By Annalisa D’Alessio
The holidays have become synonymous with indulgence. Mainly revolving around the consumption of all kinds of food, the festive season brings with it a desire to enjoy the finer things in life. From caviar and tawny port to smoked salmon and oysters, have a read through our list of the finest fare that should not be missing from your dinner tables this Christmas.
In Britain, the two main types of oysters available are Native and Pacific—the latter being the least expensive. Live, just-shucked oysters offer the best flavour. You can ask your fishmonger to shuck them for you if you wish. Pair them with Champagne—another festive stalwart—for a sumptuous starter to a meal. If you’d like to eat them raw, arrange them on crushed ice and accompany them with lemon juice or a French-style dressing made of shallot vinegar and Tabasco sauce. Alternatively, top with breadcrumbs, parmesan cheese and herbs and grill for two to three minutes before serving.
Among the world’s most expensive foods, truffles come in two main varieties: black and white. Black truffles grow well in France and are relatively less expensive than their white counterparts, which are typically found in Italy. The most cost-effective ways of consuming this luxury item are in oil, pastes and pâtés. Add truffle to fresh pasta, risotto or scrambled eggs for a lavish meal that won’t break the bank. If shopping around for truffle-infused oils and pastes, look for products without any additional flavourings as these are less likely to be padded with less expensive mushroom varieties.
This particular cheese takes three months to mature to perfection. It is said that autumn milk yields the best Stilton, which explains why the cheese is so widely consumed over the Christmas period. Feature it on your festive cheeseboard accompanied by good-quality honey, walnuts and stone fruits or add it to a salad for a savoury treat. Pair it with a tawny port or a sweet dessert wine for a perfect marriage of festive flavours.
Along with truffles, caviar is regarded as one of the most extravagant foods on earth. Consisting in salted fish eggs, caviar is available all year round but makes a special appearance on our tables when the festive season rolls around. Serve it in a container sat on a bed of ice, spread on thin cracker biscuits or on a lemon slice for an indulgent pre-dinner treat. Look for the Beluga variety; even though it’s the rarest and most expensive, it will more than make up for the extra money spent in flavour.
Made popular in the 1700s, port is, for many, the quintessential Christmas drink. If you’re going to invest in one bottle of fortified wine for the festive season, make sure you choose a good one. Primarily aged in oak barrels prior to bottling, port is a smooth and mellow drink perfect for an after-dinner spread of cheese and good-quality chutney by the fireplace. Novice appreciators will want to invest in a ruby port, while seasoned connoisseurs may opt for vintage port—the latter is an acquired taste.
Most Champagnes are a harmonious mixture of three grape varieties: chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier. The top Champagnes are known as cuvées and are mainly vintage. When choosing the best Champagne, the best years to look out for are 1989, 1990, 1995, 1996 and 1998. When shopping around for Champagne, read labels carefully: check that the product is made in the region of Champagne and in accordance with proper regulations. This particular drink is great when paired with caviar and oysters.
This luxurious smoked fish can be enjoyed in a variety of dishes or eaten straight from the pack. While it’s now easy to find great smoked salmon in supermarkets, it’s still important to read the label carefully. Check whether the fish has been farmed, cultivated or caught. Wild salmon will taste better—and contain much less fat—than farmed salmon and will definitely be worth the heftier price tag. Use it to top some toasted English muffins for a decadent, festive brunch or create colourful hors d’oeuvres, sushi bites and a creamy pasta main dish.