Growing up on my grandmother's farm in the south-west of France, we would raise the geese and turkeys for the Christmas holidays. It was the job of the children to care for, clean up after and feed the birds, and we tended to treat them like royalty. I think we were aware that "you are what you eat" and we made a great effort to give them a rich and varied diet – everything from vegetable scraps to nettles, fallen fruit and even boiled chestnuts. We had a sense of Christmas approaching as they grew.
We would decorate the house with huge bowls of nuts and dried orange peel that gave a festive aroma. My mother would also dry out the wild mushrooms that I picked with my sisters before threading them up and hanging them in the kitchen to dry. She would then put them in sauces to add flavour and, on Christmas Day, she would use them to make cepes à la bordelaise, a traditional regional dish of mushrooms with shallots, garlic, lemon and parsley.
As for the main event, my dad would butcher and prepare the goose and then my mother would make the recipe here. This ballotine is a labour of love but there is something about Christmas that makes you want to present something a bit special to those you love. It's so much of a tradition in our family that I made it and took it with me to Bermuda when we spent Christmas there many years ago. I am not sure if they would allow me through Customs now with it, but it might be worth a try!
Bruno Loubet is the chef-patron of Bistrot Bruno Loubet, London EC1. He is set to open a second London restaurant, Granary Square Kitchen, in King's Cross in the new year
Hot goose ballotine with green cabbage and cinnamon apple
For the ballotine
350g/11½oz fatty bacon
80g/3oz duck livers
200g/7oz duck foie gras
300g/10oz chopped onions
100g/3½oz duck fat
2 egg yolks
12 leaves of sage
200g/7oz caul fat (from your butcher)
For the sauce
100ml/3½fl oz port
300ml/½ pint chicken or veal stock
For the garnish
2kg/4lb Savoy cabbage
Salt and pepper to taste
2 cloves of garlic
4 Cox apples
1 tbsp muscavado sugar
1 cinnamon stick
Butterfly the goose then clean the skin of all the meat and fat. Remove the nerves from the breasts, then dice and keep aside. Mince the remaining goose flesh with the bacon, duck livers and duck foie gras. Cook the onions in the duck fat until caramelised. Spread on a plate to cool down. Place the meats in a mixing bowl and add the breadcrumbs, eggs, onions, salt and pepper, and chopped sage leaves. Mix very well.
Lay the skin on a work surface. Place the mixture on it, then roll it and wrap in caul fat. Roll in 4 layers of foil. Place on a roasting tray with some vegetable oil in the oven at 180C/350F/Gas4 for about an hour-and-a-half (turning every 10 minutes).
Once cooked, remove from the tray and leave to rest while you prepare the garnish. You will also need to separate the juice from the fat and set each aside.
For the sauce, deglaze the roasting tray with the port, bring to the boil and reduce slightly and then add the stock and the reserved juice. Stir and boil for a few more minutes. Next, pass through a fine sieve over a small saucepan and reduce to a sauce consistency while skimming the top.
For the garnish, shred the cabbage, cook in a pot with the goose fat that you reserved, adding seasoning and the garlic. Cook for about 10 minutes so as to keep some bite to the cabbage. Cut the apples in two and spoon out the core and then pan-fry them in butter, with the crumbled cinnamon stick and the sugar. Cook gently until soft and caramelise to a light-brown colour.
To serve, slice the ballotine and place on a platter over the cabbage with the apple presented around the edge. Serve the sauce in a sauce boat.
For me, Christmas is all about celebrating with the family, and nothing beats creating a dish you can place in the centre of the table to share and enjoy. Every year my sister begs the family to have a traditional turkey with all the trimmings but I love to do something a little different. This lamb on hay dish is just perfect. For me, cooking is all about having a sense of adventure and this recipe epitomises that.
My secret to this dish is the method of cooking on hay. It's such a natural way of slow cooking, which also makes it the perfect Christmas dish, as you can leave the meat to tenderise while you get on with the rest of the dinner.
