Inside a festive gathering at the home of celebrated chef and restaurateur Frank McClelland. Plus, recipes from the chef to help replicate the feast for your own holiday guests. Photographs by Keller + Keller
Clad in muddy rubber boots with a basket in hand for gathering, Frank McClelland has the hearty, sunburnt appearance of someone who spends his days working in the fields. And he doesÂ–but by the afternoon, this farmer is headed for Boston, donning chef’s whites with a carload of items destined for the menus at L’Espalier and Sel de la Terre. To educated foodies, McClelland may be known as a chef first and a farmer second, but the professions are barely distinguishable at his 14-acre homestead, Apple Street Farm in Essex. The contrast seems distinct on paper: a James Beard Award-winning chef who helms one of the best restaurants in the country, L’Espalier, which has earned 12 consecutive AAA Five Diamond Awards (the most of any establishment in Boston), and oversees the well-respected trio of Sel de la Terre bistros, as well as Au Soleil Bakery and Catering, who likes-no, loves-to get his hands dirty.
Armed with zero celebrity chef pretense, his transition into farming was the “perfect soulful approach to planting, growing, harvesting, and bringing food to the table” before farm-to-table was fashionable. When McClelland was a young chef in the ’80s, he was fanatical about where his food came from. He credits a family of passionate cooks for his own life’s passion, with hunting poultry and gathering mushrooms and berries a daily part of preparing meals.
So how does McClelland-chef, farmer, restaurateur, caterer, author, husband, and father of five-manage the holidays at home? With “a lot of good people and support,” he says, laughing. “And I love to cook for people.” Though the holidays coincide with the busiest time of year at work, McClelland and his wife Heather have a full schedule of festivities with family, friends, andÂ…fowl. About 80 turkeys and eight geese roam the farm getting fattened up to be main menu fare at the restaurants, as well as at the chef’s personal table. “I’m trying goose for the first time with the kids instead of our usual rib roast this year. We’ll see how that goes!”
Christmas Eve at the McClellands’ is four to five courses with an emphasis on seafood. An oyster fanatic, McClelland has at least a dozen to himself. But he is careful not to overindulge before the delectable spread ahead. “I protect my palate for the big push,” he jokes. And what a feast it is; Christmas is an all-day eating affair interrupted only by the opening of presents and spectacularly finished with a flaming plum pudding.
Yet the most special meal of all is brunch, an every-Sunday tradition that has evolved into a more formal-and festive-event around the holidays. This year’s holiday brunch menu infuses flavors of winter into classic comforts like quiche and hash. Drawing from the farm bounty, McClelland uses Apple Street Farm squash and laid-this-morning eggs in his recipes. Preparing items in advance makes serving easy, with buffet-style items like the Champagne and Seckel pear cocktail, lobster and winter squash quiche, and citrus salad with smoked salmon and mustard caper vinaigrette ready to keep guests satiated.
Most guests work up an appetite while Chef McClelland puts them to work slicing and dicing the rest of the meal at the wooden island that serves as a social prep station. Savory potato-duck hash and poached eggs, then flaming Bananas Foster crepes, are served hot around the McClellands’ cozy table, just a stone’s throw from the open kitchen. Much of the holiday decor comes from the farm, says Heather. She and Frank forage whatever they can from their own backyard, bringing in the fresh scents of the season.
Whether at home or at his restaurants, what he calls “an attentive dining experience” is what people have come to expect from Chef McClelland for decades: simple, local, and fresh without fuss-just a great meal with great company. It’s just like what he remembers most from his childhood- and what he has recreated for us to share this holiday season.
Seckel Pear and Juniper Champagne Cocktail: Makes 8
2 Seckel pears
1 c. simple syrup
1/2 tsp. vanilla
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Poach pears in simple syrup, vanilla, and lemon juice. Remove pears and reserve poaching liquid. Add 1 tsp. of your favorite Poire Williams to a Champagne flute. Add 1 tsp. of poaching liquid to the flute and top with good-quality Champagne. Garnish with a quarter of a poached pear on the rim of the glass and float a crushed juniper berry in the liquid.
Citrus Salad with Smoked Salmon: Serves 8
4 blood or navel oranges, peeled
and sliced into rounds, juice reserved for vinaigrette
2 grapefruits, peeled and cut into segments, juices reserved for vinaigrette
1 bulb of fennel shaved thinly on a mandoline (save the tops and chop)
Leaves from 6 sprigs of mint, chopped
Combine first 3 ingredients. Toss 1 oz. of vinaigrette with citrus. Reserve the rest of the vinaigrette with the smoked salmon.
Reserved citrus juices (about 1/4 c.)
1Â tbsp. lemon juice
1 tbsp. prepared French mustard
1 minced shallot
3 oz. of extra virgin olive oil
Mix first 4 ingredients and season with three pinches of salt and ground white or black pepper.Â Whisk in EVOO gradually.
Side or 3.5 to 4 lbs. of salmon
2 c. kosher salt
1 c. sugar
1 c. brown sugar
2 star anise pods
1/2Â tsp. allspice
1/4 tsp. ground clove
2 crushed bay leaves
1/2 tsp. ground caraway
1 tsp. dried tarragon
2 tsp. crushed fennel seed
1. Blend above ingredients, except salmon, for the cure.Â Place salmon on cooling rack with skin side down. Cover salmon with 1/3 inch of the cure and place in the refrigerator. Let sit for 10 hours uncovered. 2. After 10 hours, wash salmon of the cure and place back in refrigerator on cooling rack uncovered for one to three days, until fully dry. Can be served as is, or can be “cool” smoked for 1.5 hours. The meat should not cook from high-heat smoking. 3. This recipe will make more salmon than you need. Cured salmon can be kept in the refrigerator for 40 days. 4. Serve 1/2 of the cured salmon thinly sliced with the salad and citrus vinaigrette. Serve diced or with shaved red onion, chopped capers, and chopped hard-boiled egg. 5. For bread, toasted points of brioche or pumpernickel are excellent. Boston lettuce leaves are a great gluten-free option.
