Food & Drink Special: The spirits of christmas

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No time of the year favours the ambitious cook more than Christmas. The use of expensive ingredients is licensed, and for the most part, largely off-licensed. We have in Europe a tradition of cooking with wines, spirits, ciders and beers that goes back to classical times. The Romans employed the complex flavours of both red and white wines in their cooking, and the practice spread. If the Romans invented sauces, the French certainly refined them, so we kick off with four sauces from Britain's longest-established three-star chef, Michel Roux of the Waterside Inn, Bray. They exploit the sparkle of champagne, the complexity of vermouth and the honest virtues of beer and cider. We move on to soups. Sherry is the common addition, but here we give four other examples, lamb soup with Guinness, onion soup with port, and two soupy seafood dishes, the famous French bouillabaisse (with wine and Pernod) and a substantial Belgian waterzooi using white wine, followed by a delicious oyster dish with Noilly Prat and an unusual recipe for salmon with beer and chicory. We go on to a Spanish chicken liver dish with sherry, a truly magnificent boeuf bourguignonne, using a whole bottle of Pinot Noir, an elegant shin of veal braised in Madeira and served with a mustard sauce, and a contrastingly robust beef stew in beer, a Belgian carbonnade, concluding with two fabulous desserts - Myrtle Allen's port wine jelly and the traditional zabaglione with marsala wine


This sauce is excellent with braised fish steaks, such as turbot or bass. The addition of a spoonful of the braising liquid just before serving will enhance the flavour of the sauce.

Serves 4

60g/2oz shallots, very finely sliced

1 small bouquet garni

4 juniper berries, crushed

300ml/10fl oz mild light beer

200ml/7fl oz double cream

60g/2oz butter, chilled and diced

12 teaspoon finely snipped flat-leaf parsley

salt and freshly ground pepper

Put the shallots, bouquet garni and juniper berries in a saucepan, pour in the beer and reduce by two-thirds over medium heat. Add the cream and bubble for five minutes, until the sauce will lightly coat the back of a spoon. If it seems too thin, cook it for a few more minutes. Pass the sauce through a conical sieve, whisk in the butter, a small piece at a time, and finally stir in the parsley. Season with salt and pepper.


Serve this sauce with a cassolette of scallops or braised white fish.

Serves 4

40g/112oz shallots, finely chopped

1 sprig of thyme

12 bay leaf

100ml/312fl oz Noilly Prat or dry vermouth

300ml/12 pint fish stock

a pinch of paprika

60g/2oz butter, well chilled and diced

salt and freshly ground pepper

Put the shallots, thyme, bay leaf and vermouth in a saucepan and reduce by one-third over a high heat. Pour in the fish stock and cook over medium heat for 10 minutes, then add cream. Reduce the sauce over a high heat until it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Remove the thyme and bay leaf, whisk in the paprika and turn the heat down to low, making sure that the sauce does not boil. Whisk in the butter, a little at a time, then season with salt and pepper. Transfer the sauce to a blender and whizz for about 30 seconds until foamy and then serve immediately.


Serve with grilled scallops, a simply poached sole on the bone, braised turbot or a John Dory roasted in the oven and served whole at the table.

Serves 6

80ml/212fl oz cider vinegar

60g/2oz shallots, finely chopped

100ml/4fl oz sweet cider

50g/2oz dessert apple (preferably cox),

peeled and finely grated

250g/9oz butter, chilled and diced

salt and freshly ground pepper

Put the vinegar and shallots in a small, thick-bottomed saucepan, set over low heat and reduce the liquid by half. Add the cider and grated apple and cook gently to reduce the liquid by one-third. Still over low heat, incorporate the butter, a little at a time, using a whisk or small wooden spoon. The butter sauce must not boil, but merely tremble at about 90C. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve immediately, or keep the sauce warm for a few minutes in a bain-marie.


This sauce is wonderful with poached chicken or guinea fowl, and equally good with whole braised fish, such as John Dory or baby turbot.

Serves 6

50ml/2fl oz champagne vinegar

60g/2oz shallots, finely chopped

1 sprig of thyme

100ml/4fl oz brut champagne

60g/2oz button mushrooms, very finely diced

250g/9oz butter, chilled and diced

salt and freshly ground white pepper

Combine the vinegar, shallots and thyme in a small, thick-bottomed saucepan and reduce the liquid by half over low heat. Add the champagne and mushrooms and continue to cook gently until the liquid has again reduced by half. Remove the thyme. Over low heat, whisk in the butter, a little at a time, or beat it in with a wooden spoon. It is vital to keep the sauce barely simmering at 90C and not to let it boil during this operation. Season to taste and serve the sauce at once, or keep it hot in a bain-marie for a few minutes.