Cooking with hay is certainly not a new phenomenon. It's a technique that has been used for centuries and is very similar to the French cooking method of en papilotte, whereby the food is put into a folded pouch or parcel and baked. In this recipe, the food is set in a bed of hay and baked to create a really distinctive, round, smoky flavour.
When people ask where I source my hay, I always raise a little laugh when I tell them I get it fresh from a local pet shop! You can source clean hay quite readily from local farms, pet shops or garden centres. But if you are going to cook with it, it's important to remember to soak the hay in water before you start. This will help to avoid any smouldering, which will add a taste you don't want.
I can't think of anything that brings out the fresh, natural, earthy taste of the lamb the way hay can, and it makes the perfect accompaniment to the wonderful root vegetables and winter fruits that grace the table on Christmas Day.
Tom Kitchin is the chef-patron of Edinburgh restaurant The Kitchin, for which he became Scotland's youngest Michelin-star recipient. This recipe is taken from his latest cookbook, 'Kitchin Suppers' (£20, Quadrille)
Lamb on hay, served with boulangère potatoes
For the boulangère potatoes
Dash of olive oil
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 leek, thinly sliced
1 fennel, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves
1 fresh thyme sprig
1 tsp fennel seeds
500ml/18fl oz lamb or chicken stock
700g/1lb 9oz potatoes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the lamb
Dash of olive oil
½ bag of hay (clean eating hay from the pet shop and not bedding hay)
1 rack of lamb, French trimmed
For the boulangère potatoes, preheat the oven to 160C/325F/Gas 3.
Heat a heavy-based pan, add some oil, then add the sliced onion, leek, fennel, garlic, thyme and fennel seeds and fry for 3 to 4 minutes.
Meanwhile, bring the stock to the boil in a saucepan and grease a small ovenproof dish with a little of the butter.
Slice the potatoes thinly on a mandoline and start to layer up the dish with alternating layers of potato and the onion mixture, seasoning with salt and freshly ground black pepper in between.
For the final layer, arrange the potatoes in a neat layer and pour over the hot stock. Add a couple of knobs of butter, cover with foil and bake for about an hour. Remove the foil and cook for another 30 minutes, or until cooked and crisp.
For the lamb, turn the oven up to 200C/400F/Gas6. Heat a dash of olive oil in a cocotte (a cast-iron casserole dish with a lid) placed over a stove top and brown the lamb all over. Remove the lamb from the cocotte and add the hay and a little more oil, just until the hay starts to smoke, then place the lamb on top and cover with the lid.
Bake in the oven for 12 to 15 minutes, or until the lamb is pink.
To serve, remove the lamb from the hay, rest for 5 to 10 minutes, then carve and serve with the boulangère potatoes.
When I was growing up in Oslo, my favourite time of year was the start of Advent, when I'd fly to Bergen and spend a weekend doing julebakst, or Christmas baking, with my grandmother, who was a true country cook. Having spent her childhood in a small village nestled in the western fjords of Norway, she knew how to make the most delicious dishes from a handful of good ingredients.
I loved helping: she let me shape ginger biscuits and make as much of a mess with flour, sugar, eggs and butter as I could. From an early age I watched her make the classic cardamom-scented, enriched yeast dough so beloved across Scandinavia. And kringle, which can double here as an Advent wreath, is a seasonal variation of this pillowy dough.
Due to its size, kringle is something you would prepare only for a gathering of friends or family, and is best enjoyed with a cup of strong coffee and perhaps a celebratory glass of brandy or liqueur.
The brioche-like consistency of the cardamom dough in this recipe is filled with an almond paste and dried fruit, but sometimes my grandmother would replace the traditional filling with thick raspberry jam.
Although the days of Christmas baking with my grandmother are long gone, nothing says God Jul, or Happy Christmas, to my mind quite like a slice of this kringle.
