I was very kindly asked by Kerrygold (link) to consider a quick buttery Christmas recipe. So it got me thinking about Christmas dinner in our house, and that fact that there is always a bit of a battle between the adventurists and the traditionalists. There are those that want to celebrate Christmas dinner by leaving the menu unchanged. Every element sacrosanct, the same menu as last year, and all the years before that. Then there’s me, a lone voice, bored of the traditional turkey and ham, suggesting duck as opposed to turkey, or maybe a smooth celeriac puree instead of gloopy bread sauce….
Christmas starters need to be simple, easy to prepare in advance, not too heavy and still retain a feeling of luxury. That’s why the prawn cocktail is so popular, its not so much cooked as it is assembled (or thrown together) in Martini glasses, or heaped on a plate . The mixture of lettuce, prawns and Marie Rose sauce can be tinkered with (I add finely chopped smoked salmon and a splash of cognac to the sauce) but when well made, with good quality juicy prawns it is a tasty, but traditional way to start a Christmas lunch.
The crab hollandaise cocktail has a gentle nod to the retro stylings of the traditional prawn cocktail – but is wonderfully light and refreshing. The crab salad is made using crisp finely diced apple, mixed with creamy avocado and asparagus. Generously doused in a luxurious lemony buttery hollandaise that is so simple to make.
The recipe (serves 4)
Shred some baby spinach leaves and pile them into a couple of chilled glasses. Peel and finely dice a green apple (keep the dice no thicker than a matchstick) and put in a bowl with the juice of half a lemon to stop the apple turning brown. Mix in 200g of fresh crab meat, and a peeled and diced avocado. Chop about 10 asparagus stalks and tips into rounds, and cook in a saucepan with a little water for about 4 minutes. Drain and add to the bowl with the crab. Toss with a squirt of lemon juice and a pinch of paprika.
The rich yellow hollandaise sauce has a reputation for being tricky, but once you follow these simple steps you will be making this sauce at every opportunity. No need to wait until Christmas… get your saucing skills up to speed by practising over brunch with eggs Benedict.
Hollandaise is simply a hot egg and butter sauce and doesn’t deserve the fearsome reputation as notorious curdler. The trick to keeping the sauce silky smooth is that the heat should never be too hot. I have made this lots of ways (with a bain marie or a blender) but the following method is the simplest and the tidiest.
Take 3 large free range egg yolks and put in a cold saucepan (off the heat). Add to the yolks – five tablespoons of water, the juice of a half a lemon, a pinch of salt and half a teaspoon of cayenne pepper. Whisk these ingredients together well (still off the heat) until the yolks lighten in colour. Take a 250g pack of cold butter out from the fridge and cut into large cubes (about finger width). Put the pan on a low heat and add 4 or 5 cubes of butter and whisk in the butter as it gently melts. The sauce will start to thicken and as the last set of the butter cubes is emulsified into the sauce add some more butter cubes and keep whisking. The cold butter cubes added to warmed sauce over a low heat all help prevent the sauce from curdling.
If your sauce looks like it is about to separate, quickly remove it from the heat and dunk the base of the saucepan into a little water and whisk very hard, and the sauce will come back together. Keep adding the cubes little by little and whisking until all the butter is used. You can keep the sauce somewhere warm for a couple of hours. Just before serving, loosen it by whisking in a drop of water.
If you would like a lighter sauce, reduce the quantity of the yolks, butter and lemon by a half and mix the made hollandaise with an equal amount of fromage frais.
Add the crab salad to the spinach leaves in the glass and pour over the hollandaise…