If Christmas is for family, New Year’s Eve is for friends. It’s a time to be stuffed to the gills and overflowing with fizz. But, whereas December 25 has fairly strict conditions for the menu, December 31 is a free-for-all; a time to indulge, to celebrate excess, to go with a whim.
Here, then, are five ideas from a handful of London’s chefs at the top of their game. Raise a glass (and a knife and fork) to the closing of ‘22, and a brighter 2023. From Champagne and caviar to a sherry-spiked fish soup, here’s how to go suitably over the top this New Year’s Eve.
This year I think simply making it to the end of the year and being somewhere warm with our relatives around us is cause for celebration in itself. If you have made that, then you deserve Champagne and caviar — I’m old fashioned like that. I like caviar, and I like to do things like cure salmon, and make brown butter crepes with lots of chives and lemon and crème fraiche. I love it when the crepes are caramelised. You want a bit of dill, maybe some togarashi, paprika and black pepper, and you serve it all on the table alongside the rolls of cured salmon for people to tuck in. The kids love it, and for the adults it’s perfect with a nice aperitif like Champagne or an English sparkling wine. For the main course I I ‘d get a nice bit of pork from my local butchers, Hill and Szrok, and slowly render it on a grill, and serve with chimichurri sauces — something nice and fresh. Then a really nice salad of winter kale, blanched and raw, with lots of crunchy nuts and shave shallots, and some warm potatoes. Then onto the cocktails and fireworks.
I’m a lifer in hospitality, and I love hosting. But if you don’t have that instinct, it can be hard to get stuck in as a host. Try to live vicariously through the pleasure of having your friends there. I enjoy making that happen and facilitating and creating that experience. It makes me happy to see them enjoying themselves and having a good time.
There is something so fun about Mexican — that style of eating is so interactive, but it is also a really simple, inclusive way to eat, which is perfect for New Year’s Eve. Last year I had 12 people coming for dinner, so I marinaded the meat before with birria, which is a really easy marinade: you rehydrate a handful of different chillies, blitz the onion and garlic and throw it on beef or lamb. After all, if you can’t splash out on a nice piece of meat on New Year’s Eve, when can you? You cook it slowly — I cooked it two days before — then threw some slaw together and we had tacos with beans and sour cream, which meant veggies were also catered for. People went wild for it. On my course on Create Academy, the birria recipe comes with a broth, which is a lovely thing to serve on the side. It feels really cleansing and wholesome, which is a nice contrast after the stodge of Christmas, especially with the zing of the chilli, and the freshness of the lime and the herbs.
My top tip is probably to always have a bottle of sloe gin in the cupboard. It is the easiest thing to add to Champagne to make a cocktail, or to warm up with after a cold walk. I also always make a smoked chilli, tamarind and lime relish at this time of year, because it adds a really luxurious touch to anything: stilton, chicken liver pate, the cheeseboard and any cold cuts or leftovers. It’s boozy and addictive and complex and it transforms whatever you are having with it — everyone wanted the recipe afterwards.
I am a big fan of mulled wine, and when I was in Sweden years ago I came across white mulled wine and I loved it! We used to serve it in our pub The Birdcage on New Year’s Eve, and we’ve continued it at home ever since. It gets a touch of heat from ginger combined with some of my favourite spices, and it’s glorious. It warms up the bones and is completely surprising, delicious and, best of all, super easy to make! Take a bottle of white wine, add a knob of ginger, a teaspoon of green cardamom, a few strands of saffron, vanilla, cloves, cinnamon, maple syrup and a big fat glug of bourbon. Heat all of it gently — do not boil it or you’ll lose all the alcohol! I guarantee anyone coming through the door who wants a drink will love you for it.
New Years Eve is more Champagne and canapes — darling — than a formal sit-down dinner for me. English Sparkling wine tends to be more budget friendly than good hampagne, and much better tasting than the budget ones. White Heron does a really fantastic British cassis to make a lovely Kir Royal to pair with it. I always find having a cheese board ready for New Year’s celebrations is low prep, and people can pick at it throughout the evening as they please; and there isn’t really a better pairing than gougères with a lovely glass of bubbles.
Gougères can also be made ahead and reheated as your guests arrive, so they’re nice and warm from the oven. My recipe makes approximately 40 pieces: start by heating the oven 170°C, then pour 115ml milk and 110ml water into a saucepan and add 125g butter, 15g salt and 5g sugar in a saucepan, then bring to the boil. Whisk in 195g flour and keep whisking until the mixture comes away clean from the pan and a smooth dough forms. Next, transfer all of this into a bowl on a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, beat in 55g Gruyère cheese followed by four eggs one at a time, until they’re all incorporated. Now transfer this to a piping bag, then line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Pipe 3-4cm rounds making sure to leave 5cm in between each one. Grate the extra Gruyère over the top of each gougère, and bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown and crisp, before reducing the heat to 150°C and baking them for a further 10 minutes; this will ensure the gougères stay crisp. Finally, remove them from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool. To reheat, just pop in the oven for a few minutes until warmed through. I like to grate a bit extra cheese on too when they come out!
Always, always, I cook a fish soup. We make a stock, with shells and fish bones, put chorizo paste, hazelnuts and almonds, and then add brandy and sherry too, so it is quite strong. Then I add prawns, fresh crab, monkfish turbot — whatever is in the market, looking good. Next, I add potatoes and saffron. It is the most delicious thing in the world.
After that, we have a main course of shoulder of lamb, braised, with a green salad on the side — usually we put anchovies in the salad, too. Before it all, though,, we have Russian salad, jamon, prawns. So really, by the time we get to the soup we are full — I can’t wait.