Article written by Elisa - Travel Writer & Local in France
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Traditional French Christmas Dinner (+ Christmas Food in France)23/01/2024
Article written by Elisa - Travel Writer & Local in France
Typical French Christmas Dinner
As it is in many other countries around the world, Christmas in France is a time to spend with loved ones sharing homemade food.
The typical French Christmas meal (Christmas dinner in France) has several courses: entrées (appetizers), plats (main dishes), a cheese course, and dessert.
The traditional French Christmas dinner is accompanied by good-quality wines, usually whites for the entrées and reds for the mains. The last courses of the meal are instead accompanied by champagne wine.
The French Christmas menu varies depending on the region of France you are in, but there are some French Christmas dishes that you can find everywhere in the country.
The list below includes common foods you can find on a typical French Christmas dinner everywhere in France.
Christmas Food in France: Entrées
A verrine is a small, thick glass container meant to contain a starter or dessert. We like to serve them as appetizers or as an apéritif at the very beginning of a classic French Christmas dinner.
Savory or sweet, verrines know how to open the French Christmas meal in style! There are verrines of all kinds, whether they are fresh goat’s cheese, dried tomatoes; the lawyer; a mixture of apples and foie gras; or even shrimp. You will definitely find a recipe to your liking.
For more indulgence, cheese puffs, mini oven pizzas, and many others can be part of your French Christmas menu.
The most popular product from the Atlantic coast, oysters are a must-eat on a French traditional Christmas dinner.
With a strong taste and pulpy texture, oysters are served very simply, just with a squeeze of lemon on top to bring out their natural flavor. Sometimes, they are seasoned with “mignonette sauce,” made of chopped shallots, red wine vinegar, and freshly ground black pepper.
Presented on the table inside a large platter covered with a bed of ice to keep them chilled, we like to eat oysters with sliced bread with butter.
When thinking of Christmas in France, this French gourmet specialty immediately comes to mind. Often homemade, foie gras consists of specially-fattened ducks’ livers.
This buttery food that melts in your mouth is served pan-seared and accompanied by some kind of bread, like a simple baguette or crusty bread. Other foods served alongside foie gras are fig or persimmon jelly and onion chutney.
Following French etiquette, foie gras is never spread on a slice of bread but placed gently on top of it.
Another very French food that you will surely see served as an appetizer at a Christmas dinner in France is escargots.
While there are several ways to prepare and eat snails, the most common is “à la Bourguignonne” (Burgundy style). After having cooked the escargots in a broth, they are placed on a baking sheet and covered in melted butter, garlic, and parsley.
The result is an incredibly fragrant dish with a strong hint of garlic and parsley. The escargots à la Bourguignonne are served warm alongside crusty bread.
When it comes to Christmas appetizers, some sort of seafood is always present on a classic French Christmas dinner. Depending on whether you are somewhere by the sea or inland, you will find more or less seafood variety on the table. But if there is one seafood dish that never fails to be served for Christmas, it is the Coquille de Saint-Jacques (scallops).
Delicate and luxurious, this dish consists of scallops combined with mushrooms, breadcrumbs, cheese of choice (usually French Gruyère), and plenty of butter.
Thanks to all these ingredients, the Coquille de Saint-Jacques has a rich flavor profile and an incredibly creamy texture.
Smoked salmon is another Christmas food in France. Simple yet flavorful, smoked salmon is usually served on toasts with butter or a yellow mustard sauce. Instead of bread, smoked salmon can be served on top of Blinis, soft and puffy savory pancakes of Russian origin, alongside sour cream flavored with dill.
You can also find smoked salmon as “amuse-bouches” (single, bite-sized starters) inside puff pastry rolls or in the verrines.
Christmas Dinner in France: Plats (Mains)
The characteristic of French cuisine is to highlight the quality of the product through careful preparation. A quality meal is characterized more by the care taken in the choice of produce and the execution than by the complexity of the preparations.
Dinde aux Marrons (Turkey with Chestnuts)
Dinde aux Marrons is, without a doubt, the most traditional Christmas dish in France. This dish consists of turkey generously stuffed with chestnuts and rubbed with aromatic shallot-sage butter before being roasted in the oven until perfection. Besides chestnuts, the filling usually contains sausage meat and breadcrumbs.
Dinde aux Marrons is served on a big plate with roasted potatoes, more chestnuts, and sometimes cooked apples.
A must of a traditional French Christmas dinner, dinde aux marrons has a sweetness that works very well with the roasted meat.
Besides the most traditional turkey, there are other main meat dishes that you can find on a Christmas dinner in France.
