Christmas is just around the corner. For any cook, this is the moment when to take the bull, or should I say reindeer, by the horns and prepare piles and piles of food. After all, Christmas is not only about being together but also about some fantastic food!
No wonder then that the ovens around the world are now probably working at full tilt filling the air with mouthwatering smells. The important questions are: when is the dinner and what are we eating? Well, the answer to both of those questions depends on the country you are from.
There’s such a day… But which one exactly?
Generally speaking, the majority of European countries consume the most important Christmas dinner either on December 25th or a day before, on Christmas Eve. As the latter was the last day of the 40-day-long period of religious fasting when no meat was allowed, the menus of Christmas Eve dinners tend to favor fish-based and meatless dishes (because for some weird reason fish is not considered meat). On the other hand, Christmas Day dinners tend to have meaty dishes as centerpieces.
There are also some countries following the Julian calendar, for instance, Georgia, North Macedonia, and Ukraine. People from there will hold their Christmas feasts on January 7th, a day after Armenia (January 6th).
Now that we know the dates, it’s time to take a closer look at the most common dishes served during Christmas dinners across Europe. All in all, they could be divided into 5 major categories: turkey, poultry in general, fish, pork, and stuffed cabbage rolls.
So take out your ugliest Christmas sweater from the wardrobe, rehearse your most annoying and overplayed Christmas carols, and get ready for the journey. The show is about to start!
Turkey (the bird)
Although it is most commonly associated with the American holiday of Thanksgiving, turkey is also the centerpiece of Christmas dinners in many European countries. To balance the dryness of the meat, it is often served with a wide array of stuffings, sauces, and fixings.
In the UK, for instance, roast turkey is often enjoyed with sage and onion stuffing and roast potatoes. In contrast, the French eat this gracious bird with chestnut stuffing. At times, the roasted chestnuts and stuffed apples also surround the turkey on the plate. When it comes to the typical sides, they include gratin dauphinoise (sliced potatoes baked with milk and cream), and green beans with almonds.
After the presence of the Brits on Malta, turkey superseded the traditional chicken meat dish; For a Christmas Lunch, Maltese home cooks used to prepare a casserole consisting of the meat from their fattest roosters accompanied by potatoes and vegetables.
Turkey is also commonly prepared in Greece, at least since the 19th century. This is when the Greek elites were heavily influenced by the French culinary style. This time, it is usually stuffed with minced meat, pine nuts, as well as chestnuts.
In Cyprus, the stuffing may be more hardcore for some, since it consists of finely chopped chicken giblets mixed with rice, almonds, and raisins.
Speaking of chicken, turkey is not the only bird enjoyed during Christmas time.
Duck, for instance, is particularly loved in Denmark. According to some estimations, only one-fourth of the Danish population does not consume it on THE day! It is usually rubbed with spices and stuffed with plums or prunes, apples, onions, and thyme. The trimmings served with the meat include red cabbage and potatoes – both boiled and browned in butter and sugar.
Roast goose traditionally “lands” on the Christmas tables in Germany and Austria on Christmas Day. Before roasting in the oven, the bird is stuffed with apples. When it’s done, it is served with potato dumplings as well as red cabbage. Nevertheless, it is worth noting that in this region of Europe, fish takes the cake on the 24th.
Turkey may seem to be the most iconic among all Christmas meat choices, but pork-based dishes beat any other meat choice when it comes to popularity. And for a good reason! It’s not only delicious and juicy but also versatile!
Spaniards slow-roast the whole pig until its skin becomes crispy and dark brown. The sides traditionally served with this dish include caramelized potatoes and onions cooked under the animal and doused in the juices that oozed out of the meat.
Pork meat is also very popular in Scandinavia. In Sweden, the Christmas dinner is essentially a big cold buffet of cold dishes, the most important of which is Julskinka, Yule ham. On the other hand, Norwegians opt for pork rib.
As for Moldavians pork meat symbolizes wealth and success, it is featured in many festive dishes, such as roasted pork, pork sausages, racitura (jelly with meat) as well as sarmale (cabbage leaves stuffed with rice and pork meat).
Seafood has been a popular Christmas choice for centuries. After all, fish is a symbol of Christ! Moreover, since Christmas Eve is the final day of holiday fasting and the status of fish is dubious (some consider it meat, others don’t), it becomes the main protein.
As they say, there are many fish in the pond. Nevertheless, two of them, carp and cod, are the most popular choices among them.
From the two, carp may seem a strange option for many, especially those from Western Europe. Nevertheless, it is a very popular Christmas fish in Central and Eastern Europe.
For instance, Austrians fry their carp in butter and serve it with various vegetables and potatoes. The breaded version is eaten both in Slovakia and the Czech Republic. In Poland, carp is usually soaked in milk with onions, then coated in flour, and fried in oil. Alternatively, the fish is served cold in aspic with lemons, onions, carrots, or even hard-boiled eggs. A similar dish could be found in Ukraine, where not carp, but trout is often jellied together with a medley of vegetables.
Hungarian feasts must include halászlé, a flavorful fish broth made of carp and heavily spiced with paprika.
In contrast, cod is a less popular of a choice. In Europe, it is a Christmas favorite in Italy and Portugal.
Baccalà or Bacalhau means salt-dried cod. You can buy it in big fillets that are boned and ready to be prepared. Such a fish is firm, chewy, and mild in flavor. Its taste does not resemble this of a regular one. Due to this fact, it is said to pair well with acidic foods, for example, tomatoes or capers.
Hence, Italians cut this fish into smaller chunks, fry it coated in flour, and then cook it some more in tomato sauce. On the other hand, Portuguese Christmas Eve salted cod is served with a simple sauce (vinegar, garlic, olive oil) alongside potatoes, cabbage, and hard-boiled eggs.
Stuffed cabbage rolls
Stuffed cabbage rolls are a must-have position on Christmas menus of Central, Balkan, as well as Eastern European countries. They are known by different names, for instance, sarmale (Romania and Moldova), sarma (Serbia) or sarmi (Bulgaria), holubtsi (Ukraine), and gołąbki (Poland).
It is a filling dish that could safely be treated as a main. In Poland, the stuffing is a mix of pork and rice. Gołąbki are often served in tomato sauce with a side of mashed potatoes.
These are the most popular centerpiece dishes served during Christmas. Did you know any of them? If you didn’t find your favorite, let us know in the comments!