Chefs' Top Christmas Recipes
Chefs’ Picks tracks down what the pros are eating and cooking from coast to coast.
Though it may feel like the Thanksgiving feast just ended, it’s already time to start decking the halls, trimming the tree and gearing up to prepare yet another festive meal. Don’t let holiday fatigue take over. We’ve rounded up a menu of inspiring dishes by checking in with chefs across the country to find out which recipes make the cut for their Christmas spread.
A Mouthwatering Mash-Up
Adam and Jackie Sappington, the husband-and-wife team behind the Southern-influenced Portland restaurant The Country Cat, bring together two holiday classics to create one dazzling main dish. They take a Christmas standard, lamb shoulder, and step up the indulgence factor by stuffing it with sumptuous bread pudding. Not only does the recipe make for a stunning centerpiece, but it can also be prepared ahead of time, meaning you can spend less time in the kitchen — and extra time with loved ones — on Christmas Day.
Bread Pudding-Stuffed Lamb Shoulder
1 (4-pound) boneless lamb shoulder, butterflied
3 tablespoons ground fennel seed
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon chili flakes
Special equipment: butcher’s twine
Place the lamb shoulder on a cutting board and cover the top with three layers of plastic wrap. Using a meat mallet, pound it until it is 1 inch thick.
In a small bowl, combine the fennel seed, salt, coriander, thyme and chili flakes. Whisk to combine. Liberally massage the spice mixture into the lamb shoulder to season all sides. Let the lamb shoulder rest at room temperature for at least 20 minutes or up to 1 hour to let the seasoning penetrate the meat.
2 large eggs
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon herbes de Provence (without lavender)
1 tablespoon onion powder
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground celery seed
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon lemon pepper
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
2 medium celery stalks, peeled, trimmed and finely chopped
1 large carrot, peeled, trimmed and finely chopped
One 1/2-pound loaf crusty white bread, cut into 1/2-inch cubes and either leave out overnight or put on a sheet pan in the oven at a low temperature until dried out
In a large bowl, combing the eggs and cream and whisk to combine. Add the herbes de Provence, onion powder, 1 teaspoon of the salt, the celery seed, garlic powder and lemon pepper, and whisk to combine. Set aside.
In a large skillet set over medium heat, warm the butter until it melts. Add the onion, celery, carrot and the remaining 1 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the carrot and celery soften and the onion is translucent (approximately 5 minutes). Remove the skillet from the heat and set aside to cool for a few minutes. Add the cooled vegetables and bread cubes to the egg mixture and stir with a wooden spoon to combine. Set aside.
When the lamb shoulder is done resting, arrange a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and place a roasting rack on top. Cut eight 8-inch strands of butcher’s twine and set aside. Position the lamb shoulder with the butterflied side up and with the long side facing you. Spread an even layer of the bread pudding, about 1 inch thick, over the lamb shoulder, leaving about a 1-inch border around the edges. Gently roll the lamb shoulder away from you, using even pressure while keeping the pudding mixture inside the roll as snug as possible. Continue rolling the lamb shoulder until you’ve reached the end.
Position the roll seam-side down. Starting at one end of the roll, about 1 inch from the end, slide a piece of twine under the roll and tie the string very tightly around the lamb. Repeat the process with the remaining strands of butcher’s twine, spacing the ties equally along the roll.
Once the roll is tied, place it on the roasting rack and roast for 1 hour 30 minutes to 2 hours or until the top is nicely browned and crisps slightly. (If you stick a fish fork into the center of the meat and pull it out, the fork should be warm to the touch.)
Remove the lamb from the oven and let it rest at room temperature for 10 minutes. Cut off and discard the twine. Using a serrated knife, cut the lamb roll into 1/2- to 1-inch-thick slices and transfer to a large serving platter. Dig in!
A Surprising Italian Side
Chef de Cuisine Justin Winters of Boston’s La Motta’s likes to stick with an Italian standard that is often a surprise for most Americans: cardoon. A cousin of artichoke that has slender stems similar to celery, this vegetable is a common addition to the Christmas table in various regions of Italy.
“Cardoon is one of those dishes that you would find at almost any house in Italy during Christmastime, and the fun part about it is that it is one of those great side dishes that you don’t see often around here,” says Winters. His au gratin version comes topped with buttery breadcrumbs and crisp pancetta. Winters calls it a “great way to wow your guests without having to tackle a difficult recipe.”
