15 Festive Dishes for the Merriest of Christmas Eve Dinners
Christmas Eve dinner can vary depending on how you celebrate, but the meal should always satisfy and delight. Whether you abstain from meat and dairy, feast on seven fishes or roast pork to get in the Christmas spirit, New York Times Cooking has plenty of recipes to help you usher in the holiday.
1. Root Beer Ham
Perhaps you’ve heard of Coca-Cola pork; now meet its sassafras-spiked cousin, root beer ham. Eric Kim’s recipe for festive, glazed bone-in half ham calls for little more than a couple of cans of soda, some aromatics and a touch of acidity from the Dijon mustard and rice vinegar. The braising liquid doubles as the finishing lacquer, and any leftover sauce should be served in a gravy boat on the side.
Recipe: Root Beer Ham
2. Tamales de Pollo
Holiday meals can often make for the best group projects, with family members forming a kind of makeshift assembly line around the table. On Christmas Eve, that means tamales, with regional variations stretching from Mexico and Guatemala to Venezuela and Puerto Rico. They’re eagerly enjoyed in the aftermath of all of that stuffing and steaming, or saved for snacking on Christmas Day. These tamales, adapted by Tejal Rao from Alicia Villanueva, are filled with Guadalupe Moreno’s tinga de pollo, which is a great way to use up any leftover chicken you have on hand.
Recipes: Tamales de Pollo | Tinga de Pollo (Chicken With Chipotle and Onions)
3. Roasted Salmon With Miso Cream
A whole fillet of salmon makes for a stunning, crowd-pleasing holiday centerpiece. But it won’t just be your guests who are thrilled: Genevieve Ko keeps the cook in mind, too, capping this elegant but simple recipe at 30 minutes. A miso- and citrus-infused crème fraîche takes everyone’s favorite cut of fish from weeknight mainstay to dinner party superstar.
Recipe: Roasted Salmon With Miso Cream
Few things say “It’s a party!” quite like a juicy pork shoulder with crackling, crispy skin. Served for Christmas, New Year’s Eve, birthdays and other special occasions, Von Diaz’s pernil is a great way to serve a crowd. Budget enough time for the citrusy adobo to permeate the pork — preferably overnight — then roast it for a few hours before fighting off your cousins for the best piece of chicharrón.
5. Roasted Beef Tenderloin
Searing a lanky beef tenderloin can be an inelegant process. To cut down on time and awkwardness, Genevieve Ko slathers the meat with soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce and sugar and butter to ensure there’s still a caramelized crust on the outside without the fuss of browning it in a pan. You’ll be shocked to realize you actually cooked it all in under an hour, which leaves plenty of time to mix together a horseradish cream to serve alongside.
Recipe: Roasted Beef Tenderloin
6. Vegetarian Red Borscht
On the coldest of Christmas Eves, nothing warms the body and soul quite like a bowl of borscht. A vegetarian version, like this one from David Tanis, is ideal for those who commemorate the holiday with a meatless meal. If your celebrations allow for dairy, be sure to scatter a few platters of cheese-and-potato pierogi, or varenyky, across the table, and dollop everything in sight with sour cream.
Recipes: Vegetarian Red Borscht | Pierogi Ruskie (Potato and Cheese Pierogi)
7. Feast of the Seven Fishes Pie
This seafood pie from Melissa Clark, inspired by an Italian American feast enjoyed on Christmas Eve, ensures that all seven fishes for whatever meal you have planned are covered by a single recipe. Anchovies! Shrimp! Scallops! Salmon roe! Clam juice! Two kinds of mild white fish! You can, of course, adjust the quantity and combination of seafood for an equally showstopping dish, but the opulence of this recipe as written is part of the fun.
Recipe: Feast of the Seven Fishes Pie
8. Vegetarian Mushroom Wellington
A vegetarian take on classic beef Wellington, this recipe from Alexa Weibel is a feat in its own right. Your efforts can be spread over a couple of days: Sauté the mushrooms and onions in advance, but save assembly and baking for the day of. Regardless of how you break up the work, it’s a meal deserving of your time and attention. Take it from one New York Times Cooking reader: “This was a spectacular dish both in taste and presentation.”
Recipe: Vegetarian Mushroom Wellington
9. Roasted Halibut With Mussel Butter Sauce
Thirty-five minutes to cook a luxurious dinner party centerpiece for six? It’s possible with this recipe for kelp-wrapped roasted fish from Kay Chun. Meaty halibut is served alongside briny mussels, which bring the flavors of the sea to a saffron-tinged butter sauce as they steam. The shallot-flecked sauce adds a vibrant marigold finish to the dish, but for even more color, dot the plated fish with salty salmon roe.
Recipe: Roasted Halibut With Mussel Butter Sauce
10. Crisp Roast Duck
Imagine walking out to the holiday table with a platter of perfectly cooked and carved duck. All of your guests look at you, incredulously: You made duck?! Yeah, you did, with the help of this recipe from Melissa Clark. The time required for dry brining and roasting adds up to the better part of a day, but the preparation itself is minimal, and the reaction the final product elicits makes it worth the investment. A side of porchetta-spiced roasted potatoes or simply roasted vegetables would complement this dish nicely.
Recipe: Crisp Roast Duck
11. Ombré Gratin
A sunset of delicately layered vegetables is a gift that any vegetarian would be thrilled to receive. Alexa Weibel’s phyllo-topped gratin is a project, for sure, and one that you should absolutely break out that mandolin for. Take your time, salt those root vegetables generously and revel in the results.
Recipe: Ombré Gratin
12. Moqueca (Brazilian Seafood Stew)
This warming, piquant stew from Yewande Komolafe delivers feast-of-seven-fishes vibes with just two sea creatures: prawns and cod. The Christmas holiday is the perfect occasion to splurge on the freshest seafood you can find, which will ensure your moqueca is rich, hearty and tastes of the sea. A creamy broth, achieved not with dairy but with full-fat coconut milk, cradles the gently simmered seafood.
Recipe: Moqueca (Brazilian Seafood Stew)
13. Slow-Roasted Turkey With Apple Gravy
A Thanksgiving turkey can just as easily become a Christmas Eve turkey. The flavors that accompany Padma Lakshmi’s slow-roasted bird — fresh bay leaves, ginger, apples and citrus — suit both holidays incredibly well. For a smaller celebration, this recipe scales down wonderfully for a chicken.
Recipe: Slow-Roasted Turkey With Apple Gravy
14. Endive Tarte Tatin With Burrata
For a meatless main that looks like it’s a lot more work than it is, Kay Chun’s savory spin on an apple tart is a stellar option. Crisp and bitter endives soften and sweeten when they’re cooked with a bit of butter, lemon and just a touch of sugar, making for an unexpected but delicious topping on flaky store-bought puff pastry. A dollop of cool and creamy burrata with each slice balances it all out.
Recipe: Endive Tarte Tatin With Burrata
15. Cassoulet-Style Lamb Shanks and Beans
This dish from David Tanis is a spiritual cousin of the classic French cassoulet, but without all of the duck and sausage. Instead, lamb shanks and beans team up in a festive and deeply cozy stew that is supple throughout, but lightly crisp on top thanks to its bread crumb topping.
Recipe: Cassoulet-Style Lamb Shanks and Beans
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