Depending on budget and number of guests, people can cook guinea fowl, duck, chicken, or goose. On smaller tables, you will most likely find capon, quail, or fattened-hen.
Among the best dishes are Roasted Goose with Apples and Herbs and Confit de Canard (slow-roasted duck).
The classic Gratin Dauphinois is such a traditional French food that it cannot but make it to a typical French Christmas dinner.
Gratin Dauphinois, also known as Pommes de Terre à la Dauphinoise, is a casserole of thinly sliced potatoes baked using the gratin technique. The potatoes are mixed with a cream made of milk, garlic, and nutmeg, and before baking, the casserole is topped with grated Gruyere cheese.
Decadent and luxurious, everyone loves this dish’s rich flavor and soft consistency.
Main dishes are nothing without flavorful sides. On a French Christmas meal, you can find many different side dishes. Potatoes are always a must and are served as purée or sauteed. Grilled mushrooms and green beans almondine (tossed in brown butter with toasted almonds and shallots) are also other side dishes often served with French Christmas dishes.
Seasonal vegetables, like glazed carrots (with honey and various herbs like parsley and thyme) and creamed spinach (‘épinards hachés à la crème’), are also perfect side dishes for the mains.
Christmas Dinner in France: Fromage (Cheese)
Cheese is a must-eat food in France. Cheese is never served as a dessert but as a dish in itself (in other words, cheese is not a dessert; cheese is cheese). The cheese plate is typically presented between the main course and the dessert.
The types of cheeses you will eat during Christmas will depend on the region you are in, as the ones served will mainly be local cheeses.
A “traditional” French cheese platter usually includes a goat cheese, a blue cheese (a “bleue”), a soft cheese, a hard cheese, and a fresh cheese.
Cheeses are enjoyed with baguette slices or country bread.
Christmas Dinner in France: Dessert
Bûche de Noël
The Christmas cake par excellence in France is the Bûche de Noël. Created in the 19th century, this sponge cake is shaped like a log.
The bûche is generally baked in a Swiss roll pan, and it is topped with buttercream (coffee, chocolate, or chestnut cream) or ganache (a mixture of chocolate and cream).
A bark-like texture is then made by dragging a fork through the icing to make the cake even more similar to a log. Lastly, powdered sugar is sprinkled on top to evoke the idea of a snowy forest.
Beautiful and delicious, Bûche de Noël is truly a must of a traditional French Christmas dinner!
Other Pastries and Cakes
Besides Bûche de Noël, many people prefer to eat regional desserts at Christmas. Popular choices are the Paris-Brest, an almond-studded choux pastry filled with buttercream and decorated with almonds, and the classic Mille-Feuille.
Other delicious regional desserts served at Christmas are Bredele and Mannala cookies, both typical of the Alsace region. You can also buy and eat them on the go in the Alsace Christmas Markets.
In Provence, many families eat what is called “13 desserts” to represent Jesus Christ and the twelve apostles. The 13 desserts usually include Pompe à l’Huile (an olive oil and orange zest cake), dried nuts, fresh fruit, and candied jelly.
It might be cold outside, but ice cream is the ultimate comfort food, which is why it is also enjoyed at Christmas. In addition, ice cream pairs perfectly with many of the cakes served in a French Christmas meal.
Ice cream comes in many flavors, but for ending the French Christmas dinner, chocolate and vanilla ice creams are usually preferred.
Coffee & Digestif
Such a big meal as the one of Christmas calls for a digestif at its end. Which one will be served depends on the region, so you might enjoy cognac, calvados, armagnac, or walnut wine. These famous French drinks are perfect for a Christmas meal).
Digestifs usually have a high alcohol content (30%+) and pair majestically with something chocolaty, like truffles.
Besides a generous sip of a digestif, you will also drink some coffee (espresso or however you like it) to keep you awake and enjoy the company of your loved ones.
Christmas Food in France: Regional Recipies
Regions across France have their special foods and recipes that are a must during the big Christmas festivity. Here is a list of the best regional food recipes you can enjoy at Christmas:
- Huîtres et crépinettes truffées – Oysters and meatballs stuffed with truffles (Gironde)
- Cochon de lait en gelée – Suckling pig in jelly (Lorraine)
- La Franc-Comtesse – A kind of Christmas log (Franche-Comté)
- Tarte Normande – Norman tart (Normandie)
- Escalopes de veau Savoyardes – Savoyard veeal escalopes (Savoye)
- Cassolette de boudin à la moutarde à l’ancienne – Black pudding casserole with whole-grain mustard (Ardennes)
- Cari de langoustes – Lobster curry (Réunion)