Want to impress with effortless seasonal stunners? Look no further than these alternative Christmas dinner ideas by Ian Macintosh, Chef Owner of Heirloom – a thoroughly modern British restaurant in Crouch End.
Talk to most chefs and restaurateurs and they’ll tell you that Christmas is something they get to enjoy between the menu planning, chaotic services, and never-ending kitchen prep. Rarely, in other words.
But despite the seasonal stresses, Ian Macintosh, Chef Owner of Crouch End’s much-loved Heirloom restaurant, retains a childlike enthusiasm for the festive period. He looks forward to putting together his Christmas menus and starts planning dishes as soon as summer departs, favouring those that blend tradition with modernity; British flavours with Continental touches.
This year, for the first time in a few, Ian, who has run Heirloom with his brother, David, since 2014, is opening the restaurant on Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and for lunch on the last two Fridays before the big day; as well as the usual Tuesday to Sunday opening hours.
It promises to be quite a spread. But if you can’t make the jaunt to North London, then don’t despair as the Yorkshire-born has devised a special alternative Christmas menu just for Farmdrop, comprising some of his favourite recipes from Heirloom’s 2017 vintage.
Ian’s alternative Christmas menu showcases British cooking as it is today; seasonal, forward-thinking and delicious. Starters are provided in the form of tandoori trout rillettes and a sprightly kohlrabi, clementine and fennel salad. For mains, Ian flips the bird to turkey in favour of pheasant, which he pot-roasts on a bed of barley, and a vegetarian-friendly salt-baked carrots with labneh dish. Brussels with chestnut and pancetta makes a lovely versatile side, while treacle loaf rounds things off with some much-needed decadence.
Cook any or all of these on the 25th and your guests are sure to go to bed happy. (As for Ian, well he’ll still probably be working.)
Kohlrabi, clementine and fennel salad
Serves 6 | 50 minutes
Slightly smoky, citrusy and aniseed-y, this simple salad packs a real punch. A lovely light starter to precede the traditional festive gluttony.
4 clementines, 1 saved for dressing
1 fennel bulb
1 tsp Dijon mustard
80ml rapeseed oil
A handful of chives
150g flaked almonds, lightly toasted
1. Preheat the oven to 200°C. Roast the kohlrabi for 30 minutes or until slightly blackened on the outside.
2. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Once cool, remove the skin with a paring knife, chop the flesh into neat chunks or slices and set aside.
3. For the clementines, cut each in half and sprinkle with sugar. Place a pan over a medium heat and, once hot, add the clementines flesh-side down. Cook for 5-7 minutes or until golden brown and caramelised. Allow to cool and then remove the skin.
4. For the fennel, slice on a mandolin or use a sharp knife to cut into thin slices. Store in water with the lemon juice to avoid it oxidising.
5. For the dressing, mix together in a bowl the juice from the remaining clementine, Dijon mustard and chives. Slowly whisk in the rapeseed oil until combined.
6. Combine the kohlrabi, clementine and fennel and toss in the dressing. Scatter with the flaked almonds and serve in bowls or on one big sharing platter.
Tandoori trout rillettes
Serves 6 | 25 minutes plus pickling time
We tend to serve this on blinis over the festive season, but it is equally good on toast or flatbreads. The tandoori spices add a warming twist, while the tartness of the cucumber cuts through the fattiness of the trout belly.
50ml cider vinegar
50g caster sugar
5g mustard seeds
5g cumin seeds
1 trout belly
100ml duck fat
50g chervil, chopped
1. First, prepare the pickled cucumber. Add the vinegar, sugar, water and spices to a pot and place over a medium heat. Heat for 15 minutes, then pass the liquid through a strainer or sieve and allow to cool slightly
2. Cut the cucumber into rounds and place into the pickling liquor for 2 hours. Preheat the oven to 220°C
3. Leaving the belly whole, cover it in salt and roast in the oven for 6 minutes. Then, remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly.
4. Place a plan over a low heat. Once hot, add the tandoori powder and heat to release the oils in the spices. After 5 minutes, add the duck fat and cook until combined.
5. Meanwhile, pick the meat from the belly, discarding any bones or skin, and add to a large bowl. Add the mixture from the pan in stages, using a spoon to bring the rillettes together. Allow to cool.
6. Once cool, add the chopped chervil to the mix, check the seasoning and serve on toast, flatbreads or blinis with the cucumber.
For the main event:
Roast pheasant with barley and cranberry sauce
Serves 6 | 1 hour
Pheasant are abundant at this time of year and not as costly as some other birds. Here we pot-roast the legs on a bed of barley and serve with the pan-roasted breasts and a side-serving of cranberry sauce to produce a tasty festive main.
