Cooking Christmas dinner: The ultimate guide to the big day

Paul Flynn, Aoife Noonan, Lilly Higgins and more plan the festive feast

The countdown to cooking and serving Christmas lunch or dinner is well and truly under way now. For most of us, that means there will be a bird of some variety gently roasting in the oven and an array of side dishes competing for space on the hob.

It can be a bit of juggling act, getting everything cooked and ready to eat at the same time. We have tips and suggestions from some of the country’s most trusted cooks and chefs and we have also delved into the Irish Times recipe archive to bring you some of our most popular Christmas dinner recipes.

First, a three-course foolproof dinner from Paul Flynn, Lilly Higgins and Aoife Noonan. And below, you will also find lots of other inspirational recipes and tips for a great Christmas feast: the ultimate guide to starters and desserts; turkey, gravy, stuffing and sprouts; and delicious vegetarian options.

Four recipes for a perfect Christmas dinner 

Starter: Paul Flynn's potted salmon
Serves six


1 egg, plus 3 egg yolks
300ml cream
200ml milk
1 tbsp horseradish sauce
100g smoked salmon, skin removed and finely diced
Salt and pepper

Preheat an oven to 140 degrees Celsius, or equivalent. Whisk the eggs together in a bowl then add the cream and milk, horseradish and chopped salmon, then season with salt and pepper.

Ladle the mixture between the ramekins, making sure you stir while you ladle so that the salmon is evenly distributed.

Boil a kettle and place the ramekins in a baking tray.

Pour the boiling water around the ramekins so it reaches half-way up the sides.

Place in the oven for 20-25 minutes, until the mixture is just set but with a little wobble in the centre.

Remove from the tray and allow them to cool before refrigerating.

Serve at room temperature, with pickled cucumber.

Main: Paul Flynn’s roast turkey crown with ras-al-hanout, carrots, dates and almonds

Serves six
2kg turkey crown
1 tbsp ras-al-hanout spice mix
Zest of half an orange
1 tsp thyme leaves
Salt and black pepper
140g soft butter
20ml chicken stock
6 medium carrots
3 tbsp olive oil
2 bay leaves
Juice of 1 orange
100g whole blanched almonds
8 medjool dates, stoned and quartered

Set the oven to 185 degrees.

Add the ras-al-hanout, orange, thyme, salt and pepper into the butter and mix well.

With your fingers, or a spatula, gently loosen the skin from the meat of the turkey, taking care not to tear it.

Push the butter underneath the skin, making sure all the meat is covered.  Leave some butter for the outside of the bird and smear it all over the skin.

Place the turkey on a high trivet in the centre of a deep roasting tray. This will allow the carrots to go underneath later.

Pour the chicken stock into the roasting tin, cover the turkey with foil and cook for one hour. Meanwhile, peel and top the carrots, then cut them at an angle, one centimetre thick, then set aside.

Remove the foil from the bird, baste it well, then add the carrots, olive oil and bay leaves to the tray and put back in the oven.

Cook the turkey for 25 minutes uncovered. It should be golden with a light spicy crust. 

Remove it from the tray, along with the trivet, then cover with foil and allow to rest.

10 Add the orange juice and the almonds to the carrots, then return the tray to the oven for 20 minutes, turning the carrots once or twice. 

11 When the carrots are soft, and the almonds golden, add the dates and stir through. 

12 Slice the turkey and serve with glazed carrots and almonds.

Side: Lilly Higgins’s Balsamic roast brussel sprouts


500g sprouts
100g grapes
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp honey
200g pecan nuts, toasted and roughly chopped


1 Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Place the sprouts, grapes, vinegar and oil in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper then gently mix.

2 Tip on to a roasting tray and place in the oven for 20-25 minutes till the grapes are soft and almost bursting and the sprouts are nicely golden in places.

3 Drizzle over the honey and toss to coat everything. Place on a serving platter and scatter with the pecan nuts, serve immediately.

