Here is the ultimate guide of dishes and drinks to celebrate Christmas like in France. You’ll see that traditions continues and discover what a classic “repas de Noël” feast looks like.
Although each family or each region has its own preferences or customs, French classic Christmas dinner is a traditional affair and really means festive dishes with ingredients you won’t eat except on special occasions, or find easily, the rest of the year.
Thanksgiving approaching, wouldn’t it be a wonderful idea to get inspired by this and give a French twist to your Thanksgiving dinner?
First l’apéro – Pre-dinner appetizer
What to serve for a perfect French appetizer
I’ve written an article on this that you can read here. Choose the most festive recipes mentioned.
Foie Gras Terrine
Foie gras, which is often homemade, is the one that immediately comes to mind and really represents Christmas in France. Foie gras is eaten on different kinds of bread toasts, brioche bread or gingerbread (the French way, with honey and spices), sometimes spread fig or onion confit. Many nice presentations can be offered with foie gras, such as in individual small glasses (I propose with pear and gingerbread). Foie gras can be served either at l’apéro or as a first course.
This is not a dish but is actually something you definitely have to serve for a classic French Christmas eve dinner.
You may want to pour in Champagne some crème de cassis blackcurrant liquor to make a Kir royal.
But if Champagne is of good quality, there’s no need!
There are many effervescent wines called Crément from Alsace or Loire region and many other regions of France. They tend to be less expensive that Champagne, and some are very food.
French children like to have their fake alcohol-free champagne for Christmas, birthday parties or any festive meal. It’s kind of effervescent apple juice, the one easily found in supermarkets is called Champomy.
1st course / starter called l’entrée in French
Seafood Platter and mainly Chilled Oyster
Oysters are served on a large platter often covered with a bed of ice to keep Oysters chilled. They are served with lemon wedges to squeeze or the mignonette sauce made with red wine vinegar, chopped shallots, and black pepper. In my family-in-law from Brittany, they think it’s just better with freshly ground pepper. You can serve aside shrimps and mayonnaise for those who don’t eat shells.
The French absolutely love scallops as they are very delicate and luxurious. They like to present scallops in their shell or choose to briefly fry them to dress with a sauce. Among the favorite preparations are orange cream sauce, braised endives with honey. Scallop tartar is getting more and more popular.
Even French kids love to eat smoked salmon, on blinis or thin white sandwich bread slices. An essential for Christmas that is now eaten all year long and used as an ingredient for many fancy recipes. Gravlax-style salmon is prepared in many French houses. As for me, I just love to serve smoked salmon for appetizer or starter: as what we call a mise en bouche bites for l’apéro (see these puff pastry rolls), toasts with a lemony or yellow mustard sauce, rillettes or mousse.
Second course / main dish = le plat principal in French
Capon or Turkey with chestnut stuffing
This is the most popular and classic Christmas dish. Capon or Turkey is roasted in the oven with a generous chestnut stuffing. Sides are classic: chestnut again, green beans wrapped with bacon, truffle mashed potatoes… I add winter vegetables to my roasted capon recipe. Guinea flow can also be an option as portions are smaller.
Almost not eaten the rest of the year unless there’s a hunter among relatives, wild game is often on Christmas tables may it be venison, wild boar, or pheasant. Often marinated in red wine or served with a sauce (wine or cranberries for example).
Sophisticated Fish Preparations
As Christmas is a Christian feast where fish as a sign of abstaining, the French like to have fish for Christmas but fancy species like monkfish, turbot, sole, bass… with sophisticated preparations such as morel monkfish blanquette with morel
Then of course the cheese Platter = le plateau de fromage
A huge cheese platter with many different kinds of cheese is a must have, neatly arranged and served with various breads. Some cheeses also have festive presentations such as truffle camembert which is to die for!
Serve green salad with cheese. A French habit that is perfect if you have a long or reach meal. It makes cheese easier to enjoy, some already a bit full will enjoy having green salad instead of bread with cheese.
Last course dessert = le dessert in French
Bûche de Noël Yule Log Cake
Bûche de Noël is definitely the one and only Christmas dessert. Traditionally shaped to represent the real wood log placed in the fireplace on Christmas eve, bûche is often made of garnished swiss roll topped with buttercream or ganache and decorated with tiny figurines. Entremets or ice cream logs are getting more and more popular among pastry addicts and chocolate or chestnut are no longer the only beloved flavors. I tell you here where this tradition comes from.
Exotic and candied fruits
Although it’s common to find exotic fruits all year long nowadays, It’s been a habit (and so refreshing when you eat all the above!) to have litchi, clementine, passion fruit, mango… at the end of the meal. And by extension dried fruits such as dates (sometimes stuffed with almond paste) or candied fruits.
It’s difficult here to choose among all the tiny bite-size Christmas cookies, bredele, chocolate and dried fruits mendicants, candied orange and black chocolate orangettes, candied chestnuts… As Christmas is synonymous with chocolate, the ultimate greed is chocolate truffles, made of black chocolate ganache coated with cacao. Who can resist this?
However it’s more detailed here on this article on my website and I give you links to recipes you could try if you want to give a French touch to your Christmas dinner, or for Thanksgiving, New Year Eve, or any sophisticated dinner you wish to offer to your guests, family or friends. Joyeux Noël !