Lobster and Winter Squash Quiche: Serves 8
Blind bake a pie shell for 5 minutes at 350 degrees. Make your favorite pie dough recipe and line a 10″x2″ pie pan. Frozen crusts are great, too. McClelland’s favorite: 2 c. and 3 tbsp. bread flour, 1.5 sticks butter, 1 egg, and 1/2 cup water.
2 c. milk
2 c. heavy cream (steep lobster bodies for 30 minutes in heavy cream at 180 degrees if more lobster flavor is desired)
4 whole eggs
1 tbsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. white pepper
1/4 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
Whisk ingredients until fully incorporated.
2 11/2Â–2lb lobsters
1/2 lb. slice bacon cut into 1-inch lardons
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 medium white onions, peeled and sliced
1 raw buttercup or butternut squash peeled, diced into 1/2-inch cubes
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. white pepper
1 tbsp. tarragon leaves, chopped
1 tsp. flat-leaf parsley, chopped
11/2 c. of grated Comte, Appenzeller, Gruyere, or Ementaller cheese
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees, on convection heat if available. Steam lobsters and pick meat from bodies when cool. Dice the tail into 1/4-inch cubes. Chop the knuckle meat. Save the claws and cut in half lengthwise for garnish later. 2. Render lardons until crispy and brown. Add onions and stir. Cook uncovered over medium heat for three minutes. Add garlic, salt, and pepper, and stir. Cover and cook over low heat for 15 minutes, stirring every five minutes. 3. Stir in winter squash. Cover and cook for 15 more minutes, stirring every five minutes. Remove from heat and cool for five minutes. Add tarragon and parsley. 4. Add squash mixture to cool, par-baked shell. Add lobster in the next layer, and then sprinkle with cheese. Top with custard. 5. Place quiche in oven and reduce heat to 350 degrees right away. Bake for an hour or until top of quiche is brown and custard is completely set. Quiche can be served cold or hot after it has cooled for at least 20 minutes out of the oven. Warm reserved lobster in melted butter in a small skillet to garnish. Serving suggestion: Salad of frisee and endive with simple lemon vinaigrette.
Duck Hash with Poached Apple Street Farm Eggs: Serves 8
Whole duck, seasoned with salt, pepper, lemon juice, soy, and ginger.
3 lbs. Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and diced into 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
1/2 tsp. salt
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
2 medium onions, peeled and diced
3 red bell peppers, cored and cut into 1/2-inch strips
2 stalks of celery, peeled and diced
1 head of radicchio chopped and seasoned with 1.5 oz. duck jus, lemon juice, and salt
6 sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves pulled off stem
1 tbsp. minced flat-leaf parsley
16 farm eggs, poached in water with 1 tbsp. of white vinegar to 1 qt. of salt water
1. Let duck sit overnight. Next day, steam for 30 minutes, covered. Uncover and roast in a 375-degree oven for 1.5 hours in the same pan. Add 1.5 c. of water to keep duck moist during roasting. Add extra cup of water if necessary. Remove duck from oven and cool. 2. Strain liquid from bottom of pan. Separate jus from fat by letting stand and skimming fat off of the top. Pick meat from bone and dice into 1/2-inch cubes and set aside. 3. Mix potatoes with paprika, salt, minced garlic, and thyme. Let stand in a cool spot for 15 minutes before making hash. 4. Heat a 12-inch high-sided skillet with a lid over medium-high heat. Fry seasoned potatoes while continuously stirring for five minutes or until golden brown uncovered. 5. Add peppers, continue cooking for three minutes. Add onions, then celery, then crushed garlic over a three-minute period while continuing to stir. Lower heat to medium. 6. Add duck and cover. Cook for 12 minutes, stirring every four minutes. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Stir in fresh herbs. 7. In a large serving bowl, combine hot hash with cold, seasoned radicchio and serve immediately with a serving spoon onto individual plates. 8. Finish with two poached eggs on top of each plate of hash. Sprinkle with 1 tsp. of duck jus. Salt and pepper eggs to taste. Serve immediately.
Bananas Foster Crepes: Serves 8
1 c. flour
1 tbsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 c. milk
1 whole egg
11/2 tbsp. melted butter
1. In a blender, blend first six ingredients until smooth. Add more milk, if necessary, to make a runny texture. Refrigerate and let stand for at least 15 minutes. 2. Heat a 10-inch skillet and grease with a paper towel oiled with canola oil. Add 2 oz. of crepe batter to hot pan and cook on each side for 15 to 20 seconds.
8 bananas, peeled and quartered lengthwise
1/2 lb. butter, cubed and kept cold for later
1 c. brown sugar
2 oz. brandy
1. Heat brown sugar in a large skillet over high heat, stirring with a wooden spoon. Once melted, slowly whisk in cubes of cold butter to emulsify. 2. When a caramel is formed, add bananas and continue cooking for one minute. 3. Add brandy and set on fire to flambe the bananas. Sprinkle with cinnamon while brandy is still flaming. 4. Spoon banana-caramel mixture over half of an open-faced crepe. Fold the other half of the crepe over the banana mixture. 5. Garnish with chantilly cream or vanilla ice cream. Serve immediately.