Dessert:  Aoife Noonan's Christmas ice-cream cake

Serves 12


For the sponges:
335g unsalted butter, cubed
335g caster sugar
335g self-raising flour, sifted
6 eggs
Zest of 2 oranges
1½ tsp vanilla extract

For the ice-cream filling and topping:
2 eggs
85g caster sugar
500g mascarpone
500ml double cream
150ml fortified wine, marsala, sherry or port
125g dark chocolate, chopped
100g pistachios, chopped
100g candied orange, chopped
50g pomegranate seeds


For the sponges:
Preheat the oven to 175 degrees. Grease three 20cm cake tins and place a disc of parchment paper at the bottom of each.

Cream the butter and sugar together until pale and soft. Add the eggs one by one, allowing each one to incorporate fully before adding the next.

Add the orange zest and vanilla, mixing well to combine, followed by the flour, folding gently until fully incorporated.

Divide the batter between the three cake tins and bake for 20-25 minutes, until golden, or until a skewer inserted into the centre of each comes out clean.

Set aside to cool for 10 minutes before turning out on to a wire rack and cooling completely.

When they are cool, trim the top of the sponges to ensure each sponge is flat. Set aside until ready to assemble.

For the ice-cream filling and topping:
Put the eggs and sugar in a bowl and whisk for about five minutes with an electric beater or by hand, until light, pale and fluffy. Add the mascarpone and cream and continue to whisk until smooth and the cream reaches soft peaks.

Add the fortified wine and continue to whip until fully combined.

Fold in 100g of the chocolate, 50g of the pistachios and 50g of the candied orange, reserving the remainder of each for the topping.

To assemble:
Line a large 24cm springform cake tin with clingfilm, leaving some hanging over the edges. Place one of the sponges in the centre and spoon over some of the filling. Repeat with the remaining sponges, and pour the remaining filling over the top of the cake and down the sides, pressing down using a palette knife or spoon to remove as many air bubbles as possible, ensuring the entire cake tin is filled with the ice-cream filling.

Smooth the top of the cake and place in the freezer overnight.

When ready to serve, remove the frozen cake from the cake tin, remove the clingfilm and place on a serving plate.

Garnish the top of the cake with the pomegranate seeds and the remaining chopped chocolate, pistachios and orange, and serve.

More starter inspiration

For some starring role starters look no further than seafood. Try Vanessa Greenwood's individual smoked salmon terrines with avocado and crab which can be prepared entirely in advance. Or, for something lighter, try Domini Kemp's crab and fennel salad.

Non-seafood lovers could do worse than to try Trish Deseine's pan-fried foie gras with passion fruit glaze and toasted brioche for a luxurious, old-school option. While Paul Flynn's twice-baked Cashel Blue souffles would also be lovely.


Turkey: Before you even begin to prepare the big bird, read, or re-read these words of wisdom on turkey cooking times from John McKenna. The type of bird you are cooking, whether or not it has been frozen, and the size of your oven, all come into play when determining cooking times.

Inserting a skewer into the thickest part of the thigh and checking that the juices run clear, not pink, is the way most cooks check that their bird is done. But, as McKenna recommends, buying a meat thermometer and checking that the meat has reached 70 degrees Celsius, will take all the guesswork out of the equation.

It also helps to write out a timetable, working backwards from when you want to serve the meal, building in time for the turkey to rest (again depending on its size, but anywhere between 30 minutes and two hours), and listing all the side dishes and when you’ll need to start cooking them.

For explicit instructions on how to roast the bird, Neven Maguire's recipe for roast turkey with streaky bacon, from his book, Neven Maguire's Perfect Irish Christmas, is about as straightforward and reliable as they come.

You’ll also find instructions for Maguire’s Christmas gravy in that link, but note that you’ll need a pint of turkey stock, and that is best made in advance. Do so by simmering the giblets (make sure to ask your turkey supplier to include them) in water with an onion, a carrot, a celery stick, six black peppercorns, two bay leaves, and a few thyme leaves and parsley stalks, for an hour, then straining. No giblets, or can’t stand the thought (and smell) of that simmering pot? Use a good quality low-salt chicken stock cube or powder instead, or better still get hold of Carol Banahan’s Carol’s Stock Market free range turkey bone broth, now in Dunnes Stores.

For some, Darina Allen is the highest authority on home cooking, and her classic roast turkey with stuffing and gravy recipe has legions of fans. Her recipe also gives instructions on making turkey stock, for the gravy, and bread stuffing, which she cooks inside the bird. This is a comprehensive and ultra-coherent, step-by-step guide, perfect for the first-timer.

