If you’re expecting Christmas pudding and mince pies in France at Christmas you’re going to be disappointed. However, the home of gastronomy has some wonderful festive food traditions of its own.<
In general, Christmas Eve 24th December is the big day in France, and tradition dictates a late night feast once families return from midnight mass – “Le Reveillon.” Although these days most seem to ditch Mass and enjoy their meal at a more sociable hour. Such feast often involves ingredients you might not use the rest of the year.
Here are the 12 classics:
Foie gras terrine Foie gras is the one dish that immediately comes to mind and really represents Christmas in France. Foie gras is eaten on different kinds of bread such as toasts, brioche or pain d’épice (gingerbread), often with a fig jam or onion confit to cut through the dish’s richness. Because of “bird flu,” foie gras is much more expensive this year.
Smoked salmon Even French kids love smoked salmon, especially on blinis. It’s a Christmas that is now eaten all year-round. I like to serve it on a blini, with a dollop of dill-flavoured creme fraiche, and some very reasonably priced Lidl caviar.
Scallops The French love scallops as they are very luxurious. Typically they are either served in their shells or pan-seared and dressed with a sauce. My beloved is very fond of scallops and I have a couple of recipes in my The Musette blogs, pan seared scallops with Provencal sauce and scallops with curry oil and cauliflower.
Chilled oysters Served on a large platter on a bed of ice, oysters come with a lemon wedge or a mignonette sauce made with red wine vinegar, chopped shallots and black pepper. Often, as part of a massive seafood platter with lobster, prawns, crab, mussels, whelks etc etc This is what we’ll be eating: my favourite Gilardeau no 3s, a chilled lobster and a handful of prawns.
Capon or turkey with chestnut stuffing This is the most popular and classic Christmas dish. The capon or turkey is roasted and served with classic sides such as more chestnuts, green beans wrapped in bacon and truffle mashed potatoes – everything tastes better with truffles! I did this one year for some French friends. I brined the turkey and then only cooked the crown with sides of roast potatoes and parsnips, sprouts with bacon and chestnuts, pigs in blankets, orange and maple glazed carrots. It went down a storm and I’m constantly pestered for a repeat.
Wild game Rarely eaten during the rest of the year unless there’s a hunter in the family, wild game often makes it onto the Christmas menu in France. Common choices are venison, wild boar or pheasant marinated in red wine or served with a sauce.
Other fish dishes As Christmas is a Christian feast which considers eating fish as a sign of abstaining, the French like to have fish but fancy species like monkfish, turbot, sole or sea bass – can’t argue with that!
Cheese platter A huge cheese platter with a number of different (French) varieties is an absolute must-have. It should be neatly arranged and served with different kinds of breads. Some cheeses also have festive versions like truffle Brie which is to die for!
Bûche de Noël Bûche de Noël is definitely the one and only Christmas dessert. Traditionally shaped to represent the real wood log placed in the fireplace on Christmas Eve. The logs have become very sophisticated in terms of styling and flavours but I feel you can’t beat the traditional Swiss roll topped with buttercream or ganache – preferably coffee-flavoured – and decorated with tiny figurines.
Exotic and candied fruits It’s not uncommon to have lychee, clementine, passion fruit or mango sorbet at the end of the meal, all of which are so refreshing after a rich meal! And by extension dried fruits such as dates (sometimes stuffed with almond paste) and candied fruits are also popular.
Chocolate truffles Christmas is synonymous with chocolate and the ultimate treats are chocolate truffles made of dark chocolate ganache and coated with cacao. Who can resist them?
Champagne This is not a dish but is something you definitely have to serve for a classic French Christmas Eve dinner. You may want to pour in crème de cassis (blackcurrant liquor) to make a kir royal. But if the champagne is good, there’s really no need!
What’ll you be indulging in on Christmas Eve?