11 Chefs' Christmas Traditions and Recipes (Slideshow)
December 23, 2013
Take a look at how these culinary experts celebrate the holiday
"Christmas Eve is all about entertaining close family and friends with my Feast of the Seven Fishes, a tradition that has lived on for as long as I can remember in my family. I make about 12 dishes for our feast which includes my mother’s baccalà recipe, braised eel which I remember vividly from my childhood, fresh anchovies, and cuttlefish. When midnight hits, we have a second feast with a plethora of meat dishes such as cotechino, fennel with sausages, roasted hot peppers, and an assortment of Italian cheese. Whether I’m working or have the night off, there’s always room for these feasts and this special time with family."
Bruno DiFabio, a World champion pizza chef born to Italian immigrants and owner of 10 widely lauded pizzerias, has offered his take on the Sicilian Christmas pizza. Casual and quick, pizza is hardly something someone would imagine having a place on their dinner table at Christmas. However, the Sfincione di San Giovanni, also known as a Sicilian Christmas Pizza, is only served on special occasions including Christmas Eve, New Year's Eve, Good Friday, and on the feast of San Giovanni. Aptly described by its name — Sfincione translates to "thick sponge" — the dish features a soft, tender dough and a flavorful sauce. This unusual twist on a common dish is ideal for holiday indulgences and impressing guests.
Chef Elizabeth Karmel is the famed chef of New York City's favorite fried chicken and homemade pie joint, Hill Country Chicken, as well as of New York City and Washington, D.C.'s top Texas-style barbecue restaurant. Her favorite traditional holiday recipe is prime rib with horseradish cream and Yorkshire pudding. "It is always my family's traditional holiday dish — it's the star of our dinner, but very simple for a home cook to make! Make sure to order an untrimmed rib roast with the fat and rib bones still intact — this will baste the meat and keep it juicy during the long cooking time. I serve the prime rib with a decadent horseradish cream and a side of sizzling Yorkshire pudding."
"I love to treat holidays as a special occasion. I always like to do a white truffle risotto. It's so special and only around a few brief months. It's worth the splurge because you don't really have to give anyone a gift! It's so luxurious on its own.
For gift ideas, I feel that wine is always appropriate, but usually they are ill chosen. I prefer to give antique out of print cookbooks. They are a treasure and also give a real snapshot of what cuisine was like in another time. They make a great conversation piece and if opened in the kitchen, it's always good for an extended conversation about the culture of the past."
Click here for the Carnoli Risotto Recipe.
Allison Robicelli Lasagna
From the author of Robicelli's: A Love Story with Cupcakes. "Nothing says Christmas to me quite like lasagna. I know it doesn't sound super traditional to most people, but for Italians from Brooklyn, every meal starts with pasta, and every major holiday starts with one that normally too much of a pain in the butt to make every Sunday. For us, lasagna started two days ahead when my grandmother would start the gravy — a tomato sauce full of pork shoulder, braciole, sausage, and meatballs that simmers for a minimum of eight hours. The next day, the lasagna would be assembled, baked, and then chilled, as with lasagna a 24-hour rest period is essential so the flavors and textures meld. Then finally, the day of, we'd finish cooking in a hot oven, preferably burning the corners just enough to my liking. No one would ever eat the ham, or turkey, or whatever — we were always too full from the lasagna."
Chef Frank McMahon of Hank's Seafood in Charleston, S.C., is a hot commodity in the Holy City, thanks to his distinctive Irish brogue and modern take on classic Southern seafood. A native of Limerick, Ireland, McMahon serves as the Chef Chair of the Charleston Wine & Food Festival and brings his expertise of local seafood to the kitchen at Hank's. "Christmas morning in the McMahon household begins with gifts exchanged at the crack of dawn along with a breakfast casserole of sausage, egg, and cheese made with leeks and Texas toast-style bread,” says the chef For Christmas dinner, McMahon serves a standing rib roast and Yorkshire puddings with a sherry trifle for dessert inspired by the dessert his Irish grandmother used to make with layers of sherry-soaked sponge cake topped with fruit, custard, jam, and cream. McMahon's young daughter, Keely, was so inspired by her family's Christmas traditions that she wrote the poem, "Kitchen," published in the Cool Inside: Hank's Seafood Restaurant cookbook, in 2011.
At The Hive, executive chef Matt McClure pays tribute to the High South through his refined, country cuisine. Here, he discusses his family's coffeecake recipe that they make every Christmas. "When I was growing up, my family always served coffeecake on Christmas morning. It was pre-made, frozen, and processed, but we loved it. Last Christmas, I actually went on a hunt for one and couldn't find one anywhere! I ended up taking matters into my own hands. This recipe is a more Arkansas-style coffeecake and incorporates pecans. It has more of an intense flavor than the generic kind, and is unapologetically delicious."
"Celebrating Christmas with my family means everyone is crammed in the kitchen because you’re either making your best dish or picking at everything because you’re starving already. This is why I believe the kitchen brings people together whatever the occasion is because it always brought my Irish family together. Growing up we celebrated Christmas on Christmas Eve and that hasn’t changed to this day.
My favorite thing to eat on Christmas is prime rib with béarnaise and only my grandpa’s creamy pommes purée. Ultimately it comes down to the pies for me because I have a sweet tooth so nothing beats the hot apple pie with homemade vanilla ice cream."
With Creole and Southwestern influences, chef Laurence Agnew features reinvented classic deli offerings in his Louisville, Ky.-based restaurant Main Street Café. Agnew is a native of Zachary, La., and has worked in such renowned kitchens as Victor’s in the prestigious New Orleans Ritz-Carlton and August as the sous chef to chef John Besh. The restaurant also features a deli counter showcasing house-smoked and cured meats like sorghum bacon, Andouille sausage, and chorizo. "A tradition in my family is the night after Thanksgiving when we put up our Christmas tree and cook my wife's Grandmother Nosh's Sherry Chicken. It is absolutely one of my favorite comfort foods ever."
"We always make crepes — savory and sweet — fun for the whole family. Our favorite Christmas recipe is the Roasted Brie with Cranberry Pear Jam and Charred Bread."
"I've been making Egg-Nog-a-Rita, a recipe in my Cooking Off the Clock cookbook, every holiday at Christmas time at home and in the restaurants I've worked in for more than 20 years! It's the combination of brandy, rum, and bourbon with homemade crème anglaise, shaken ice cold with ice and a sugar nutmeg rim. Other holiday traditions include Ninjabread cookies and my mom's noodles. We often do a standing roast of beef or pork, but I've done goose before also."