The Guinness gives a very deep, dark flavour to this Irish version of Scotch broth.

Serves 6

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 medium onions, finely chopped

275g/10oz boned shoulder of lamb, finely diced

1.2 litres/2 pints beef stock

275ml/12 pint Guinness

3 sticks celery, diced

3 carrots, diced

50g/2oz pearl barley, washed

110g/4oz red lentils, washed

3 medium potatoes, about 450g/1lb, peeled and diced

pinch of dried mixed herbs

salt and freshly ground pepper

To garnish:

150ml/14 pint natural yoghurt

6 fresh basil leaves

Heat the oil and cook the onion over a moderate heat until golden. Remove the onion and, in the same pan, brown the lamb dice. Stir in the stock and Guinness. Return the onion to the pan and add the celery, carrots, barley and lentils. Partially cover and simmer for one hour, stirring from time to time. Add the peeled, diced potatoes and herbs, taste for seasoning and simmer for a further 10 to 15 minutes until the potatoes are tender. Serve garnished with a dash of yoghurt and some basil leaves.


Anton Mosimann has the knack of making the most complicated dishes seem very simple to make.

Serves 4

1.2kg/2lb 11oz mixed fish (white fish and oily fish)

juice of 1 lemon

salt and freshly ground black pepper

50g/2oz white of leeks

100g/4oz fennel bulb

50g/2oz carrots

50ml/2fl oz olive oil

1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed

a few saffron threads

4 tomatoes, skinned, seeded and diced

120ml/4fl oz dry white wine

450ml/16fl oz fish stock

2 x 5ml teaspoons Pernod

1 x 15ml teaspoon finely cut herbs

rouille (see below)

Clean the fish, scaling, cutting off heads, tails and fins (use to make the stock) and removing innards. Cut the flesh into 5cm squares and place in a suitable dish, adding lemon juice and seasoning to the fish, to taste, and leave to marinate for a while.

Trim or peel the vegetables as appropriate, then cut into fine strips.

Heat oil in a large wide casserole, then sweat the leeks, fennel and carrots for four to five minutes, stirring constantly. Add the tomatoes, garlic and saffron to the vegetables and saute for three to five minutes.

Add white wine and fish stock to the casserole and bring to the boil. Reduce to a simmer and poach the fish pieces for a few minutes only. Now add the Pernod and herbs to the soup and remove from the heat. Taste and season if necessary.

Serve the rouille (spicy mayonnaise with chilli and crushed garlic coloured with tomato paste) with the hot soup.


A typically classic recipe from the Maitre Chef de Cuisine of The Savoy.

Serves 4

550g/1lb 4oz onions, finely chopped

65g/2oz unsalted butter

75g/212oz fennel, finely chopped

75g/212oz leeks, chopped

1 litre/134pt chicken stock

100ml/3fl oz double cream

50ml/2fl oz Ruby Port

salt and pepper

Place onion and butter in saucepan and sweat until transparent. Add the chopped fennel, leeks, chicken stock, salt and pepper and simmer slowly for about 25 minutes, until all ingredients are well cooked. Liquidise and pass through a fine sieve. Return soup to the heat and stir in the double cream. Add the port and season to taste. Ladle the soup into bowls and garnish with a spoonful of port.


Creme fraiche replaces the butter in this rich national dish of Belgium.

Serves 4

600ml/1 pint fish stock

300ml/12 pint creme fraiche

150ml/14 pint dry white wine

350g/12oz potatoes

4 pieces salmon fillet, about 85g/3oz each

4 red mullet fillets, about 85g/3oz each

4 pieces grey mullet fillet, about 85g/3oz each

12 mussels, scrubbed and freshly steamed

12 crayfish, freshly boiled

125g/4oz carrots, courgette and leeks, cut into julienne strips

2 teaspoons tomato puree

salt and pepper

Bring the fish stock to the boil with the creme fraiche and white wine. Add the potatoes and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, until nearly tender.

Add the salmon and mullet and simmer for a further five minutes, then add the mussels, crayfish, julienne of vegetables and tomato puree and simmer to heat through. Season to taste and serve at once.


The French eat 20 times as many oysters as we do in Britain, and at no time more than at Christmas and the New Year. In the inland salt-water lake of Marseillan, which produces one-sixth of all France's oysters, December denotes the arrival of smugglers intent on dragging off oysters by the hundredweight, which are conveniently grown on long ropes.

