What else is in the Christmas dinner canon?
December 4, 2014 12:05 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for a traditionally 'fancy' or very nice dish to cook for Christmas (although the recipe need not be European). I tried osso bucco last year. It was just meh. What can I try this year?

We don't do turkey for Christmas anymore (we just finally admitted that no one enjoys it all that much). We do prime rib on Christmas eve (best decision we ever made). I don't want to do ham because it's kind of a monthly thing in our household already. So, what can I cook for Christmas dinner? The reason I tried osso bucco last year was because I thought it was THE fancy-thing-that-you-are-supposed-to-cook-when-you-want-something-fancy. But it just tasted like a pretty standard stew, so I was disappointed. Please help! I'm sure there are other fancy dinners to consider; I just don't know what they are.
posted by kitcat to Food & Drink (50 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Ever roasted a goose?
posted by Faint of Butt at 12:08 PM on December 4, 2014 [7 favorites]

Beef Wellington and Yorkshire Pudding? Cioppino?
posted by Admiral Haddock at 12:10 PM on December 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

I love these glazed oxtails.
posted by raisindebt at 12:11 PM on December 4, 2014

Response by poster: Oh yes, if you are suggesting goose or duck, could you say a bit about it and/or offer a recipe or say something about a sauce for it? I did duck I think once. It turned out dry and not that memorable...but I am willing to give it another go if that would be worthwhile.
posted by kitcat at 12:11 PM on December 4, 2014

Tourtiere? Crown roast of pork?
posted by quaking fajita at 12:12 PM on December 4, 2014

Lobster. The traditional version in my family is a lobster stew, but any application of lobster would work, including whole lobsters eaten at the table. Also, it's completely different from the beef you do the night before.

Also, how many people are you cooking for? If you're open to poultry in general (but just hate turkey), you could do cornish game hens. But that only works if you don't have a zillion people.

Oooh, and I like the crown roast suggestion. We've done that... it's very fancy looking.
posted by pie ninja at 12:14 PM on December 4, 2014 [4 favorites]

I'd do a traditional Italian feast of seven fishes for Christmas Eve and the Prime Rib for Christmas.

Or do Lasagna for Christmas dinner.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:16 PM on December 4, 2014

In my family we do lobster on Christmas. It's not complex, if that's what you're looking for. And not really traditional either. But it always feels special.
posted by primethyme at 12:16 PM on December 4, 2014

You want the Feast of Seven Fishes!
posted by charred husk at 12:17 PM on December 4, 2014

Sorry; I've only ever eaten goose once in my life, and I don't recall being all that impressed. It's just that when somebody says "fancy Christmas dinner," goose is what immediately springs to mind. Probably comes from reading A Christmas Carol as a youngster.
posted by Faint of Butt at 12:17 PM on December 4, 2014

Response by poster: Hmmmm, since lobster is so simple, what would you serve with to fancy things up? Also, there will be 4 adults, 3 kids (but I'm not catering to them with the main dish).
posted by kitcat at 12:17 PM on December 4, 2014

The German side of my family does a roast Goose every year.

IMO, it sounds lavish but in reality you're presented with a shrivelled greasy bird that has very little meat. And most of it is dark meat.

I do recall some nice red wine sauces that can go with the meat, but personally I'd rather have a nice New York Strip roast.

The other side of my family does an all-seafood feast on Christmas Eve (being Catholic and all), and that's usually a lot of fun. Lots of shrimp cocktails.

(on preview, Bunny has it)
posted by JoeZydeco at 12:19 PM on December 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Half a salmon? Stuffed trout? Lobster?

I've never cooked duck, but if I was going to I would look to France for recipes - Julia Child, Jaques Pepin, Joy of Cooking.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:19 PM on December 4, 2014

Goose is tasty and more like an all dark meat turkey. The meat has a texture like beef or duck. A *lot* of fat cooks off the goose, so a 12lb goose was only enough for four or so people.

We just used a random roast goose recipe from the interwebs. We did roast potatoes in the goose fat drippings in the pan. They were delicious!

