What makes a good Christmas dinner for a small group?

Anna Berrill
·3-min read

We’ll be a small group this Christmas. How do we make it feel special even with scaled-down dishes?
Tasha, Glasgow

“I have no idea why we should censor Christmas lunch,” says Jeremy Lee, head chef at London’s legendary Quo Vadis. “Even if we can’t have the gang, we can still toast each other.” So, turkey (and other poultry) is still on the cards, Tasha – though perhaps not of the size that Scrooge carted over to Bob Cratchit’s.

“Maybe don’t buy a 12-pound monster , but instead go for a slightly more slender bird,” Lee suggests, then think about what you can do with the leftovers. This doesn’t mean “slaughtering everyone with turkey curry”, but instead perhaps a turkey soup (made in much the same way as you would chicken), broths to simmer barley or noodles in, and a pie.

If you want to downsize the main event, though, try duck, says Will Devlin, chef/owner of The Small Holding, Kent, and The Curlew, East Sussex. He favours organic birds from Creedy Carver in Crediton, Devon: “They’re about 1.2kg, so you get your roasted breast for Christmas dinner, then whip off the legs, confit them and serve with bubble and squeak.” The secret to a crisp bird, Devlin says, is to baste it the day before roasting: “Boil water with a little sugar and Christmassy spices [star anise and cinnamon, say], then ladle it over the duck.”

Whole roast celeriac makes a cracking meat-free centrespread, no matter how many you’re feeding, says chef Helen Graham. The dish, which graces her menu at east London’s Bubala, is inspired by Palestine’s musakhan (which is usually made with chicken): “Mix equal parts cinnamon and allspice, then add olive oil and salt to make a paste. Spread over a celeriac, puncture a few times with a knife first, then roast at 200C (180C fan)/gas 6 for three hours, basting every 45 minutes, so it caramelises in its own juices.” Serve with tahini sauce (50:50 water and tahini seasoned with salt and lemon juice) and sumac onions.

You could, of course, abandon tradition entirely. “I’ve always wanted to do an Indian feast for Christmas,” Lee says. “Great bowls of Gujarati-style vegetables, chana dal, mung dal and chickpeas, then I’d get every cauliflower, brussels sprout, cabbage and green under the sun and curry them.” Happily, these are all scalable dishes.

Smaller celebrations give you licence to pick your favourite sides, and for Devlin that means creamed sprouts (dice smoked bacon, render it down in a pan until crisp, add white wine, then cream and finely sliced sprouts). And, Lee protests, “you can’t have a cold turkey sandwich without cold bread sauce.” Luckily, said sauce can be made for one or 20: “Measure a teacup of milk per person, one clove for a small amount and three for lots, then onion, bay, thyme and that essential scrape of nutmeg.”

For afters, Lee is all about steamed pudding (again, easily halved or quartered). The undisputed king of desserts uses equal parts fresh white breadcrumbs, self-raising flour and suet, tons of treacle, plus an “absolute riot” of dried fruits and spices. Then top with a generous helping of marmalade. Well, it is Christmas.

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