigs, to garnish



For the beetroot cure, blitz the beetroot to a smooth purée and put in bowl. Combine the dill, sea salt, caster sugar, honey, black pepper and mustard.

Roll out a large piece of cling film and sprinkle the base with a third of the beetroot mixture.

Place one side of the salmon, skin side down, on the beetroot mixture and top half the remaining mixture.

Place the second fillet on top, flesh side down and sprinkle with the remaining dill mixture.

Wrap the salmon tightly with the cling film and give it an extra layer if you need to.

Place the wrapped parcel in a high-sided dish and weight it down with a plate and some full tin cans or whatever heavy item you have to hand.

Leave the salmon to cure in the fridge for up to five days, turning half way through. The dish will fill with juices but don't be too concerned about draining them until you are ready to serve.

For the cucumber pickle, in a bowl mix together the sugar and vinegar until the sugar has dissolved. Mix in the salt and shallots and then add the cucumber slices. Cover with cling film and leave in the fridge for at least two hours or overnight.

For the dill crème fraîche, mix the dill, crème fraiche, lemon juice and black pepper in a bowl. Cover with cling film and leave in the fridge for at least two hours or overnight.

When you are ready to serve, remove the salmon from the package and wipe clean of the juices. Separate the sides and slice thinly with a large knife.

Place some crisp bread on each serving plate and top with the slices of beetroot gravadlax and dollops of the dill crème fraîche and a small mound of cucumber pickle to each one. Garnish with the watercress and dill sprigs to serve.


Chocolate & Caramel Tiramisu Trifle

This version of trifle - quite unconventional but highly delicious - can be made up to two days in advance and kept covered with cling film in the fridge until needed. Just remember to decorate at the last minute.

Serves 12

You will need:

6 large eggs, separated (free range)

175g caster sugar

750g mascarpone cheese

1 ½ tsp vanilla extract

375g savoiardi di fonni or ladyfinger biscuits

500ml espresso

Good splash of vin santo or Marsala

450g dark chocolate, in large thick shavings (best quality)

2 x 400g cans caramel or dulce de leche

Cocoa powder, to dust

100g white chocolate, in large thick shavings


Donal Skehan's Chocolate Tiramisu Triffle

Donal Skehan's Chocolate Tiramisu Triffle

Donal Skehan's Chocolate Tiramisu Triffle



In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar until light and frothy. Mix in the mascarpone and vanilla until combined and set aside.

In a clean bowl, whisk the egg whites until white and stiff. Add a large spoonful of the beaten egg whites to the egg yolk mixture and mix through. Add the rest of the egg whites and fold through gently.

Arrange the savdiardi di fonni or ladyfinger biscuits in the base of a trifle bowl. Soak them in the espresso and splash with a little vin santo or Marsala. Carefully spread a layer of the mascarpone mixture and sprinkle over a little of the dark chocolate shavings, then spoon in a few tablespoons of the caramel or dulce de leche. Repeat with the rest of the ingredients ending with a final layer of mascarpone mix.

Dust with a little cocoa powder, add a spoonful of caramel, if you've any left and decorate with the rest of the dark and the white chocolate shavings. Chill until ready to serve.


Theodora FitzGibbon's Christmas Pudding

One of my favourite projects this year was the selecting and photographing the recipes of Irish food writer Theodora FitzGibbon.

From her back catalogue of more than 30 recipe books and years of articles, her Christmas recipes are the ones that are still pulled out at this time of year.

Theodora's pudding is a brilliant and reliable recipe.

Makes 2 puddings (each 1.2 litre in size)


Donal Skehan's Brandy Butter Pudding

Donal Skehan's Brandy Butter Pudding

Donal Skehan's Brandy Butter Pudding


You will need:

100g chopped glacé cherries

175g chopped mixed peel (the whole peel is the best)

225g each sultanas, seedless raisins and currants

100g plain or self-raising flour

2tsp ground cinnamon

2tsp mixed spice or ground nutmeg

350g fresh white breadcrumbs (from bread not more than two days old)

50g ground almonds

225g brown sugar

Finely grated rind and juice of 1 orange and 1 lemon

1 carrot, grated

5 eggs

300ml Guinness

4tbsp rum, whiskey or brandy

225g grated suet or butter or oil



Put the prepared fruit and all dry ingredients into a large bowl and mix well. Make a well in the bowl and add the grated rind and juice of the orange and lemon and grated carrot. Mix again.

Beat the eggs and add them gradually, stirring well. Finally, add the stout and spirits, mixing together thoroughly. Add any charms.

Put into 2 x 1.2 litre greased basins, cover with greaseproof paper and then tie a cloth over. (If necessary they can be left overnight.)

Steam or boil, with the water coming up to the rim, for seven hours, topping up with water as it runs dry. When cooked, uncover and let steam out. Don't be alarmed if they are not dark brown, this comes with age.

Re-cover lightly with greaseproof paper and the following day tie up with clean cloths. Before serving, steam or re-boil for 2 hours. Puddings can also be cooked in the oven in the following way: put the puddings in a large tin, three-quarters full of hot water.

Cover the pudding completely with tin foil and bake at 150C/300F/gas mark 2) for 6 hours.

Serve warm with lashings of brandy butter...


Brandy butter

Try this easy recipe for traditional brandy butter; perfect for slathering over Christmas pudding and mince pies over the festive season. It keeps well in the fridge for up to a week so can be made well in advance.

Serves 12

You will need:

250g softened unsalted butter

250g icing sugar, sifted

4tbsp boiling water

6tbsp brandy



Cream together the butter and icing sugar in a bowl. Beat in the boiling water and brandy until smooth. Transfer to a serving dish and chill until needed.

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