In conclusion, goose is certainly worth trying once, but we have not done it again.
posted by monotreme at 12:25 PM on December 4, 2014

Beef tenderloin. My family does one every year--a whole beef tenderloin, often wrapped in bacon for moisture, served with bordelaise sauce, mashed potatoes, creamed spinach, and usually a few other vegetables. Cook the beef to rare, and not only do you have a delicious supper, but a week of the most incredible steak sandwiches and steak salads to look forward to.

Failing that, I also suggest beef wellington.
posted by MeghanC at 12:26 PM on December 4, 2014 [6 favorites]

Dungeness crab is traditional on the west coast. I get a couple of cleaned crabs from the supermarket, break them up, and serve with lemon and cocktail sauce.

We've recently added Swiss fondue to our Christmas feast, though I'm not sure how traditional it is. It's dead-easy and feels fancy.
posted by homodachi at 12:32 PM on December 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

Julia Child's coq au vin recipe.
posted by jbickers at 12:33 PM on December 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

My dad does a standing rib roast and yorkshire puddings with minted peas every year for Christmas Eve dinner. It is delicious, and at this point is more what I think of when I think of Christmas dinner food, rather than turkey or ham or whatever else people tend to get.
posted by Sara C. at 12:34 PM on December 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Simon Hopkinson's recipe is the right way to handle a goose. Very rich, very unctuous, and the skin is incredibly crispy and delicious if you dry it out properly with a hairdryer. My mum has been making it every year for about a decade now. Despite being vegan this year I am still engaged in an internal debate as to whether to go ahead and eat the damn thing anyway. It is that good.
posted by Acheman at 12:36 PM on December 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

I was at a Christmas party once with a leg of venison, (peppered crust, dry roast, juicy meat, sliced off the bone at the table) and I've been wishing ever since (12+ years now) that I had some kind of source for deer meat.
posted by aimedwander at 12:38 PM on December 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

You could try going international. This Wikipedia list has a tons of traditional Christmas dishes from various countries.
posted by Wretch729 at 12:39 PM on December 4, 2014

Duck confit? I don't have a recipe, but a roommate who is a chef once cooked it for the house and it was amazing.
posted by lunasol at 12:41 PM on December 4, 2014

Goose and Feast of Seven fishes are definitely the "traditional" ways to go.

That said, if goose is hard to come by, and a pile of fried fish is not, doesn't get much fancier than a crown rack of lamb.
posted by General Malaise at 12:41 PM on December 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

You can always stuff the lobster, I guess, if you want to fancy it up. Alton Brown's recipe.

I have done goose for a holiday meal... once. Never again. It got sticky grease all over the kitchen and tasted of fish. I would rate it D- gross will never cook again. The only bonus was a pretty passable goose liver pate... but I don't actually like liver. (Sorry, goose lovers!)
posted by pie ninja at 12:43 PM on December 4, 2014

Standing rib roast, served with au jus sauce. Parsley potatoes, a couple nice vegetables, croissants, and an individual plated salad (perhaps a stuffed tomato or mozzarella & cherry tomatoes). Two choices for dessert; I'd suggest something like two pies, one of them fruit (apple, pumpkin, etc.).
posted by easily confused at 12:45 PM on December 4, 2014

I wonder if osso buco was disappointing because it's one-dish, so all the flavors had melded and were therefore kind of the same? More variety might feel fancier, so maybe take one of the entree ideas and combine it with some make-ahead side dishes. I'm thinking stuffed mushroom appetizers, caramelized onion and horseradish mashed potatoes, ratatouille...
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 12:49 PM on December 4, 2014

My family actually has no "traditional" Christmas meal and each year's host has just made Whatever They Feel Like As Long As It's Fancy. For a couple years my father made a big splash with some fish cakes, and this year my brother's doing something with gorgonzola-stuffed beef tenderloin or something equally as fancy-ass.

