Whatever your opinion of Christmas, there’s no denying it dominates December. It looms on the event horizon, exerting the gravitational pull of a small neutron star. This can be a challenge if your attitude to Yuletide is more Ebenezer Scrooge than eggnog. But if, like me, you get as giddy as a kiddy, then it means three weeks of barely contained glee. Christmas Day, however, is a different kettle of fish altogether.
There is the main event, of course, which is the same in every household: you must prepare the biggest Sunday lunch of the year (aka, Christmas dinner.) You must cook turkey instead of chicken. You must always refer to it as Christmas dinner, never Christmas lunch. But it is the peripheral feasting, snacking, munching and imbibing that interests me, as there is an implicit permission to eat and drink as much as you like all day. My strategy for getting through the assault course of indulgence is to be at the helm, in front of the stove, for the duration.
Once all the presents are open (usually by 5am if your children are anything like mine), I volunteer to make and do everything. Tea and toast, followed by breakfast, bubbles and brunch. Then the dinner, the wine and the pudding, followed by cocktails, cheese board, port, post-prandials, coffees and chocolates. Plus all the washing up, all the cleaning and all the putting away. I get particularly tetchy if anyone tries to do anything in the kitchen. It is my department, my domain; I’m wearing the apron, so I have the power. Having said that, and bearing in mind Christmas Day is a marathon not a sprint, it is essential that you pace things properly. You don’t want to be feeling peaky having eaten all the mince pies by 11 o’clock and you certainly don’t want to be slurring over the sprouts at three.
For this reason, I always make something gentle like Bellinis in the morning (one bottle of very cold prosecco upended into a large pitcher, 150ml of white peach purée, stirred together and poured into small chilled tumblers) accompanied by a simple snack like smoked or cured salmon crostini with horseradish and dill. It really is the perfect way to kick-start the day and get the feast underway.
The following recipe is one of my favourite preparations for salmon. It can be sliced thinly for use in salads or as part of a cold platter. It’s also a sensation in a bagel with cream cheese, cracked pepper and lemon juice. The quantities here will yield more than you need for your holiday morning snacks, so keep the leftovers wrapped in cling film in the fridge where they will be good for a week. Prepare the salmon two days in advance and make sure you use an extremely sharp slicing knife.
Beet-cured salmon, horseradish and dill crostini
Makes 18 pieces
• 250g raw beetroot, peeled and grated
• 75g flaky sea salt
• 75g caster sugar
• 1 handful dill, roughly chopped
• 18 small dill fronds for finishing
• 6 black peppercorns, crushed
• Zest of 2 oranges
• 50ml vodka
• 500g lean salmon fillet, skinned and cleaned
• 1 baguette
• Horseradish sauce (I like Colman’s)
• Juice of 1 lemon
1 | Mix the beetroot, salt, sugar, chopped dill, black pepper, zest and vodka together. Spread half the mixture on the bottom of a plastic container roughly the same size as the salmon fillet. Place the fish on the bed of ingredients and use the remainder to create a blanket all around the salmon.
2 Put a sheet of cling film over the top and weigh down with something heavy. Put the container in the fridge and leave for 36–48 hours. When you remove the salmon, it will have changed colour
to a beautiful deep red.
3 Rinse the curing ingredients off under cold running water, pat dry with kitchen towel and then carefully carve as thinly as possible. You need 18 generous slices.
4 Meanwhile, cut the baguette at an angle into 18 elliptical discs, and lightly toast them on both sides under a grill. Lay a slice of beet-cured salmon on each, place a small dollop of horseradish sauce on top, and finish with a dill sprig and a few drops of lemon juice. Trust me, with this as your opening gambit, accompanied by the Bellinis, you’ll be more of a hero than Santa on the big day.
Instagram: @Russell_Norman. Russell’s new book Spuntino: Comfort Food (New York Style) is out now, published by Bloomsbury