This recipe is from Nicolas Albino of the feted La Tamarissiere of Cap Agde, close to the oyster beds, and also the source of Noilly Prat in Marseillan, where the constituent picpoule and clairette grapes grow alongside the oyster beds.

Don't be afraid that opening oysters is laborious. Placed in the oven, they open of their own accord.

Serves 4

3 dozen oysters (9 per person)

500g/1lb fresh spinach, washed and drained

20g/34oz chopped almonds

100g/4oz butter

1 clove garlic, chopped

juice of 1 lemon

2 bay leaves

250ml/scant 12 pint whipping cream

500ml/scant pint water

50ml/4 tablespoons Noilly Prat

1 tablespoons olive oil for cooking spinach

In a pan, make a sauce base by boiling the water, garlic, lemon juice together with the bay leaves, until the liquid is reduced to two thirds.

Pre-heat the oven to very hot, 400F/200C/Gas 6. Place the unopened oysters on a tray and put in the oven for eight minutes. Remove and leave to cool. With a knife cut the muscle to remove the upper shell, and take out the mussels which have been by now cooked in their own juices. Pour any surplus liquid into the sauce base. Reserve the bottom shells.

Heat olive oil in a frying pan and toss spinach for 30 seconds till soft. Chop up roughly.

Put a small blob of spinach in each of the oyster shells, with an oyster on top. Then sprinkle with a little Noilly Prat. To the sauce base add the cream, and cook to reduce by half. Remove from heat and whisk in the butter. Check for seasoning, adding salt and white pepper to taste.

Sprinkle chopped almonds on the oysters, and pour a little sauce on each and serve. There are special oyster plates with hollow depressions to accommodate the oysters, but you can as easily lodge them in a mound of coarse sea salt.


The bittersweet flavours of chicory offsets the sweetness of salmon.

Serves 4

400ml/14 fl oz fish stock

200ml/7fl oz creme fraiche

beurre manie (2 teaspoons butter mashed with 1 teaspoon flour)

150ml/5fl oz Hoegaarden white beer

25g/1oz pistachio nuts, chopped

4 salmon fillets, about 200g/7oz each

flour, for dusting fish

2 tablespoons sunflower oil

15g/12oz butter

Caramelised Chicory:

4 heads of chicory, sliced

1 teaspoon sugar

generous pinch nutmeg

salt and pepper

To Serve:

1-2 tomatoes, skinned, seeded and diced

sprigs of dill

steamed mangetout

boiled potatoes

To make the caramelised chicory, place chicory in a heavy-bottomed saucepan with the sugar, nutmeg, salt and pepper and two tablespoons of water. Cook over a high heat, stirring frequently, until the chicory begins to brown, then gradually reduce the heat, stirring from time to time until the chicory is evenly browned and tender.

Meanwhile, boil the fish stock over high heat to reduce by half. Add the cream and boil to reduce very slightly, then whisk in the beurre manie to thicken the sauce, and add the beer and pistachio nuts. Season to taste. Lightly dust the salmon with flour, then fry fillets in the oil and butter. Divide the caramelised chicory between four large plates. Place the salmon on the endive and pour the sauce around the fish. Serve with mangetout and boiled potatoes.


Sherry is a striking accompaniment to all offal dishes, most famously Rognons a la Jerez.

juice of 1 lemon

1 green bay leaf

250ml/8fl oz dry sherry

250ml/8fl oz of olive oil

1 clove garlic, crushed

3 cups rice

4 chicken livers

250g/9oz of wild mushrooms

a sprig of thyme and fresh parsley

salt and black pepper


Choose healthy mushrooms. Clean gently with a cloth, but do not wash. Place in an earthenware dish, sliced.

In a saucepan, put the pepper, the bay leaf, salt, the crushed garlic and the aromatic herbs. Add to the saucepan the olive oil, the lemon juice and one cup of water. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat and cook gently for 10 minutes. Pour over the mushrooms and leave to cool. Leave in the fridge for two days, stirring them occasionally with a wooden spoon to make sure they are all moist. Clean the chicken livers, season generously and pour the sherry over them. Leave to soak for 12 hours. Then, place the livers, including the juice, in a glass dish with a tight closing lid. Cover with water and boil for 12 minutes. Allow the water to cool down before removing the dish. Wash the rice thoroughly and place in a casserole with water. Bring to the boil, cover and cook gently for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and leave for 10 minutes without removing the lid. Slice the livers.