I think in the United States we kind of get a pass on the whole "traditional food" thing because we've had Thanksgiving the month before, and that sort of diffuses the whole "you must have [x] food or else it just won't be a proper holiday!" impulse. You may find regional variations, and things that are "traditional" within families, but I haven't seen as much across-the-board agreement on Christmas food in this country.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:59 PM on December 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Awl once published an article on weeknight duck that got be inspired to cook it a few times. I tend to eat my duck rare to medium rare, so I never had a dryness problem.

Here is the link - How to make weeknight crispy duck breast

There are also links for interesting sauces, but I never tried those, so I can't comment. We would have the breasts and then roast potatoes in the rendered duck fat.

It is a very festive bird in my opinion and can be jazzed up nicely for the holidays.
posted by Julnyes at 1:00 PM on December 4, 2014

Kashmiri roast leg of lamb, raan: here's a FB recipe (goat but allows for lamb)
For decades I've done Charmaine Solomon's recipe for roast leg of lamb (cumin, cardamom, garlic) with yogurt, pistachios and saffron from her Complete Asian Cookbook.

It's quite straightforward, takes one overnight in the refrigerator, roasts dependably and is tasty and memorable immediately and as leftovers.
posted by xaryts at 1:10 PM on December 4, 2014

Over various Christmas celebrations, I have roasted goose and duck, cured and smoked my own ham, made various charcuteries, prepared standing rib roast, and probably done some other things I've now forgotten about. Depending on how much time you have and how involved you want to be in the kitchen, any of these would be a good choice.

Personally, I think the thing that fancies up any meal is a good sauce. Home cooking always seems to lack sauce, but taking a few minutes to prepare one from pan drippings or red wine or whatever really adds a shine to what otherwise might seem to be pretty normal dish.

Anyway, I would recommend a duck. Flavorful, and it has a ton of fat so if you prepare it thoughtfully it won't dry out (similar to the goose method above - prick the skin all over so the fat renders out and continually bastes the bird as it roasts). If you want to go wild and have some time, you could start with a whole duck, confit the legs, and then make prosciutto out of the breasts. All of this is largely hands off but does require a lot of advance prep (like, start the prosciutto this weekend).

If I had my druthers this year, my menu would probably be the following:

Salad course - beets, supremed citrus, arugula
Appetizer/fish course - seafood mousseline with remoulade
Main - Duck (probably a l'orange to keep the citrus theme going) with roasted brussels sprouts and baby potatoes
Dessert - chocolate tart with raspberries

However, I have been asked to prepare a roast leg of lamb, so that is what I'm going to do.

posted by backseatpilot at 1:17 PM on December 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

Beef Wellington would be good.
posted by jgirl at 1:28 PM on December 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've got a fantastic recipe for Beef Wellington -- labor intensive but not particularly tricky, and quite delicious -- so let me know if you need one. People love it like whoa.
posted by janey47 at 1:33 PM on December 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

My mom does lobster and artichokes as two things that are pretty easy to cook but take forever to eat (so everyone has a chance to sit around talking for a long time). Both go well with lemon butter, which can either be re-microwaved when it solidifies or served in a dish floating in warm water of another dish for warmth.

Maybe not as traditional, but lobster risotto is also fancy, delicious, and would be faster to eat. Best with some other dishes, as it's so rich.
posted by ldthomps at 1:41 PM on December 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Homemade pie crust with a pie in it. Use the pie crust recipe from the cookbook "The Best Recipe".
posted by amtho at 1:41 PM on December 4, 2014

Our family has been doing duck breasts for the past 10 Christmases or so. They're really not difficult at all (certainly easier than a whole duck). We sear them skin-side down on the stovetop, and then roast them skin-up in the oven, I believe. I think we might use a Mark Bittman recipe? You make a simple citrus sauce to go with it, if you want.
posted by chowflap at 1:56 PM on December 4, 2014

