A Merry Christmas Indeed: Main Dishes for Every Holiday Table
A festive feast can be yours with a little planning, preparation, and the right recipe. Whether you’re new to the holiday-hosting game or a seasoned pro, these nine delicious main course dishes will make every table merry and bright.
ByTory L. Davis
There are few human pleasures as great as seeing the people we love gathered around a table for a holiday feast. To carefully prepare a Christmas dinner for family and friends is more than a chore or obligation, even with the pressures and politics of holiday planning: This is an ancient ritual and act of love, to feed those we care about most as we celebrate with joy during the darkest time of the year.
What follows is a varied collection of Christmas main dish recipes for every kind of cook, and whether simplicity and ease is the goal or you’re looking to dazzle a crowd, each of these recipes is sure to impress. And whatever you’re serving, buy the best meat, fowl, or shellfish you can find — this is the time to splurge! Remember: The simpler the recipe, the more each flavor shines.
Roast Pork with Wild-Mushroom Stuffing
This magnificent pork roast centerpiece is indeed a feast fit for a queen, replete with a decadent and earthy wild mushroom stuffing studded with sausage, and finished with a rich Marsala wine gravy. The garnish of honey-glazed pears and kumquats ensures guests gaze upon a dreamy holiday table inspired by a Renaissance painting, for a holiday indulgence they won’t soon forget.
You don’t have to live on the bayou to indulge in this gorgeous Cajun dish; shellfish says "special occasion" wherever you live. And while folks down in Southern Louisiana (and much of the Eastern seaboard) have access to those sweet blue crabs for the gumbo pot, any fresh crab (or flash frozen in a pinch!) you can get at your local shop will wow your guests. Be it Dungeness on the West Coast, Jonah crab in New England, stone crabs from the Carolinas down to Florida, or the dramatic snow or king crab caught in icy Arctic or Alaskan waters and sold frozen, they'll all make a delightful gumbo for your holiday menu.
This recipe takes a razzle-dazzle approach to the traditional English Beef Wellington without losing any of its showstopper status: It looks amazing out of the oven and slices up with real panache. Boneless roast turkey breast is perfect for a smaller gathering, and in its pastry winter coat, a juicy breast is nearly guaranteed. There is a tendency for some of the cranberry “jam” (stateside we call it relish or sauce) to ooze out, so stuff a little less in and serve the rest on the side. A few more pro tips:
- Stir a teaspoon of orange zest into the cranberry jam for bright, fragrant results.
- Make the mushroom duxelles (the French term for the mixture) on the thicker side, since it will end up slathered over the turkey breast and wrapped in pastry.
- A few years ago I accidentally skipped the gravy step (number four in the recipe) in the instructions! In a panic, I used the juices in the pan to make a quick roux, then enhanced it with a little white wine and chicken stock — and it was delicious! Lesson learned: Even at a holiday dinner, mistakes can be used for delicious good.
Spinach and Sausage Lasagna
The red, white, and green of this cozy, comforting lasagna makes a merry centerpiece and easily feeds a festive crowd. Whether dished up after Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve or for dinner proper, the combination of sausage and spinach is deeply satisfying. You can follow the recipe directions and layer the spinach separately, but feel free to squeeze the water out of the spinach and then stir it directly into the ricotta mixture for a better meld of flavors. And note: No lasagna noodle needs to be boiled in advance, regardless of what the package says! Lasagna made with uncooked pasta needs a full 45 minutes in the oven, but the noodles are more flavorful when they’re essentially cooked in the marinara. Mangia!
Stupid-Simple Roast Beef with Horseradish Cream Sauce
Preparing Christmas dinner can be intimidating, especially if you’re new to holiday entertaining or intimidated by a big cut of meat. This dish is a beloved classic that’s hard to screw up and looks impressive. As long as you commit to a quality top round roast with a healthy layer of fat on top (called the “fat cap”) and don’t skimp on the salt, it’s a winner. This dish is also great for a more casual gathering: Put out poppy seed rolls and a bowl of arugula next to the horseradish cream sauce, and let guests make festive sandwiches as they mingle beneath the mistletoe.
These days everyone is getting "hygge" with it: a Danish concept of coziness that the Oxford Dictionary defines as “a quality of coziness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being.” It’s pronounced “hue-guh,” which sounds a bit like “hug” — and that’s exactly what these fragrant homemade Swedish meatballs, spiced with allspice and nutmeg, will feel like when you serve them for Christmas dinner. Ten million Swedes can’t be wrong; put on your coziest sweater and enjoy these edible hugs.
Brandied Christmas Ham
Glazed ham is a Christmas classic and an excellent choice for the harried host or novice cook: it’s insanely easy to prepare (albeit a bit unwieldy) and worry-free when it comes to food safety since it’s already cooked. The saltiness of the pork is easily balanced with a sweet glaze; this recipe gilds the holiday lily with a cheery splash of brandy and sprinkle of brown sugar to create a very American feast. (For the full scoop on how to prepare your best holiday ham, and a few more ham recipes, check out my story here!)
Cheese Tamales with Herbs
Tamales are a festive Mexican Christmas dish, and they're almost as fun to make as they are to eat. For a truly Feliz Navidad, gather a kitchen full of cheerful family and friends and enjoy the tradición of making masa-dough bundles with a delicious filling — here, a vegetarian mixture of Monterey Jack cheese (or Oaxacan cheese if you can find it) and herbs. Wrap them in corn husks like a present, then steam them en masse for a comforting, delicious gift for everyone at the table.
Standing Rib Roast with Yorkshire Pudding
This dramatic entree looks fabulous, yet is surprisingly simple to prepare. While it’s often called “prime rib,” it’ll work with any standing beef rib roast. This decadent dish also captures the spirit of Yankee thrift — the drippings are used both for both a sumptuous red-wine pan sauce and the easy, soufflé-like Yorkshire pudding, so everything tastes richly of Christmas Day.