Moisten a cup with milk or oil and place some rice on the bottom. Place a layer of chicken livers, some rice on top and finally a layer of mushrooms. Turn the cup upside down in an oval dish. Repeat until finished. Surround the moulds with the mushrooms drained. Mix some of the oil from the mushroom marinade and some liver sauce. Season to taste adding a little lemon if needed. Add a few spoonfuls of this sauce over each serving. Garnish with finely chopped parsley.


Michael Caines, chef at Gidleigh Park in Devon, learnt this recipe when he worked in Burgundy.

Serves 6

1kg 2lb shin beef (off the bone) cut into 34in cubes, or trimmings from fillet steak or rump or sirloin

1 bottle passably good burgundy (or Pinot Noir)

125g/4oz shallots, sliced

500g/1lb mushrooms sliced

2 tablespoons groundnut oil

2 tablespoons port

2 tablespoons double cream

13 litre/1 scant pint chicken stock

1 tablespoon thick veal stock (if available)

3 sprigs tarragon

5 black peppercorns

4 sprigs of thyme

15g/12oz butter

To finish:

250g/12lb baby onions, plunged into boiling water then peeled

250g/12lb small button mushrooms

250g/12lb smoked bacon in small cubes blanched in boiling water

Heat groundnut oil in a wide pan, and fry the meat over a medium heat in batches (not over-filling the pan) till it is lightly browned on each side. Remove and stand in a colander over a bowl to collect juices.

In the same pan, adding a little more oil if necessary, fry the shallots to soften (but not change colour). Return the meat to the pan. Add the mushrooms and fry them (sweat them) for three minutes stirring.

Add the burgundy and port, and cook over a steady heat, not too fast, till reduced in volume to one third.

Now pour in the chicken and veal stocks, the juices from straining the meat, the cream, tarragon, thyme and peppercorns, and bring to the boil. Skim immediately.

Turn down the heat to simmering point and cook steadily until the meat is tender (up to three-and-a-half hours for shin, two hours for fillet. Strain in a colander. When cool, separate the meat discarding mushrooms and shallots. Pour the cooking liquid into a pan and cook to reduce the required texture, adjusting seasonings. Add a few tiny dice of butter which will give the sauce a shine.

In a covered pan lightly cook the button mushrooms in butter. In another pan cook onions in butter with a little sugar and water till soft. As the water evaporates, the butter and sugar will produce a browning glaze. Plunge bacon in boiling water for a couple of minutes, drain and mop dry. Then lightly fry in a little oil.

To serve: Reheat the meat in the sauce. Arrange on plates and add the garnish of onions, mushrooms and bacon. Serve with a few potatoes and tender carrots. Serve it, of course, with a good burgundy.


Nico Ladenis uses cognac, port and Madeira freely in his classic cuisine.

Serves 4

4 shins of veal

salt and pepper

1 tablespoon plain flour

oil a little, for frying

4 carrots, medium-diced

2 onions, medium-diced

2 sticks celery, medium-diced

4 cloves garlic

1 bay leaf

2 sprigs fresh thyme

1 small strip orange zest

300ml/10fl oz dry white wine

300ml/10fl oz Madeira

500ml/1pt chicken stock

mustard sauce (see below)

To garnish:

carrots large diced, cooked

1 sprig fresh chervil

Season the veal with salt and pepper and dust them with flour.

In a heavy ovenproof frying pan, fry the meat in a little oil on all sides until golden. Set aside. Add the carrots, onions, celery, garlic, herbs and orange zest to the casserole and cook until lightly coloured. Then add the white wine and the Madeira and cook till reduced by half. Add the stock.

Return the veal to the pan and cover with a disc of greaseproof paper of the same diameter as the casserole.

Cut a little hole in the middle (this is called a cartouche).

Cook in the oven preheated to 180C/350F/Gas 4 for about two-and-a-half to three hours. Remove the meat from the liquid and keep warm. Pass the braising liquid through a fine sieve. In a clean pan, reduce the liquid to a consistency which allows you to glaze the veal shins. Heat the mustard sauce. Pour some of the mustard sauce into the base of each large bowl. Place a glazed veal shin in the centre. Garnish with diced carrots. Add chervil to each carrot dice.