Signe Johansen is a Norwegian-American food anthropologist, writer and cook who specialises in Scandinavian food. This recipe is taken from her second book, 'Scandilicious Baking' (£25, Saltyard)
Makes 1 wreath
For the dough
300ml/½ pint whole milk
500g/1lb refined spelt (or plain) flour
100g/3½oz caster sugar
1 tsp ground cardamom (optional)
¾ tsp fine sea salt
15g/½oz fresh yeast
1 medium egg, beaten
For the filling
150g/5oz mandelmasse (50 per cent almond paste) or marzipan
75g/3oz almonds, roughly ground
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 medium egg, beaten
¼ tsp fine sea salt
Caster sugar, to taste
1 medium egg, beaten
Perlesukker sugar crystals, crushed sugar cubes or demerara sugar
Start by making the dough. Scald the milk by heating it in a small pan with the butter until it is almost boiling, then allow it to cool while you assemble the other ingredients. Scalding the milk makes the finished kringle softer.
Sift the flour, sugar, cardamom and salt together into a large bowl, sprinkle the dried yeast in and stir through. If using fresh yeast, cream it with a teaspoon of sugar in a small bowl and once it is liquid (after about 30 seconds), add to the dry ingredients.
Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients, add the beaten egg and then the milk-butter mixture, which should be warm rather than hot to the touch, as otherwise you risk killing the yeast. Stir everything together until the mixture comes off the sides of the bowl and looks – for want of a better word – doughy. Place the dough in a lightly oiled plastic bag or cover the bowl with lightly oiled clingfilm, and leave to rise in a warm place for 30 minutes.
For the filling, put the raisins in a small bowl, cover with water and leave to soak for 15 minutes before draining. While they are soaking, put all the other filling ingredients except the sugar in a medium-sized bowl and cream together (or blitz in a food processor). Then season to taste with caster sugar – I tend to add 2 to 3 tablespoons, but feel free to use more if you have a sweet tooth.
Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface until it forms a long, thin rectangle of about 60cm x 15cm. Spread the filling evenly over it, starting from the middle and working outwards. If the buttery mix is a little cold, use your hands to spread it, as the heat helps to smooth the butter out (and it's immensely satisfying getting your hands all sticky). Drain the raisins and sprinkle evenly over the buttered dough. Then roll the dough into a cylinder, rolling from one of the longer edges of the rectangle, brushing the other long edge with a little water to help seal the pastry. Bring the two open ends together to form a circular wreath shape and pinch to seal the open edges, so that the filling doesn't spill out.
Cover the kringle and leave to rise in a warm place for 20 to 30 minutes until it has doubled in size. To see if it has proved enough, gently poke it with your little finger – the indentation should stay put.
Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas6. Glaze the risen dough with beaten egg and sprinkle the almonds and sugar over the top. Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 30 to 40 minutes until golden-brown and hollow-sounding when tapped on the base. Cool on a rack before serving on the day of baking. k
In New Zealand, Christmas happens at summertime, and, as a child, we would drive up from where I lived to Northland and spend it camping by the beach. My stepmother was a Cockney and she was always keen to have the seasonal traditions, so we'd end up having a New Zealand-ified traditional British Christmas: we'd have Christmas pudding, for example, but sliced up and fried in lots of butter on the barbecue – it was a lovely way to make it caramelised and crispy on the outside. We'd also have a glazed ham, but we'd usually barbecue chickens instead of turkey.
And, of course, there would be lots of seafood. One of the things we used to do was go crayfishing: in fact, the crayfish you get in New Zealand are a type of lobster – we call them "spiny lobster" – rather than being similar to the freshwater crayfish you get in the UK. And so crayfish or lobster would be a typical Christmas dish for us, though this salad is much fancier than anything we would have made: it was hard to get mangos in New Zealand when I was young, and ginger was pretty rare, too.
