Monday 24 June 2019

'From the big fry to the selection box' - The top 30 food experiences that make an Irish Christmas

Katy McGuinness gives a taste of the elements that go into making the quintessential Irish food festivities complete

Christmas dinner is all about 'The Bird'
Christmas dinner is all about 'The Bird'
Mince pies: make sure that it's all butter and that your mincemeat is properly boozy
Festive favourite: mince pies
Whiskey goes down well at Christmas time.
Selection box
Irish cheeses
Katy McGuinness

Katy McGuinness

"It simply wouldn't be Christmas without…" this list!

1 Making the cake and pudding

'Stir Up Sunday' may have passed, but there's still time to put on the apron and dust off granny's 100-year-old recipe. Or, in my case, if the family recipe is anything like my mother's - she made one large quantity of generic, fruit-filled batter and steamed half (pudding) and baked half (cake) - you'll do the sensible thing and buy one instead. Eileen Bergin (founder of The Butler's Pantry) from The Merrion Tree Bistro's puddings are amongst the best there are. If you insist on making your own, the recipe favoured by those who know their traditional cookery is Maura Laverty's from her book Full and Plenty. Next morning have a slice fried in butter - some top it with custard and Lemon's sweets (from the box with Santa on it.)

2 The Big Shop

It's only for 24 hours that the shops are closed, but still we feel the need to shop as if it is the end of days. Supermarkets will be full of harried folk come the weekend before Christmas, and half of the food in their trollies will end up in the bin. (No, you don't need 10 bags of breadcrumbs for stuffing.) Do yourself a favour, make a list, and buy everything that can be bought ahead now, and pick up the perishables in your local shops, or book your delivery slot now and order online. The most pleasurable food shop is the one in your favourite emporium - Caviston's, Ardkeen, Country Choice, Fallon & Byrne, The English Market and McCambridge's are some of the best.

3 Smoked salmon

The very best Irish smoked salmon comes from Frank Hederman, Sally Barnes' Woodcock Smokery and Burren Smokehouse. London-based food writer and chef Jordan Bourke says that he remembers it appearing every time somebody came through the door of his childhood home - and says that it has to be served with good salted butter and soda bread.

4 Hadji Bey's Turkish delight

Originally made in Cork by Armenian immigrants to Ireland, the Turkish Delight ceased production for a while but was revived in 2010. Each pretty box contains an extract from a 1964 edition of The Guardian telling the story behind the confectionery.

5 Brandy Butter

Not all brandy butters are created equal. Sceal Bakery makes theirs with sea salt; it's pretty special, you'll find it at Charlotte and Shane's stall at the Christmas Flea dublinchiristmasflea.ie at the Point Village from December today and tomorrow.

6 Terry's Chocolate Orange

It's not a proper Irish Christmas stocking without a Terry's Chocolate Orange in its toe.

7 Trifle

Tinned fruit salad or peaches, jelly or no jelly, there are as many versions of trifle as there are families in Ireland - just make sure to include plenty of sherry (or poitín, suggests somebody from Leitrim who wishes to remain anonymous). Nigella has an excellent Boozy Christmas trifle recipe which you can find online.

8 Supermac's on Christmas Eve

Because it wouldn't do to head into the Big Day on an empty stomach.

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Irish cheeses

9 Irish Cheeses

Cheese, cheese and more cheese - there's no reason to buy cheese from anywhere else when Irish farmhouse cheeses are so good. For starters, try Young Buck, Corleggy, Tempegall, Shepherd's Store and St Tola.

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Whiskey goes down well at Christmas time.

10 Drinks

Cidona, hot port and Baileys are probably the most essential Irish Christmas drinks, but if you are seeking to impress, then book into Ashford Castle to try the fruits of owner Stanley Tollman's collaboration with Brian Nation, Master Distiller from Midleton Very Rare Whiskey - a bespoke whiskey cask exclusively for guests of Ashford Castle to enjoy, now available to purchase at €950 a bottle. A little more affordable, Eight Degrees Trespass Dark Farmhouse Ale with Blackberries (7.5pc ABV) is a collaboration brew with Jamil Zainasheff of Heretic Brewing. This is a Belgian farmhouse-style ale, that has been Bretted, barrel-aged and blackberried. This is the beer to accompany a traditional roast goose with all the trimmings or a whole honey mustard roast ham (750ml bottles, RRP €9.95). The company has also produced Blowhard Imperial Stout aged in Jameson Barrels (12pc ABV), ideal for pairing with a dark and rich Christmas pudding or a decadent Belgian chocolate mousse (330ml bottles, RRP €4.20).

