Traditional Irish Christmas Dinner & Christmas Foods
Christmas is big in Ireland – just as it is in the rest of the British Isles. But as the major religious festival, along with Easter, of course, it likely retains more heavenly sentiment than elsewhere as Ireland remains a very religious country.
According to a 2016 survey, over 78% of people in Ireland consider themselves Catholic and 40% of them attend church once a week. Now, the figure for church attendance has been falling over the years, but when it comes to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, the churches of the Emerald Isle are still filled to the rafters – until Covid-19 hit, of course, and services went virtual.
Christmas is a religious festival, Ireland is a religious country, so Christmas is a big deal – some philosophers might argue with that reasoning, might right now, who cares – it’s Christmas time!
It is indeed, and Irish households will be “getting in the Christmas”, building up their stocks and supplies for the festive period.
So, what might you expect to find on a typical Irish Xmas dinner table?
Many homes will usher in the yuletide feast with a starter. And being an island country with a flourishing seafood industry, the starter will often be of salmon or prawns. Now, the prawn cocktail may have had its heyday, but it is a popular retro starter for Xmas.
The main dish
As in the rest of the British Isles, turkey is the firm favorite for Christmas dinner, but, again like the rest of the region, it is a pretty recent tradition. Before the roast turkey took hold, the center dish would be spiced beef – and some are bringing back that tradition as it sounds absolutely fabulous.
Three kilograms of topside rubbed with brown sugar and put to rest in the fridge for two days. Then rubbed with a mixture of black peppercorns and juniper and allspice berries crushed in a pestle and mortar and mixed with ground cloves, salt, and saltpeter. After another week of resting in the fridge, the meat is cooked very slowly in the oven for about 5 hours. Left to rest for another 3 hours, the result is an exceptionally chilled out lump of deliciously spicey, lusciously juicy beef.
But I digress, as it isn’t the main dish anymore. That honor goes to roast turkey and, because one bird won’t go round the entire family, an honest to goodness beautifully honey-glazed, clove-studded ham.
Again, back to the turkey! Roasted, of course, and stuffed with potato stuffing, or bread and potato stuffing… or potato and sausage stuffing. There’s a theme and we’ll come back to it. But all that turkey and stuffing needs covering with gravy, made with the juices of the bird and particularly tasty if the bird is cooked in Guinness.
The Christmas Sides
That stuffing theme is carried over into the sides as potatoes figure quite a bit. The roast turkey and ham will come with at least two potato sides – mashed and roast – but others suggest four different potato dishes. Potato gratin is a favorite – layers of sliced potatoes and grated cheddar cheese doused with onion and heavy cream sauce and baked – crunchy and soft at the same time!
Other veggies do get a look in. Brussels sprouts, celery, carrots, peas, and broccoli are popular accompaniments – a selection of or all together.
Irish Christmas Desserts
A good old plum pudding is a favorite on the Irish Christmas table, with brandy butter or sherry sauce. But for those not so keen on the rich, thick fruit pudding, a sherry trifle is often an alternative – trifle sponges soaked in sherry along with lots of fruit, jelly, and cream, it is no less rich but it is more refreshing.
And something more refreshing is probably a good choice, as once the main meal is over, there is Christmas cake or mince pies to be had.
The Irish Xmas dinner is a delectable feast involving long hours of good food, good conversation, and plenty of reveling. But it doesn’t stop there as the evening continues with a moist and fruity Christmas cake and rich and crumbly mince pies washed down with plenty of Baileys Cream, whiskey, or Guinness.
Nollaig Shona Dhuit to you all! (Best try saying that before the Irish whiskey.)