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The holidays are a chance to find joy in this most challenging year. While it’s still tricky to travel, you can keep wanderlust at bay with these tips and recipes to show you how to have a French holiday meal at home. Treat yourself – whether a celebration for one or many, on a modest budget or no expense spared. Celebrate the holidays this year with the joie de vivre we all deserve.
Christmas and New Year’s
Le Réveillon de Noël, or Christmas Eve dinner, is the high point of French holiday festivities. The late-night feast usually takes place when families return from midnight mass. Presents are exchanged after dinner or the next morning, and the occasion usually centers around family. New Year’s Eve tends to be celebrated with friends. This being France, of course food is the highpoint for both occasions – lavish and luxurious.
Delicacies and decadence define this time of year. The French entertain in such a seemingly effortless way. One of the secrets is that they combine home-cooked foods with store-bought goods – whether from the traiteur, pâtisserie, or even (gasp!) Picard. The holidays are no exception.
Starters: Foie Gras, Smoked Salmon, Caviar, Oysters
For me, the pièce de resistance of French holiday meals is the starters. Foie gras on brioche and sauternes is synonymous with the holiday season in France. Pan-roasted is a show stopper, but why cook when the ready-to-eat variety is so exquisite? For those on a budget or not able to access foie gras, a simple yet elegant paté – purchased or homemade like this one from Jacques Pépin – would fit the occasion. Another common starter is smoked salmon and/or caviar with crème fraiche and blinis. While caviar is the ultimate in luxury, substitutes such as trout roe don’t break the bank and would be just as festive. Dorie Greenspan’s recipe is our go-to for buckwheat blinis. If you can’t be bothered, Gwyneth Paltrow has the ultimate hack for caviar canapes. While not traditional, we may just give it a go this year. And of course, the holidays in France would not be the same without oysters. Served with shallot vinaigrette is the norm, but if you’re looking for different ways to present them, Mimi Thorisson has some great alternatives. If you want something lighter but no less festive, this Jerusalem Artichoke Soup fits the bill (and is easy on the wallet!)
Main and Sides
While sometimes the French will splurge on pricey seafood such as lobster, in many ways, the main course and sides share a lot in common with holiday meals in the US. Turkey with chestnut stuffing is typical, though other poultry like goose, capon, or guinea hens is eaten too. Clotilde Dusoulier has a bunch of fabulous French recipes for the holidays, including a spatchcocked and salt-crusted chicken, as well as a show stopping chicken in a bread crust. Sides could include green beans, brussels sprouts, roast or mashed potatoes, as well as something fresher like this endive and walnut salad.
Cheese Course and Dessert
Of course, it would not be a French meal without a cheese course, though if left to my own devices I might forgo it to leave room for desserts. The typical dessert is the bûche de Noël or Yule log. Most French people would buy this, but should you feel ambitious, you could try your hand at making one. In Provence, the dinner concludes with a selection of thirteen desserts, representing Jesus and the twelve Apostles. These confections include dried fruits and nuts, pain d’épices, bûche de Noël, and calissons d’Aix. Starting in late December and through the month of January, you’ll see the beloved galettes des rois everywhere in France, and I’ve always had them on New Year’s Eve. With a ready-made puff pastry and David Lebovitz’s simple recipe, you could easily make one yourself. Closeout this one-of-kind year and ring in the new one in true, effortless French style.
- If you still need to get some shopping done, don’t miss Part One and Part Two of our Holiday Gift Guide
- If you’re an antipode, here’s how to celebrate a winter Christmas in Paris
- Looking for more French inspiration? Here’s a list of 10 Parisian Instagram accounts to follow now
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