Be it a ham, turkey, goose, joint of beef or any other impressive piece of meat, the centrepiece of your Christmas spread often brings the meal's creator most of the (well-deserved) admiration and accolades. And yet it's the numerous and varied sides that can make-or-break a festive spread.
Sides add variety and colour to the meal, be they the refreshing acidity of the salad dressing that cuts through the meat's richness, the luxuriously thick gravy that adds umami to everything on the plate (and forgives any overcooking), or the hits of sweetness that come from adding dried fruit to your stuffing or braising your red cabbage with apples. But they also offer the perfect opportunity to try something new without upsetting the traditionalists at the table.
Even when considering essential sides - for some it's just not Christmas without red cabbage, or baked apples, or cranberry sauce - experimenting with new techniques and ingredients can elevate a Christmas dinner from 'just as good as last year' to 'the best we've ever had!'.
These are some of the sides we're excited to be cooking this year, adding bursts of flavour, colour and freshness while keeping all our favourite traditions alive.
- We've often extolled the virtues of roasting potatoes in duck fat for the crunchy, golden finish. Making them 'hasselback' potatoes - where each potato is sliced most of the way through - creates a whole array of new crispy corners to sprinkle salt or pour gravy over. Want to take it a step further? Insert a piece of prosciutto into each cut before roasting then, when they're done, top with toasted hazelnuts, crumbled blue cheese and fried sage leaves.
- Braised red cabbage is a traditional Christmas side dish throughout Europe, where it's often braised down for hours with grated apple. Replace the fresh apple with a glug of our rich, glossy apple glaze - made by simmering and reducing apple juice for many hours - to add a caramel-like fruity note and rich, dark colour. Finish with a scattering of dried cranberries.
- Stuffing, whether actually used to stuff a bird or more safely be cooked on its own, combines bread with herbs, spices and meat juices (as well as, often, bacon or pork sausage meat). Make your stuffing more interesting by using chestnuts in place of bread and then stir through finely chopped black garlic for a real umami hit.
- Pick some classic Christmas veggies and turn them into a cold salad rather than yet another plate of hot food that requires precious oven or stovetop time. Brussels sprouts can be thinly shaved, combined with slices of stone fruit, and dressed with a mix of blood orange agrumato, white wine vinegar and dijon mustard in a salad that will make everyone happy.
- Barbecue asparagus, broccolini or zucchini and top with a generous heap of grated bottarga for seasoning and flavour.
- Everyone loves honey-glazed carrots. Imagine the hit your carrots would be if you used truffle honey instead...
- Save yourself the extra work and serve our pickled cherries and cranberry sauce alongside your Christmas ham and turkey. Both are made from premium fruit and are the perfect balance of sweet and sour. As essential for the leftover ham sandwiches as they are for the main event.
- Adding a grain salad, like this Camargue Rice & Chestnut Tabbouleh, to your spread is a flavourful way of incorporating even more seasonal vegetables, as well as a little extra colour, texture and nutrition. Toss cooked freekeh, wheat berries, barley or your grains of choice with a light dressing of good extra virgin olive oil and white wine vinegar, stir through chargrilled veggies and fresh herbs, and it's done. You can even prep it well ahead of time.
- Everyone loves a prawn cocktail! Turn it into a salad by spreading Marie Rose sauce (combine good quality mayonnaise with ketchup and a dash of Worcestershire sauce) over a plate, then topping it with shaved lettuce, chopped avocado, slices of red shallot and a heap of shelled prawns.
- Tie the table's flavours together by spiking your gravy with the same ingredients you've used to glaze your turkey, chicken, duck or goose. We love the sweet complexity of vincotto, but jams, quince paste, soy sauce, or a wealth of other syrups and sauces would work equally well.
Don't relegate your sides to the sidelines; a thoughtful, considered selection of vegetables, salads, sauces, gravy, stuffing and other traditional Christmas accoutrements can transform your festive spread into the most memorable meal of the year. For more inspiration, visit your nearest The Essential Ingredient store, or buy your ingredients online for delivery to anywhere in Australia.