Carmel Somers's tips for a perfect roast chicken works just as well for turkey, and if you're thinking of brining the bird, her recipe talks you through the process step by step and advises a trial run so you can have it perfected for the big day.

Our columnist Russ Parsons perfected the dry brining method now used by US vice-president-elect Kamala Harris, and you can read all about it here.

For something entirely different, try Donal Skehan's alternative Christmas dinner, the jewelled pot roast Moroccan turkey breast is still festive but might be a welcome break from tradition in a year when everything is different.

Goose: Jamie Oliver uses Christmas spices – ginger, cinnamon, star anise and cloves – in this slow cooked roast goose recipe. This one can be prepared in advance, stored in the fridge, and crisped up in the oven before serving.

Beef Wellington: If a bird doesn't feature in your plans for Christmas day, Domini Kemp's definitive recipe for beef Wellington might be worth considering. We have had many requests to reprint this recipe, because it works every time, and this year has seen a huge surge in popularity of the dish. A layer of Parma ham keeps the mushroom duxelle that coats the fillet from adding moisture to the puff pastry, keeping the dreaded soggy bottom at bay.


For the vegetarians, look no further than Paul Flynn's two magnificent savoury cakes. His parsnip, sesame and red onion cake is a sure-fire winner and looks magnificent, with its minted cranberry yoghurt sauce on the side. Otherise you could go with his big hit from the summer, potato, Parmesan and red pepper cake, which, dare I say it, looks even more impressive.

Denis Cotter has a recipe for parsnip fritters with mushroom and cider sauce, in his Café Paradiso Cookbook, that is complex enough to convince the non-meat-eaters that they're not an after thought. Just keep the meat-eaters away from them, they sound delicious.

And if it has to be a nut roast, Lauren Murphy has a recipe for one that pairs well with the traditional Christmas sides and trimmings "and won't leave the vegetarian feeling left out".


Potatoes: Irish Times columnist JP McMahon believes that we don't need roast potatoes as well as mashed on our Christmas plates, but he is a bit of a contrarian – he serves tiramisu instead of plum pudding, after all. Here is his ultimate mashed potatoes recipe.

But for most of us, crisp, burnished roasties, maybe cooked in duck or goose fat, or in James Whelan Butcher's award winning beef dripping, are an essential part of the roast dinner to top all roast dinners. Try these goose fat roasted potatoes, with garlic and thyme, these Dauphinoise potatoes from Carmel Somers or these Hasselback potatoes from Jess Murphy.

Sprouts, whether you like them or not, are often unavoidable on December 25th. Many cooks go to great lengths to make the cruciferous vegetable more appealing by adding other flavours. Lilly Higgins serves her sprouts roasted, with tahini sauce. Vanessa Greenwood stir-fries her sprouts with smoked bacon and wine. Domini Kemp goes for shredded sprouts with truffle oil.


And now to bring that Christmas lunch or dinner to a suitably show-stopping conclusion. Caterer Eunice Power can always be relied upon for a festive dessert to wow everyone at the table, and who could forget these little guys – choux snowmen that look too good to eat.

Trifle is the most popular alternative, or addition, to the traditional steamed pud. Nothing wrong with the classic sponge, jelly, custard and cream affair, with or without a liberal glug of sweet sherry, but Power's mandarin orange, mascarpone and whiskey trifle is an alternative stunner.

Meringue is another light, sweet option, and Vanessa Greenwood's roulade with mixed berry coulis comes with just enough wow factor to put the flaming plum pudding in the shade.

For the chocolate lovers, Jamie Oliver's cherry chocolate mousse is bound to be a hit but if you'd prefer to keep it it traditional, try making your own mincemeat this year, with this simple, foolproof mince pie recipe

And finally, if you've left it too late to make a Christmas cake, fear not, Lily Higgins's Dundee Cake brings a warm glow of nostalgia to Christmas baking.


It wouldn't really be Christmas without plenty of leftovers to contend with. Here are some of Donal Skehan's top tips on what to do with that leftover turkey and ham

Marie Claire Digby

Marie Claire Digby

Marie Claire Digby is Senior Food Writer at The Irish Times