RSVP Magazine

#DECEMBERFOOD: A Ballymaloe Christmas With All the Trimmings

Nothing is more synonymous with Christmas dinner than our festive favourites from Ballymaloe. An Irish institution, you would be hard pressed to find an Irish cook who doesn’t have some recipes from Myrtle, Darina or Rachel Allen in their home


The long line of influential Allen women begins with Myrtle Allen, a renowned cook and author in her own right, who is considered to have paved the way for the significant change of direction Irish food and cuisine has taken over the past fifty years. Myrtle opened the restaurant at Ballymaloe in 1964, where countless numbers of chefs, cooks and producers have started their career in food ever since. Her daughter in law, Darina Allen, built on this legacy, opening the Ballymaloe Cookery School and bringing the Ballymaloe brand to the wider attention of the world thanks to her iconic cookery show and books which spanned a cookery-publishing empire that changed the perception of Irish food,= both at home and abroad.

Today, Darina’s own daughter in-law has almost identically repeated her journey, coming to Ballymaloe aged 18 to train, where she met and later married, Isaac Allen. She went on to enhance and carry on the famous Allen women’s legacy, with her own cookery programme and 11 cook books, as well as a range of cakes under the Rachel Allen brand.

Today, Darina Allen’s cookbook, A Simply Delicious Christmas, remains the go-to Christmas cook book, 27 years after first being published. A new hardback edition was released two years ago by Gill Books with more than 100 new recipes added as well as many of the old favourites too. Much has changed in all those years, but the one thing that remains constant is the Ballymaloe chef’s passion for creating a magical Christmas dinner for all of the family. Darina has the power to transform a humble turkey into a culinary masterpiece with her recipes both new and old.

Food trends and fads have come and go over the last decade, but the Allen’s timeless Christmas recipes never go out of style and remain a firm favourite in Irish households. Here, we take some of their most loved Christmas dinner recipes, including an old-fashioned roast turkey with a buttery herb stuffing, rillettes of fresh and smoked salmon, as well as the legendary sherry trifle.

A Simply Delicious Christmas, €24.99, published by Gill Books and Recipes from My Mother, published by HarperCollins, are available in all good book stores.





This is my favourite roast stuffed turkey recipe. Even after all these years, this buttery fresh herb stuffing is still my absolute favourite. SERVES 10-12.


1 x 4.5–5.4kg (10-12lb) free-range, organic turkey with neck and giblets

Roux for the gravy: 110g (4 ozs) butter

110g (4 ozs) flour

Fresh herb stuffing:

350g (12oz) chopped onions

175g (6oz) butter

400-500g (14-18oz) approx. soft

breadcrumbs made from good bread (check the bread is non-GM) or approx. 600g (11/4lb) gluten-free breadcrumbs

50g (2oz) freshly chopped herbs, e.g. parsley, thyme, chives, marjoram, savoury, lemon balm

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Turkey stock:

2 carrots, sliced

2 onions, sliced

1 stalk of celery

Green part of a couple of leeks,

(if available)

Bouquet garni

3 or 4 peppercorns

For basting the turkey:

225g (8oz) butter

large square of muslin (optional)

To garnish:

Large sprigs of fresh parsley or watercress


Remove the wishbone from the neck end of the turkey, for ease of carving later. Using a tall, narrow saucepan, make a turkey stock by covering the neck, gizzard, heart, wishbone, wing tips, vegetables, bouquet garni and peppercorns with cold water. Bring to the boil and simmer while the turkey is being prepared and cooked, three hours approx.

To make the fresh herb stuffing, sweat the onions gently in the butter until soft (for 10 minutes approx.) on a low heat, then stir in the crumbs, herbs and a little salt and pepper to taste. Allow it to get quite cold. If necessary, wash and dry the cavity of the bird, then season and three-quarters fill with cold stuffing. Put the remainder of the stuffing into the crop at the neck end, or you may decide to do a different stuffing. Either way, tuck the remaining neck flap underneath the bird and secure with the wing tips.

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4. Weigh the turkey and calculate the cooking time. Allow 15 minutes approx. per 450g (1lb) and 15 minutes over. Melt the butter for basting the turkey and soak a large piece of good-quality muslin in the melted butter. Cover the turkey completely with the muslin and roast in the preheated moderate oven for 2 3/4-3 1/4 hours. There is no need to baste it because of the butter-soaked muslin. The turkey browns beautifully, but if you like it even browner, remove the muslin 10 minutes before the end of the cooking time. Alternatively, smear the breast, legs and crop well with soft butter and season well with salt and freshly ground pepper. If the turkey is not covered with butter-soaked muslin then it is a good idea to cover the whole dish with a large sheet of parchment. However, your turkey will then be semi-steamed, not roasted in the traditional sense of the word.