Serves 4 to 6
2 heads of cardoon (celery can be used as a substitute)
Juice of 1 lemon
1 gallon water (for soaking)
1 white onion, thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, chopped
1 sprig of thyme
1 bay leaf
4 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup white wine
Approximately 2 quarts chicken stock (enough to cover)
Salt and pepper
Trim the top and bottom off the cardoon. Then peel the cardoon to remove the long fibers. Cut the cardoon in half lengthwise and then into 2-inch pieces. Place the cut cardoon into water with a little lemon to prevent it from browning.
Separately, put the butter, onion, garlic, bay leaf and thyme in a large pot. Sweat the vegetables over medium heat until they are translucent.
Add the white wine and reduce by half. Add the cardoon and then cover with chicken stock. Season the stock with salt and pepper. Bring the stock and cardoon to a boil on high heat. Once at a boil, reduce the heat to medium low. Simmer the cardoon in the stock until it is tender (approximately 20 minutes). Be sure not to overcook it. Let the cardoon rest in the liquid.
1 quart heavy cream
8 ounces Taleggio cheese, rind removed, cut into small pieces
In a pot, reduce the cream by one-quarter over medium heat and then remove from the heat. While the cream is still hot, add the Taleggio and stir to melt.
1/2 cup pancetta, diced small and then rendered
1/2 cup coarse breadcrumbs (tossed with butter)
1 tablespoon melted butter
Chopped parsley (garnish)
Remove the cardoon from the poaching liquid. Toss the cardoon with the Taleggio cream and pancetta (save a little for garnish). Season to taste.
Place the cardoon and the cream into a baking dish and then top with the buttered breadcrumbs. Bake at 375 degrees F for 25 to 30 minutes or until the crumbs are golden brown (you may use the broiler for this).
Remove from the oven and garnish with chopped parsley and crispy pancetta.
Cheesy Corn Goodness
For Chef Heather Terhune of Tre Rivali and The Outsider in Milwaukee, cooking the perfect Christmas dinner involves making a beautiful ham with some killer side dishes. One of those sides is her cheddar corn pudding, made with a super-sharp cheddar cheese for some extra bite that pairs well with the fresh sweet corn.
Cheddar Corn Pudding
1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter
5 cups fresh yellow corn kernels cut off the cob (6 to 8 ears)
1 onion, chopped
4 extra-large eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup half-and-half
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup (6 ounces) grated extra-sharp Bleu Mont cheddar
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Grease the inside of an 8-to-10-cup baking dish.
Melt the butter in a very large saute pan and saute the corn and onion over medium-high heat for 4 minutes. Cool slightly.
Whisk together the eggs, buttermilk, sour cream and half-and-half in a large bowl. Slowly whisk in the cornmeal, sugar, salt and pepper. Add the cooked corn mixture and grated cheddar. Then pour into the baking dish.
Place the dish in a larger pan and fill the pan halfway up the sides of the dish with hot tap water. Bake the pudding for 40 to 45 minutes, until the top begins to brown and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Serve warm.
Spicy Meets Sweet
Chef Bill Kim and his wife Yvonne have mined the culinary canons of their combined heritages for the medley of flavors that they showcase at their restaurant Belly Shack in Chicago, where the influences from their Korean and Puerto Rican backgrounds shine through in the eclectic menu.
It’s no surprise, then, that what lands on their Christmas table at home is also an homage to various cultures. For this sweet-meets-spicy side, Chef Kim takes a typical sweet potato casserole and spices it up with Vietnamese pho spices, then adds in maple syrup to step the sweetness up a notch.
Baked Sweet Potatoes with Pho Spices and Maple Syrup
Prep Time: 40 min; Cook Time: 30 min; Total Time: 1 hour, 10 min
6 pieces medium-size sweet potatoes, medium dice
2 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons pho powder (you can use cinnamon powder as a substitute)
1/2 pound dark brown sugar
1/4 pound sweet butter
1 cup grade B maple syrup
1 1/2 cups miniature marshmallows
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place sweet potatoes in a 10-by-6-inch shallow baking dish.
In a large bowl, combine brown sugar, pho spices and salt. Mix together and cut in butter. Spread the mixture over the sweet potatoes and then drizzle the maple syrup over them.
Cover shallow baking pan tightly with foil. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove from oven, sprinkle with marshmallows and broil until browned.
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Photography courtesy of La Motta, The Country Cat, Tre Rivali and Belly Shack