Things with stuffing in them generally seem fancier. Butterflying a pork loin roast is pretty easy, and then you can stuff with say, spinach mushroom feta and some breadcrumbs, or sage and onion and apple and maybe some dried cranberries. Or you could go italian style and do porchetta --- usually that's fennel and orange and rosemary. There's a ton of different ways to go. Just brown at high heat and then finish low and slow, you want to pull it when the center gets to 140 or so, it'll continue to rise as it rests.
posted by Diablevert at 1:59 PM on December 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you would be willing to entertain turkey outside of its traditional form, I made this turkey porchetta at Thanksgiving, and it was delicious.
posted by purpleclover at 2:00 PM on December 4, 2014

Lamb. Or, yeah, I know a lot of people who do lobsters. (My one friend stages lobster races on the kitchen floor for her children before cooking them. That'd be a little much for me!)

You could also do an ALL PIES dinner, with a chicken pot-pie main course and a mushroom tarte and fruit pies and mince pies and dessert pies and ALL THE PIES.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:06 PM on December 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

Are there any comfort/traditional foods in your family that you wouldn't normally make because they're a bit more labor intensive? Things like "Mom's best casserole" or "Aunt Norma's cinnamon rolls deluxe"? Why not make your own cannon?

In my family, the special dishes were:
"cheesy potatoes"--a casserole of cooked potatoes in a homemade whitesauce that's then cooked some more!
"that fish dish"--a white fish cooked with mushrooms and wine, served over brown rice with a white sauce
"Yugoslav cabbage rolls"--recipe passed down (and altered every generation, I assume) from our great-grandmother (from Yugoslavia)

We have sort of added some vegetable dishes to that cannon:
Warm red cabbage salad
Mapled Brussels Sprouts
And I'd probably say a whole roast chicken would qualify these days too.
posted by purple_bird at 2:45 PM on December 4, 2014

Danish Christmas tradition is a duck and/or a goose and/or pork roast with cracklings.
We do a duck and a goose because I think it is fun, but I agree goose is probably an acquired taste, and quite difficult to not dry out while cooking.

A duck is dried all over and rubbed well inside and out with salt, white pepper and powdered ginger, then stuffed with a mix of apples cut into quarters, prunes and half an orange (also cut into quarters. The openings are sewn up or closed with meat pins. You can tie together the legs, too, but I usually don't. I do cut of the end off the wings. Then the duck goes into the oven on a rack over a deep pan with some water in the bottom.

Now there are several solutions. If you have an interval setting on your oven (grill/fan), you can set it at a low heat (300 F) for 4 hours. Turn of the grill part if the bird is getting too dark.
If you don't have an interval setting, you can cook it at even lower heat (260 F) no fan for six hours.
You can also cook it at medium heat for 3 hours, but then you risk getting a bird with dry breast meat and raw-ish legs. And you need to bast.
Several people I know use the barbecue.

Meanwhile, you take the wingtips, the neck and the innards, and brown them in a saucepan with a carrot, an onion and a stick of celery. I'd use butter here, even though you have a ton of fat in your pan in the oven. When everything is nice and brown, deglaze with a glass of wine. When the alcohol has evaporated, add a cup of water, bring to the boil, skim, and add bayleaf, thyme, and a few corns of whole pepper. Reduce til there is half the amount of fluid. Drain off all the stuff.

Then you take out the duck, and place it on a dish to set for a while. Carefully, take out the pan, and skim off all the fat into an earthenware or glass pot (not plastic!!) There will be a pint, or more. Underneath are the juices. Add these to the fond you made of the neck, wings and innards, bring to a gentle simmer, and add a large spoonful of crab-apple jelly (or another jelly made of acidic fruit), reduce again. Before serving, add butter and salt to taste.

Now the duck has rested and can be carved and served with the stuffing, sauce, potatoes and salads of choice. I prefer slightly bitter and acidic salads, like an endive and orange salad or even though I don't really like raw kale, a kale and cranberry salad is actually nice for this. Warm red cabbage is good, too.

