Alex Rushmer on creating a Christmas Day breakfast of kings
It’s always about dinner. The roasted meats, potatoes, sprouts and cranberry sauce get all the glory whenever anyone mentions eating on Christmas Day. Sometimes the late night/Boxing Day sandwich might get a cursory mention but, by and large, turkey and trimmings dominates Christmas food chat. The king of roasts piles the pressure on to the wise fool who elects to do the cooking. “All I wanted was a day like Nigella’s,” says Caroline Aherne’s masterful creation Denise Royle through panicked tears as she realises the turkey hasn’t defrosted and won’t fit in the oven. It’s a common Christmas sentiment.
So this year, I’m not even going to mention Turkey. Instead let’s talk about breakfast. Christmas Day breakfast is the unsung hero of the festive season yet it rarely gets the credit it deserves, forever overshadowed by stuffing and chipolatas.
Firstly, it’s far easier to accommodate everyone’s wishes over the breakfast table. On Christmas Day, families can fracture over untold issues: when to open the presents, who allowed your 12-year-old cousin free access to the prosecco or why there isn’t a vegan gravy to accompany the tofu and mushroom filo pastry crown. Breakfast is blissfully free of these flash points and, other than the possibility that there may be a few sore heads from Christmas Eve-based indulgence, spirits are usually high.
Secondly, putting together an ante- meridiem feast is a far less labour-intensive affair than that which is expected as darkness begins to descend. There are certain expectations that the assembled family members will have when it comes to dinner, but these are totally absent for the first meal of the day. What’s more, requests and restrictions can be far more easily accommodated: need a quick dairy-free alternative? No problem: just poach the eggs instead of scrambling them. Eldest son has a sore head? Smile, hand him a Bloody Mary and he need not feel guilty that he doesn’t want to eat the fruits of your labours.
‘Options are near infinite and there’s scope for outrageous indulgence’
Thirdly, the options available to you are near infinite and there is plenty of scope for outrageous indulgence. Eggs are probably a must, but from that simple starting point you can delight everyone. Sausages and dry-cured bacon for the traditionalist. Eggs Royale with smoked salmon and hollandaise sauce for the decadently minded. French toast, spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg for the sweet-toothed. Or freshly shaved truffles for anyone you wish to truly spoil.
Drinks options too, can offer a neat nod towards the luxurious end of the spectrum. Really good single estate coffee. A sweet juice, pressed from a few of those clementines sitting in their pretty wooden box. An outrageously expensive loose leaf from Fortnum & Mason. Savoury, spicy red snappers with a cooling stick of celery. Thick hot chocolate with whipped cream and marshmallows. And, of course, champagne. There really should be champagne: the occasions when it is deemed appropriate to drink sparkling wine before 11am are few and far between. Christmas is certainly one of them.
This flexible feast can take place at any time between 7am and midday and should last at least an hour, giving those who take a little more time to gain consciousness the appropriate window to join the party. Youngsters can be quieted with small gifts and chocolate selection boxes. Early risers can be placated with liquid refreshment and latecomers need not feel they have ruined the event through tardiness, if they require a little more shut eye (having been in this position myself, several times, thanks to a birthday on Christmas Eve, I can attest to its importance).
If you do decide to pull out all the stops at breakfast you can be forgiven for going easy later on in the day. Let someone else peel the potatoes, cross the sprouts and worry about the turkey, leaving you plenty of space to finish the champagne and, at a push, make the carrot crush. Just follow Nigella’s recipe, rather than Denise’s.