40g butter

1 onion, thinly sliced

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 sprig fresh thyme

1 small bay leaf

10 white peppercorns, crushed

200ml/7fl oz dry white wine

200ml/7fl oz demi-glace

1 tablespoon English mustard

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

500ml/1pt double cream


a squeeze of lemon juice

1 tablespoon coarse-grain mustard

Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan. Add the onion, garlic, thyme, bay leaf and peppercorns. Cook until the onion is soft but not coloured. Add the wine and reduce to about one tablespoon. Add the demi-glace (a rich stock reduced to a syrupy consistency) and reduce by half. Add the English and Dijon mustards and the cream. Bring to the boil, then season with salt and a little lemon juice. Pass through a muslin or sieve. Just before serving, stir in the coarse-grain mustard and check seasoning.


Makers of some of the best beer in the world, it's only natural that Belgians would use it in cooking.

Serves 6

1kg 500g/3lb chuck steak, cut into 4cm/2in chunks

700ml/114pint Flemish brown ale (or your favourite)

2 tablespoons sunflower oil

15g/12oz butter

25g/1oz brown sugar

1 tablespoon grated nutmeg

salt and pepper

3 tablespoons tomato puree

125g/4oz pitted prunes

400ml/14fl oz veal stock

1 bouquet garni

1-2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

2 cooking apples

Marinate the meat in 450ml (34 pint) of the beer for three days. Lift the meat out of the marinade, reserving the marinade. Heat the oil and butter in a large heavy-bottomed pan, add the meat, sugar and nutmeg and cook over medium-heat, stirring frequently, until the meat is dark (nearly black).

Using a slotted spoon, transfer the meat to a casserole and season with salt and pepper. Stir the flour into the oil and butter and cook until well browned, then stir in the tomato puree, prunes, stock, bouquet garni and reserved marinade. Bring to the boil, skim and then pour over the meat. Cook over low heat for about an hour or until the meat is tender.

Stir in the mustard and the remaining beer, then taste and adjust the seasoning. Peel and quarter the apples, add to the casserole and cook for five to 10 minutes, until the apples are tender. Serve hot, with a separate plate of freshly made frites.


Use red fruit in season, or chilled or preserved red fruit as you please.

Serves 6

15g/12oz gelatine

225g/8oz sugar

280ml/9fl oz water

2-3 sweet geranium leaves

250g/9oz loganberries

160ml/5fl oz Ruby Port

6 x 75ml/212fl oz moulds

Put the gelatine in a small bowl, add two tablespoons of cold water and leave to sponge. Bring sugar with the cold water and geranium leaves to the boil and simmer for two minutes.

Pour over the loganberries while still simmering. Take 400ml of this mixture and add to it 160ml of port. From it take four or six tablespoons of the liquid to add to the gelatine and hang bowl over the simmering water to melt, then blend back into the loganberry mixture.

Leave loganberries to soak up the syrup for 15 minutes, and then remove them with a slotted spoon and arrange them decoratively on the button of the moulds. Pour just enough liquid over them to cover and refrigerate to set. When set, fill moulds with remaining mixture and leave to set again. Dip moulds briefly in hot water. Loosen carefully round the edges and turn on to a serving plate. Decorate with any remaining loganberry juice and fruit, geranium leaves or rose petals which have been dipped in egg whites, then caster sugar and left to dry.


A souffle without all the bother of using the oven.

Per person

I egg yolk, plus 1 extra for every 3 yolks

1 teaspoon sugar

1 generous tablespoon marsala wine

pinch of salt

Place all the ingredients in a clean basin and whip together. Place the basin over hot (not boiling) water, and continue to whisk steadily until stiff. Remove from the water, continue to whisk, then pour into glasses. The secret of a successful zabaglione is that it must be brought to boiling point but must not boil or it will curdle. Serve hot and frothing in shallow glasses or goblets with sponge fingers.


The four sauces are from Michael Roux's new book, Sauces, (Quadrille pounds 18.99). Lamb and Guinness soup is from the New Covent Garden Soup Company's Book of Soups (Boxtree pounds 12.99). The bouillabaisse is from Anton Mosimann's World (Boxtree pounds 25). Anton Edelmann's onion soup and Myrtle Allen's port wine jelly are from Port to Port (LB pounds 25). Seafood Waterzooi and Beef Flamande are from Belgo Cookbook (to be published next year by Weidenfeld and Nicolson pounds 16.99). Maria Jose Sevilla (chicken livers with sherry) is author of Mediterranean Flavours (Pavilion pounds 16.99). Michael Caines (boeuf bourguignonne) is chef of Gidleigh Park, Chagford, Devon. Shin of veal in madeira is from Nico by Nico Ladenis (Macmillan pounds 20).