3 pheasants, legs removed
1 stick celery
1 brown onion
3 cloves garlic
1/2 a leek
300g pearl barley
Splash of white wine
300g pearl barley
250ml chicken stock
300g frozen cranberries
bunch of thyme
1. Preheat the oven to 180°C.
2. To make the mirepoix, a traditional base for many winter dishes, finely chop carrot, celery, onion, garlic and leek and add to a large ovenproof casserole dish with a little oil. Place over a low-medium heat for 10 minutes.
3. Add the barley, a splash of wine and 200ml of chicken stock. Place the pheasant legs on top of the barley, leave the lid off and cook in the oven for 40 minutes, topping up the stock as necessary.
4. Towards the end of the cooking time, place a heavy-based pan over a medium-high heat and add a few drops of oil. Once hot, add the pheasant crowns and pan-roast until nicely coloured.
5. Turn the oven up to 185°C and place the crowns in there to cook through for 8 minutes.
6. Meanwhile, prepare the cranberry sauce. Add the cranberries to a pan along with chopped thyme, water and sugar to taste. Heat until the cranberries start to lose their shape, roughly 5 minutes.
7. Remove the casserole dish from the oven along with the crowns. Using a sharp knife, fillet the breasts from the crowns and place on top of the legs. Serve up a sharing dish with the cranberry sauce on the side.
Salt-baked carrots with labneh, hazelnut and chard
Serves 6 | 50 minutes, plus resting time
Salt-baking draws out moisture and concentrates flavour, and we find the method works particularly well with carrots. At the restaurant we use Sandy carrots, which have been grown on loam soil in Brittany and have a high sugar content to counter the salt, but good-quality medium-sized carrots will work nicely, too. If you’re feeling extra generous, add some pan-roasted cauliflower to the plate.
1kg sandy carrots, or 6 medium carrots
1kg white flour
50g ground cinnamon
700ml of water
500g natural yogurt
500g brown onions, thinly sliced
50g ras el hanout
knob of butter
500g swiss chard
1. Mix the flour, salt and cinnamon in a food mixer with the bread attachment and add roughly 700ml of water to form a dough. Use your hand to finish the dough, then wrap in clingfilm and leave in the fridge for 1 hour.
2. Remove the dough from the fridge, roll out and place the carrots on top. Wrap back up to conceal the carrots inside. Place on a tray and bake in an oven set to 180°C for 30 minutes, then set aside.
3. To make the labneh, line a sieve with a J-cloth, then tip in the yoghurt and allow the whey to drip through until you are left with a thick set yoghurt.
4. Meanwhile, add the sliced onions to a pan over a low-medium heat with a knob of butter. Cook until slightly brown, then add the ras el hanout seasoning and cook for a further 15 minutes. You can add some water if the mixture looks too dry. Allow to cool then mix with the thick yoghurt.
5. Boil a pan of salted water and blanch the chard for 2 minutes.
6. In a separate pan, toast the hazelnuts then crush up using the side of a knife.
7. Remove the carrots from salt-bake and divide onto plates with the labneh, chard and hazelnuts.
A festive side:
Brussels sprouts with pancetta and chestnuts
Serves 6 | 15 mins
Say no to boiled-into-submission sprouts! They do nothing for the reputation of this deliciously versatile vegetable. Instead, do as we do at Heirloom and pan-fry them with salty pancetta and sweet, earthy chestnuts.
1kg sprouts, scored and halved
250g pancetta, diced
250g vacuum-packed chestnuts, grated or chopped into small chunks
50ml white wine vinegar, Cabernet Sauvignon if possible
Place a heavy-based pan over a medium-high heat. Add the halved sprouts, diced pancetta and a splash of water to the pan along with a few knobs of butter and rapeseed oil
Once the water has evaporated, add the vinegar to the pan and cook for a further minute, or until the sprouts are nice and tender.
Add the chestnuts, stir to combine and serve as a festive side.
Serves 6 | 45 minutes
A great way to use up brown bread, we serve this treacle loaf at the restaurant throughout autumn and winter. Sticky, sweet and comforting, it’s a real crowdpleaser and makes a wonderful winter pud.
1 small brown bread loaf, chopped and crusts removed
250g unsalted butter
65g caster sugar
210g golden syrup
150g black treacle
1. Preheat the oven to 180C. Melt the butter, sugar and syrups in a pan over a low heat, then add the bread and coat in the mixture. Set aside to cool.
2. Once cool, add the eggs and transfer to a food mixer. Blend until smooth.
3. Line a terrine or loaf tin with baking parchment and pour in the mix. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes.
4. Once baked, remove from the oven and allow to cool. Slice and serve with a dollop of clotted cream or ice cream.