The turkey is cooked when the thigh juices run clear. To test, prick the thickest part at the base of the thigh and examine the juices: they should be clear. Remove the turkey to a carving dish, keep it warm and allow it to rest while you make the gravy.

To make the gravy, spoon the surplus fat from the roasting pan. Deglaze the pan juices with fat-free stock from the giblets and bones. Using a whisk, stir and scrape well to dissolve the caramelised juices from the roasting pan. Boil it up well, season and thicken with a little roux if you like. (For the roux, melt the butter and cook the flour in it for 2 minutes on a low heat, stirring occasionally). Taste and correct the seasoning. Serve in a hot gravy boat. If possible, present the turkey on your largest serving dish, surrounded by crispy roast potatoes and garnished with large sprigs of parsley or watercress and maybe a sprig of holly. Serve with cranberry sauce, bread sauce and gravy.




Trifle was a Christmas tradition at our house and was served in a special cut glass bowl kept especially for the purpose. My mother Elizabeth O’Connell’s trifle was legendary. She made huge bowls of trifle at Christmas, with trifle sponges (later she used sponge cakes when they were unavailable), homemade raspberry jam and custard, and lots and lots of good sweet sherry. She had to become more and more inventive about hiding places, because the boys would search high and low to find it when they arrived in from a night out on the town. Eventually she hid it in her wardrobe to keep it intact for Christmas Day. This is now a favourite item on my brother Tom O’Connell’s dessert menu at O’Connell’s in Donnybrook, Dublin. Serves 8–10.


450g (1lb) approx. homemade sponge cake or trifle sponges (trifle sponges are lighter, so you will need less)

225g (8oz) homemade raspberry jam

150-175ml (5-6fl oz) best-quality sweet or medium sherry – don’t spare the sherry and don’t waste your time with cooking sherry; we use Bristol Cream.


5 eggs, preferably free range and organic

1 1/4 tablespoons caster sugar

1/2 teaspoon pure Vanilla extract

700ml (11/4 pints) rich milk


600ml (1 pint) whipped cream

8 cherries or crystallised violets

8 diamonds of angelica

A few toasted flaked almonds


Sandwich the rounds of sponge cake together with homemade raspberry jam. If you use trifle sponges, sandwich them in pairs. Next, make the custard. Whisk the eggs with the sugar and vanilla extract. Heat the milk to the “shivery” stage and add it to the egg mixture, whisking all the time. Put into a heavy saucepan and stir over a gentle heat until the custard coats the back of a wooden spoon lightly. Don’t let it boil or it will curdle.

Cut the sponge into 2cm (3/4in) slices and use these to line the bottom of a 1.7 litre (3 pint) glass bowl, sprinkling generously with half of the sherry as you go along. Pour in half of the custard and then add another layer of sponge. Sprinkle with the rest of the sherry and spread the rest of the custard over the top. Cover and leave for five or six hours, or preferably overnight in a cold larder or fridge, to mature.

Before serving, spread softly whipped cream over the top or pipe rosettes if you like and decorate with cherries or crystallised violets and large diamonds of angelica. Scatter with a few toasted flaked almonds. Note: For a posher version, line the glass bowl with slices of Swiss roll.




This is a terrific standby recipe that can be tarted up in all sorts of ways or simply slathered on hot thin toast or crusty bread. It’s important to serve the rillettes at room temperature. The texture of this pâté should be coarse and slightly stringy – it should resemble that of pork rillettes, where the meat is torn into shreds with forks rather than blended. Don’t be spooked by the amount of butter you use, you’re not going to eat it all yourself! Serves 12-16.


350g (12oz) butter, softened

350g (12oz) freshly cooked salmon

Salt and freshly ground pepper

A good grating of nutmeg

Lemon juice, to taste

Freshly chopped fennel (optional)

Clarified butter

For the smoked salmon:

25g (1oz) butter

350g (12oz) smoked wild or organic Irish salmon

1 tablespoon water


Melt the 25g (1oz) of butter in a small saucepan. Add the smoked salmon and 1 tablespoon of water. Cover and cook for three-four minutes or until it no longer looks opaque. Allow it to get quite cold. Cream the 350g (12oz) butter in a bowl.

With two forks, shred the freshly cooked salmon and the smoked salmon and mix together well. Add to the soft butter, still using a fork (do not use a food processor). Season with salt and freshly ground pepper and lots of freshly grated nutmeg. Taste and add lemon juice as necessary and some freshly chopped fennel if you have it.

Serve in individual pots or in a pottery terrine. Cover with a layer of clarified butter. Serve with hot toast or hot crusty white bread. Salmon rillettes will keep perfectly in the refrigerator for five or six days provided they are sealed with clarified butter.

Sourdough Soldiers with Cucumber Pickle and Sourdough Soldiers: 

We like to serve the salmon rillettes in small Kilner jars on a timber board with a little herb salad, cucumber pickle and toasted sourdough soldiers.

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