I came up with this dish 25 years ago when I was living in Australia, and I have regularly served it to people at Christmas since. The combination of flavours and texture is gorgeous and before you sit down to huge amounts of fatty roast meat and potatoes, it's great to have something healthy and refreshing.
Peter Gordon is a New Zealand-born chef and food writer, best known for introducing fusion cuisine to the UK. He runs two London restaurants, Kopapa and The Providores & Tapa Room. His latest cookbook, 'Peter Gordon Everyday' is published by Jacqui Small, priced £25
Lobster, mango, ginger and caramelised peanut salad with aioli crostini
For 4 starters or for 2 as a 'turkey- and roast-free' main course
1 finger of ginger
1 small bunch coriander (ideally with roots attached)
2 tsp sesame oil
1 red onion, peeled and thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
¼ red chilli, thinly sliced (more or less to taste)
2 x 150g/5oz lobster tails (in the shell, uncooked)
1 ripe mango (if very large just use half)
1 juicy lime
1 tsp caster sugar (optional unless the mango isn't sweet enough)
8 cherry tomatoes, halved
4 thin slices baguette
1 spring onion, thinly sliced
Small handful watercress or any other peppery leaf to garnish
For the caramelised peanuts
100g/3 ½oz peanuts
2 tbsp icing sugar
For the egg-free aioli
4 cloves garlic
125ml/4fl oz full-fat milk
300ml/½ pint sunflower oil
The caramelised peanuts can be made up to a week in advance and stored in an airtight container, although this will make more than you need. Put the peanuts in a small pan and cover with 2cm of water. Bring to the boil and cook over a rapid simmer for 10 minutes. Drain and leave for 5 minutes, then toss with the icing sugar, lay on a baking tray lined with baking parchment and bake at 150C/300F/Gas2 until golden and crisp. To serve, roughly crush using a mortar and pestle.
You can make the aioli up to two days in advance. Use either a stick blender or a bar-blender. This will make way more than you need but it is hard to make any less. Finely purée the garlic and milk – you need it super-smooth – then slowly drizzle in the milk, as you would oil into a mayonnaise, until emulsified. Stir in about a third of a teaspoon of crushed flaky sea salt, to taste.
To start making the salad, peel the ginger, reserving the peel, and then julienne or finely grate it – you want 2 teaspoons' worth. Pick the coriander leaves and tender stalks from the bunch then shred the remaining stalks. Heat the oil in a pot just large enough to comfortably hold both lobster tails then add the ginger peelings (and excess ginger), the coriander stalks, red onion, garlic and half the chilli. Sauté on medium heat until the onions caramelise, stirring often.
Put the lobster tails in the pot and continue to cook until the shells begin to colour (this takes about 3 minutes), turning them every minute. Pour on enough boiling water to just cover the tails and add ¼ teaspoon flaky salt.
Bring to the boil, take off the heat, and set your timer to 5 minutes. When the time is up, remove the tails and leave to cool then use scissors to cut through the shell on the belly side and then carefully pull the flesh from the shell – it's easiest to do this while they're still a little warm.
Put the pot back on the stove and cook over a gentle boil until the poaching liquid has reduced to an eighth of a cup, then strain and put to one side.
Peel the mango and cut both cheeks off, then thinly slice. Grate ¼ teaspoon of the lime zest, juice it, and add to the mango with the sugar.
Strip-peel the cucumber, thinly slice it, and mix with the remaining chilli and the halved cherry tomatoes.
To make the crostini, drizzle the baguette slices with olive oil and bake at 160C/325F/Gas3 until golden and crispy.
To serve, slice the lobster tails into six. Toss the mango, cucumber and tomatoes, spring onions, watercress and half the coriander together and divide between your plates. Lay the lobster on top and drizzle with the reduced poaching liquid (you may not want to use it all). Spoon a teaspoon of the aioli on each crostino and tuck it in, then scatter with a tablespoon of peanuts per plate and the remaining coriander. Drizzle with 2 teaspoons of extra-virgin olive oil and eat straight away.
