Why shell out for an expensive restaurant meal when you can have twice as much fun creating a luxury New Year's dinner for friends at home?

Going out on New Year's Eve can be a tough call; most places charge a bloody fortune for a drawn-out fancy dinner. There's also the problem of getting home if you've had a drink - and if you decide to be spontaneous and get a cab, you won't find one for love nor money.

For me, the best option is to have a bash at home and let everyone stay the night. The costs are kept down and everyone has a great time, too. Cooking a simple but luxurious New Year's Eve dinner is easy if you get yourself organised. It's a special time to celebrate and pull out all the stops. I'm thinking shellfish - lobster, crab and langoustines - maybe some roast lamb or venison and a dessert followed by cheese to finish off the wine. I'm also thinking that all this might make a sort of buffet on the table where you're not going to have to be jumping up and down all night, except to load the dishwasher. What we've got is a posh and simple array of starters, followed by a saddle of lamb on a large board with bowls of roasted root vegetables. Then comes treacle tart and a selection of cheeses from Neal's Yard, or even a large Charles Martell Stinking Bishop. Try it baked in its box and serve it like a fondue.


I'm just suggesting a few indulgent bits of seafood here that you can place on the table; then people can dig in. If you have a large platter and oyster stand, arrange cold seafood and oysters on some crushed ice then place on top. Other alternatives could be large cooked prawns, steamed mussels, whelks, winkles or clams or raw cherrystone clams served like oysters. I'm a big fan of raw scallops on a fruits de mer platter; and if you can get little queenies, even better. The contents of a seafood platter are really up to you (and, of course, it depends on how good your fishmonger is). But don't let him palm you off with those ghastly crab sticks or imitation prawn tails.

Crab pâté

Serves 8

This is a handy dish that you can make in advance and just serve on the table, back in its spiny crab shell or in a serving dish with hot buttered toast. Spider crab is under-rated in this country, but it's perfect for a dish like this. You will probably need to order spider crab in advance and if you have a good fishmonger, he or she might be prepared to dress it for you.

1 large (1 1/2 -2kg) spider crab or brown crab, cooked
100g extra brown crab meat (optional)
Half an onion, peeled and finely chopped
A small knob of ginger, scraped and finely grated or chopped
1tsp sweet pimenton or paprika
50ml olive oil
60ml sherry
Juice of half a lemon
50g fresh white breadcrumbs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4-5tbsp good quality mayonnaise (see below)

To get the meat out of the crab, twist the legs and claws off, then crack them open and remove the white meat. Now turn the main body on its back and twist off the pointed flap. Push the tip of a table knife between the main shell and the bit to which the legs were attached, and twist the blade to separate the two, then push it up and remove. Scoop out the brown meat in the well of the shell and put with the leg and claw meat.

On the other part of the body remove the dead man's fingers (the feather-like, grey gills attached to the body) and discard. Split the body in half with a heavy knife. Now you need to be patient and pick out the white meat from the little cavities in the body. Add this to the rest of the meat.

Gently cook the onion, ginger and pimenton in the olive oil for 2-3 minutes until soft. Add the sherry and brown crab meat, stir well, then add the breadcrumbs, half the lemon juice and season to taste. Simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Blend one-third of the mix with the rest of the olive oil in a blender, then stir it back into the mixture along with the crab or spider-crab meat. Add more lemon juice and seasoning if necessary. Spoon the mixture into a bowl, leave to cool and refrigerate for an hour.

Stir in the mayonnaise to taste and more lemon juice and seasoning if necessary. Serve spooned back into the shell, or on a serving dish, with thin slices of toast.

Langoustines or prawns with mayonnaise

If it's too late to get your hands on langoustines (Dublin bay prawns), large prawns will go down nearly as well. Good fishmongers will have a bountiful selection of cooked, raw and frozen examples. Always try to buy seawater prawns; farmed freshwater prawns don't taste of very much. The secret with Dublin bay prawns, langoustines and prawns is to serve a good mayonnaise with them. Home-made mayonnaise will keep for a couple of weeks in the fridge. You can make this by hand or in a mixing machine if you're making a large quantity.


2 egg yolks (at room temperature)
2tsp white wine vinegar
1tsp English mustard
2tsp Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp salt
Freshly ground white pepper
100ml olive oil mixed with 200ml vegetable oil
Juice of half a lemon (optional)

Put the egg yolks, vinegar, mustards and salt and pepper into a stainless steel or glass bowl (don't use an aluminium bowl, or it will make the mayonnaise go grey) on a damp cloth to stop it slipping. Mix well with a whisk, then gradually trickle the oils into the bowl, whisking continuously. If the mayonnaise is getting too thick, add a few drops of water and continue whisking the oil. When the oil is all incorporated, taste and re-season if necessary and add a little lemon juice.

Oysters with shallot vinegar

Try serving a selection of natives and rocks simply with lemon, Tabasco and this shallot vinegar. To make enough shallot vinegar to accompany 24 oysters, finely chop 4 shallots and mix them with 100ml good-quality red wine vinegar such as cabernet sauvignon, then leave to infuse for 1 hour.

Baked saddle of lamb

Serves 8

A saddle of lamb is the most expensive bit of the lamb, and deserves to be. Ask your butcher to bone it out, but leave it in one piece and give you the kidneys and bones, chopped up into smallish pieces, for the gravy. Make the gravy the day before or in the morning.