You can roast the potatoes in the duck fat, but I prefer saving it for another day. It keeps very well and can be used for vegetable roasting, fries, confit, gehacktes leber, and many other nice things.
posted by mumimor at 3:33 PM on December 4, 2014

Down where I come from people do tamales for Christmas. Perhaps that's not fancy enough for you, but to me if a family has gone through the trouble of tamales from scratch that's very fancy indeed.
posted by Mizu at 3:38 PM on December 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

"Blinis and Belinis" is my favorite holiday tradition!

Belinis: champagne with peach nectar. Blinis: little buckwheat crepes you serve with really good caviar and creme fraiche or mascarpone. It's extra posh and fancy.

Then for the dinner bit, I serve lobster with tiny new potatoes and roasted baby artichokes with hollandaise.

I like to make a German hazelnut sponge torte with thick chocolate ganache for dessert, since, although you can never have enough pie, sometimes a cake is in order.
posted by ananci at 3:38 PM on December 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

Braised lamb shanks are lovely. You'll need to start approx 36 hours before you want to eat. Season with salt and pepper, then sear in a nice hot pan first to brown, then into a covered pot or slow cooker with about half and half stock (lamb stock best, then beef, then dark chicken stock, then regular chicken stock), some roughly hacked onions (you can leave the skin on) , sprig or two of rosemary, say five whole garlic cloves, a couple of rough hacked carrots, two or three bay leaves, and say a teaspoon of peppercorns. Don't add any salt to the liquid.

Use enough liquid to completely cover the shanks. Do them overnight in your slow cooker, or 8-12 hours in your oven in a covered (and oven-safe--no plastic handles) pot at 200F/95C. When done, gently lift the shanks out (don't lift by the bone or it'll just slide right out) and reserve. Strain the remaining liquid into whatever container will fit, and chill until the fat solidifies and rises to the top. Remove the fat (I personally wouldn't bother saving it; the flavour won't be terribly useful but YMMV) and return the liquid to another pot--reserve one cup. Reduce until thick, dark, and rich. Taste and adjust salt/pepper levels as necessary.

To reheat the shanks, place into a baking dish with the reserved cup of liquid, cover with foil, and warm in the oven. Ideally you want to reheat for maybe 1/2 hour at a low temperature, but you can just throw them in at 350-400F for around ten minutes.

To go with!

Parsnip puree.

Peel and slice parsnips--technique isn't important, you're pureeing them, you'll just want to have them roughly the same size/thickness. These go into a pot with a clove of garlic, a few peppercorns, and a couple sprigs of thyme--stripped if you like but not really necessary. Pour in enough cream (35%; you could do 18% if you like, or half milk half cream--I wouldn't go all milk as it won't be quite so luscious and this is for the holidays after all) to just cover the parsnips, and bring to a simmer. Again, no salt at this stage. Stir occasionally, and mind your heat so the bottom doesn't scorch. When the parsnips are fork-tender (or if you stab a knife into a piece and it slides right off; this recipe is pretty forgiving), remove from heat and puree in your food processor or blender, working in batches. You can add a few tbsp of butter as you puree if you like! Push the puree through a fine mesh sieve, add the zest of 1/2 a lemon, taste, and adjust salt/pepper levels. You can make this up to three days in advance, and reheat gently in a pot while stirring--you may need to add a little cream to loosen it back up.

Roasted cipollini onions.

Get a bag of cipollini onions. To make peeling easy, bring a pot of water to a boil and dunk them for about 30 seconds--skins should come right off. Trim the hairiest bits of the root off, toss with olive oil, salt, pepper, rosemary, and roast for 30 minutes at 350F. Remove from oven, toss with balsamic vinegar, and roast for another 15. (Alternate option: cook them with the lamb, but picking them out of the strained liquid gets real old real fast. Or braise in red wine separately and roast fairly dry to finish). These can also be done ahead of time--just reheat with the lamb.

Sauteed mushrooms.