I love the ritual of the Christmas lunch – the roast turkey or, occasionally, goose, with all the classic accompaniments, the Christmas pudding and brandy butter. But I can't seem to help a few Chinese influences creeping in, especially on Boxing Day, when the traditional cold meats work so beautifully with a bit of Sichuanese intervention. I usually toss some shredded turkey with a spicy dressing of soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, chilli oil and Sichuan pepper, and I also like to make the dish here, in which beef shin, cooked in advance, is sliced and then soused in a Sichuanese dressing and scattered with roasted peanuts and coriander. It fits perfectly with a lunch of cold ham and turkey, salads and cheese.
It might seem like a paradox to make a Sichuanese dish as part of a traditional festive meal, but to me, cooking is almost always a response to where and who you are at any particular moment.
When I spent Christmas in Sichuan as a student, my classmates and I all prepared traditional dishes from our home countries, but we had to adapt to local circumstances. So, for example, my English Christmas pudding had to be made with Xinjiang sultanas, Chinese dates and dried apricots rather than raisins and currants, and, as I didn't have any mince-pie tins, I folded pastry circles round a home-made mincemeat stuffing, then pinched them into semicircles like Chinese jiaozi dumplings. (The method was so successful that I've made them that way ever since.)
Nearly two decades later, Chinese cooking has become such an important part of who I am that it seems perfectly natural to serve numbing-and-hot beef as part of a Boxing Day lunch.
Fuchsia Dunlop is an award-winning English food writer who specialises in Chinese cuisine. This recipe is adapted from her latest cookbook 'Every Grain of Rice: Simple Chinese Home Cooking' (£25, Bloomsbury)
Numbing-and-hot cold beef (mala niurou)
(or more with selection of other cold meats and salads)
1kg/2lb beef shin
100g/3½oz fresh ginger, with skin
4 spring onions, white parts only
5 tsp salt
1½ star anise
4 tbsp Shaoxing wine
Optional extra spices
A piece of cassia bark or one-third of a cinnamon stick
1 tsp whole Sichuan pepper
For the sauce
¼ tsp ground roasted Sichuan pepper
1 tbsp cloves garlic, finely chopped
150ml/¼ pint of the beef cooking liquid
½ tsp dark soy sauce
6-8 tbsp chilli oil, with sediment, to taste
1 tsp sesame oil
2 tsp sesame seeds, toasted
A handful of fresh coriander, coarsely chopped
4 tbsp finely sliced spring-onion greens
Two celery sticks, de-stringed and finely chopped
A good handful of roasted or deep-fried peanuts, roughly chopped or crushed with a pestle and mortar
Prick the beef shin all over with a skewer and place in a bowl or pot. Add 3 teaspoons of salt and 2 tablespoons of Shaoxing wine. Take half the ginger and two of the spring-onion whites and crush slightly with the flat of a cleaver blade or a rolling pin. Add them to the beef. Rub the salt, wine, ginger and spring onion into the beef with your hand, and then leave in the fridge overnight to marinate.
Remove the beef from the marinade and rinse. Place in a saucepan, cover with water and bring to the boil. Skim the liquid, and then add the remaining 2 teaspoons of salt, ginger and spring onions (both crushed slightly). Add the star anise, remaining Shaoxing wine and other spices if using. Reduce the heat and simmer gently for about two hours until the meat is tender.
When the beef is ready, set it aside to cool, but make sure you strain and keep at least 150ml/¼ pint of the cooking liquid. (The beef and liquid can be kept in the fridge for a few days.)
To serve, toast the sesame seeds gently in a wok or frying pan for a few minutes, until they are fragrant and starting to turn golden. Cut the beef into slices and place in a serving dish. Combine all the sauce ingredients in a small bowl, mix well and pour over the beef. Scatter over the other ingredients and serve.