11 Potatoes

Mashed, croquettes, roast and gratin - four different kinds of potatoes are the norm at most Irish Christmas dinners. Cook your roasties in James Whelan's beef dripping for maximum crunch.

12 Celery

A controversial element of the Christmas dinner. Some insist on a bowl of celery in white sauce, while others, such as chef Keelan Higgs, say that the only way is to "braise it in chicken stock, with a big chunk of Alsace bacon and a big bunch of thyme".

13 Pork

Pigs in blankets, sausage rolls, sausages, rashers, ham, sausage stuffing - the Irish Christmas involves vast quantities of processed pork in myriad forms.

14 The fry on Christmas morning

Jane Russell's sausages, Smokin' Butcher black pudding, Meere's white pudding, Gubbeen rashers, fried brown bread, potato cakes with black pudding, boxty, steak - the Christmas Day breakfast is a hearty affair, with ne'er a yoghurt or bowl of granola in sight.

15 Mince pies

If you're going to make your own with shop-bought pastry, make sure that it's all butter and that your mincemeat is properly boozy. And lay in the brandy butter to serve alongside.

16 The Ham

With the number of people who admit to attacking the ham on the way back from Midnight Mass (aka the pub), it's a wonder that any ham ends up on the table come Christmas dinner. James Whelan's Heritage Cure ham and Gubbeen's smoked ham are two of the best for cooking yourself, but if you're going to buy a cooked ham and try and pass it off as your own, Ian Marconi's Jack Rabbit version is the one to go for. Sourced from Crowe's in Tipperary, the hams come from outdoor-reared pigs and are simmered in spiced Christmas liquor before being glazed, studded with cloves and roasted over oak wood and charcoal for a subtle, smoky flavour. They are fabulous. For every 15 hams sold, Marconi is donating one to de Paul. From €60 for a 4kg (before cooking weight) ham. To order, email ian@jackrabbit.ie.

17 The alternative cake

Liking the look of the chocolate log from Camerino. See camerino.ie.

18 Bread sauce

Another controversial one - more popular with Corkonians than anyone else. Don't bother making it out of a packet. Delia's is the classic recipe, but others suggest the addition of thyme and nutmeg.

19 The Turkey sambo

To be eaten on the sofa whilst watching a movie that you've seen a hundred times before. Brennan's white batch loaf essential, see also Hellmann's mayonnaise. This is no time for sourdough.

20 Cheese & Onion Crisps for the Turkey sambos

Tayto or King; it's a tough call.

21 Stuffing

Chestnut or sausage, simple herb and butter, just make sure that there's plenty of it. Everyone knows that the best stuffing is the one from the cavity.

22 Condiments

Crossogue cranberry sauce is traditional but we're laying in White Mausu's peanut rayu and new cashew and miso crunch to lend a bit of oomph to our leftovers. See whitemausu.com.

23 The Bird

Let's face it, the smell of the turkey coming out of the oven is probably the best thing about it. Go for a free-range or organic bird and give it lots of love and butter to keep it moist, or live dangerously and try a goose.

24 Or something else?

Some 99pc of chefs surveyed said they'd be eating Beef Wellington rather than turkey.

25 Brussels Sprouts

Boiled in the ham water until soggy, or shredded and sautéed with pancetta and chestnuts in the modern way, Brussels sprouts are the marmite of the Christmas dinner table. This year we are thinking roasted, with leftovers going on pizza with bacon. Don't knock it until you've tried it.

26 Spiced beef

The most famous purveyor of spiced beef is Tom Durkan in the English Market in Cork; he has it all year round but over the Christmas period he'll sell 12 tonnes of the stuff. Your local butcher probably has it too. An acquired taste, you either love it or hate it.

27 Afternoon tea

Before the festivities become too much, catch the civilised spirit of the season with afternoon tea at somewhere that does it properly, such as The Merrion, The Westbury or Dromoland. You'll need to book.

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Selection box

28 Chocolate

Quality Street, Celebrations, Roses, After Eights, Elizabeth Shaw mint crisps ("the only time of year we ever buy them")… this is no time to say that you're on a diet. If you're more of a bean to bar person, try one of Bean & Goose's magnificent slabs instead.

29 The selection box

The Curly Wurly is to Christmas what the Crème Egg is to Easter - and it's all the better if it's stolen from a child's Selection Box.

30 The tin of biscuits

USA, Mikado, Kimberley, Tunnock's Teacakes - there's no room for snobbery here, the more basic the better.

Read more: Simply classic: Ballymaloe’s Darina Allen shares her all-time favourite Christmas recipes

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