Get enough (you know your eaters) mushrooms for everyone. Skip white buttons and portobellos--think smaller. Cremini, honey beech, king oyster (sliced), oyster, enoki, chanterelles--these are all good. Morels would be spectacular too but are out of season I think. (You can also use dried mushrooms to bulk it up, but you'll want fresh as well. Put them in a heatproof container and pour over enough boiling water to cover, leave for fifteen minutes, keep the liquid.) In a sautee pan, heat up equal parts olive oil and butter. Sweat some finely diced shallots until translucent, and add the mushrooms, season lightly with salt and pepper. Sautee over medium high heat until cooked through and lightly browned, then deglaze with a splash of white wine, some of the leftover mushroom liquid, or both. Cook until the liquid is mainly gone, then toss in some (roughly 1/5 by volume of the mushrooms) finely diced peeled and seeded tomatoes, or halved cherry tomatoes, and sautee briefly until softened. Taste and adjust seasoning. These can really only be done fresh if they're going to be good.

As a side note, if you are reconstituting the dried mushrooms, you absolutely cannot go wrong by throwing the rest of the liquid in when braising the lamb--you can reconstitute a couple days before, but actual cooking needs to happen right before eating. You may wish to strain the liquid through a very fine mesh strainer or coffee filter beforehand.

To plate, a large dollop of parsnip in the centre of the plate. Three to five of the roasted onions on top of that, lamb shank set at a jaunty angle resting on the onions, and mushrooms strewn over. Drizzle the braise reduction over and around.

(sorry these aren't laid out as a proper recipe; if anything's confusing let me know and I'll clarify)
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 3:43 PM on December 4, 2014 [5 favorites]

Oh, or if you're looking for something more bookish, it's pretty hard to go wrong with much of Nigella Lawson's output. She did a Christmas special--I want to say it was Nigella's Feast--on the telly. Lots of lovely stuff there including potatoes roasted in goose fat.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 3:45 PM on December 4, 2014

Oh yes, and if you want to cook a duck and not have it dry out, you have to wrap it in lard or bacon. Ducks don't have enough fat to protect the meat during roasting, which is why duck confit is a Thing. Also, bacon + duck = WIN
posted by ananci at 4:04 PM on December 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Ducks have more than enough fat, just baste as you go. Roasting breast down for the first 3/4 of cooking time and then breast up to crisp the skin will also help.

(This is not to suggest that wrapping bacon around a duck is anything other than a deliciously excellent idea in terms of flavour---but bacon roasted for as long as it takes to cook a duck through is going to be shoe leather. Ask me how I know! Unless you insert the bacon under the skin.)
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 4:06 PM on December 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

Crab Imperial
posted by WeekendJen at 4:17 PM on December 4, 2014

I realize you are mostly discussing main courses, but let me share with you one favorite side my family busts out on the holidays. We make a dish that seems sort of like mashed potatoes, but is markedly better in a way no one can quite put their finger on. The secret is: it's half mashed potatoes, half celery root.

The potatoes half is the same as ever for mashed potatoes from scratch: peel and slice, boil in water until soft,then mash. For the celery root (aka celeriac) half, you clean, peel, and slice a good-sized celery root. Then you boil the slices in milk until soft. That half you mash then run through a food processor to get them extra smooth. Add this to the potatoes with milk, butter, salt, pepper, and a couple of good squeezes of dijon mustard.

The result will taste like mashed potatoes, only more complex. Think of it less as making something exotic than as way to make the plainest dish on the table better and more interesting.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 5:10 PM on December 4, 2014 [7 favorites]

Response by poster: I can't possibly pick any best answers out of here, these are all so fantastic!!!!!!! I'm in heaven just imagining all of these dishes - that being at least half the fun in the first place. Thank you so much :) I'll eventually report back on what we decided.
posted by kitcat at 9:45 AM on December 5, 2014

One year I did cornish game hens, but now I just do prime rib. As a child we did a full on feast (an exact repeat of our Thanksgiving dinner actually), I just wasn't up for trying to put all of that on once we had kids. We do use the fancy dishes though.
posted by vignettist at 4:57 PM on December 5, 2014

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