1 saddle of lamb, boned (keep bones for sauce)
A few sprigs of rosemary, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
1tbsp olive oil

For the sauce

Kidneys from the lamb, plus a couple extra
4 shallots, peeled and finely chopped
A good knob of butter
150ml red wine
Bones from the lamb
1 medium onion, peeled and roughly chopped
2 medium carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
1 leek, trimmed, roughly chopped and washed
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
1tbsp tomato purée
1 1/2 tbsp flour
3 litres beef stock (a good cube will do)
10 black peppercorns
A few sprigs of rosemary
1 bay leaf

Pre-heat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6. I know that the following sauce recipe is similar to last week's, when I was talking about accompaniments to turkey, but it's worth repeating because it's so easy and effective. Bones make the base for this great sauce - and I hate throwing them away. None of your Bisto nonsense here.

Roast the bones and the vegetables for about 15-20 minutes until lightly coloured, giving them a good stir every so often. When they are a nice golden-brown colour, add the tomato purée, then the flour and stir well with the bones and vegetables in the roasting pan. Return the pan to the oven for another 10 minutes.

Remove the roasting tray from the oven and add a little of the stock and give it a good stir over a low flame. This will remove any residue from the tray and begin the thickening process. Transfer everything into a large saucepan, cover with the rest of the beef stock and some cold water if the stock doesn't cover the bones and add the peppercorns, thyme and bay leaf. Bring to the boil, skim off any scum that forms and simmer for 1 hour. The gravy may need topping up with water to keep the ingredients covered. Skim occasionally as required.

Strain through a fine-meshed sieve and remove any fat with a ladle. Check its strength and reduce it if necessary. If the gravy is not thick enough, dilute some cornflour in a little cold water and stir in to thicken.

To prepare and cook the lamb

Once your lamb has been boned, you will have two flaps either side of the eyes of the meat. Trim any excess fat from the flaps with a carving knife. Season the lamb, mix the garlic with the olive oil, season and smear the mixture over the meat. Re-form the meat into the original shape of the saddle and trim off any excess of the flaps, then tie the lamb about 4-5 times with string.

Pre-heat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6. Pre-heat a roasting tray in the oven with a couple of tablespoons of vegetable oil for about 10 minutes. Season the lamb and place in the tray and roast for approximately 1 hour, turning the lamb after 7-8 minutes.

Leave the lamb to rest for about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, dice the kidneys into rough 1/2cm cubes, heat a frying pan and gently cook the shallots in the butter for a minute or so until soft. Then turn the heat up, add the kidneys and stir well for a minute. Remove the kidneys and shallots from the pan, add the red wine and reduce until it has almost evaporated, then add the sauce and simmer for a minute. Add the kidneys and shallots and re-season if necessary. When you are about to serve it, cut the string, place on a large board and carve the lamb into 2-3cm slices so that each person gets a slice. Serve with some greens such as sprout tops or a mixture of winter greens.

Gratin of parsnips and Lancashire cheese

Serves 8

We don't generally tend to do too much with parsnips apart from roast them along with our Sunday joint. Making them into a purée or a soup is a pretty good idea, too, but Damian, our chef at the Rivington, has come up with this rather nice gratin idea, which I thought would be perfect with lamb.

2kg medium parsnips, peeled and quartered lengthways
600ml double cream
200g Lancashire cheese, grated
Salt and freshly ground white pepper

Pre-heat the oven to 175C/gas mark 4.

Remove the centre core from the parsnips and lay them in an ovenproof serving dish. Bring the cream to the boil, season and pour over the parsnips then scatter over the cheese. Place the dish in a larger dish or roasting tray to act as a bain marie and pour boiling water into the larger dish so it comes about half way up. Carefully place in the oven and bake for about 1 hour, maybe a bit longer until the parsnips are tender and lightly coloured. If you only have one oven then you may want to cook these in advance and return the dish to the oven without the Bain Marie while the lamb is resting.

Treacle tart

Makes one 20-22cm tart serving 8

Treacle tart is one of those classic comforting luxuries, although it can become a bit of a heavy stodge if you don't handle it with a bit of care. You can make this example the day before and leave it out at room temperature until required.

For the sweet pastry

2 medium egg yolks
225g unsalted butter, softened
1tbsp caster sugar
275g plain flour, plus a little extra for dusting

For the filling

225g golden syrup
50g dark treacle
220ml double cream
75g fresh white breadcrumbs
2 eggs, beaten
1tbsp lemon juice
Extra thick or clotted cream, to serve

Make the pastry a few hours ahead: beat the egg yolks and butter together in a bowl, then beat in the sugar. Stir in the flour and knead together until well mixed. Wrap the pastry in cling film and leave in the fridge for an hour before use.

On a floured table, roll out the pastry to about 5mm thick. Use it to line a 20-22cm flan or tart tin, about 3-4cm deep, just overlapping the edge, and leave to rest in the fridge for 1 hour. The pastry might seem a bit delicate, but don't worry if it breaks up a bit when you're lining the tart tin; it's quite forgiving and patches up easily.

Pre-heat the oven to 160C/gas 3. Meanwhile, make the filling by mixing the golden syrup, treacle, double cream, breadcrumbs and beaten eggs together, then stir in the lemon juice. Fill the flan ring with the mixture and bake for 40-50 minutes, then leave to cool. Serve warm with some good extra-thick or clotted cream.