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The Perfect Christmas Dinner Starter

Imen McDonnell’s Fire-Roasted Crab Cocktail

Imen’s Fire-Roasted Crab Cocktail is a simple yet elegant seafood starter that boasts a zesty explosion of flavours and serves as the perfect dish to begin your Christmas feast. She was inspired to create this recipe after a long afternoon drive along the Wild Atlantic Way, and it is the answer to trying something a little different than a typical prawn cocktail this season. We have paired Imen’s Fire-Roasted Crab Cocktail with an equally stunning Pinot Rose Brut Prosecco from Le Contesse.

Christmas Dinner Starter

Imen McDonnell 📸

Serves 8


440g tin of fire-roasted, diced tomatoes and their juices (OR, see scullery notes below for simple DIY)

125ml pure tomato juice

1 clove garlic, minced

1/3 medium red onion, chopped

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, or more as needed

3 drops hot pepper sauce, such as Tabasco, or more as needed

1 tablespoon prepared white horseradish

1/4 deseeded cucumber, peeled and cut into small dice (or spiralized, using a special tool)

200g lump Irish crabmeat, picked over to remove any cartilage

40g shredded or julienne (cut into thin matchsticks) carrot

2 teaspoons coarsely chopped dill

2 teaspoons chopped fresh chervil or celery leaves

1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest (from 1 lemon)


Combine the tomatoes and their juices, the tomato juice, garlic, red onion, apple cider vinegar, oil, salt, hot pepper sauce and horseradish in a food processor; pulse to form a coarse puree. Transfer to a mixing bowl, then stir in half of the cucumber. The yield is about 800mls.

Cover and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes and preferably up to 1 hour.

Taste the tomato mixture and add salt and/or hot pepper sauce as needed.

Just before serving, divide the tomato mixture evenly among the glasses or jars. Break up the crab with your fingers a bit; divide it evenly among the portions, spooning it on top of the tomato mixture. Layer with the remaining cucumber, carrot, dill, the chervil or parsley and the lemon zest.

Serve at a cool room temperature.


  • To make the fire-roasted tomatoes at home, slice 16 vine-ripened or Roma tomatoes in half, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt and place cut side down on hot BBQ grill for 10 minutes or pop cut side up into 200c oven for 40 minutes or until top is charred. Remove from heat, cool, peel off skins, deseed and dice. I like to make larger batches, label and freeze in ziplock bags so I always have them to hand as the flavour works quite well with many dishes. Keeps in freezer for up to a year.

The tomato-cucumber mixture should be refrigerated for at least 20 minutes and up to 1 hour before serving.

Le Contesse Pinot Rosé Cuvee Brut

Le Contesse Pinot Rosé Brut is a festive pairing with Imen’s crab cocktail. It is a stunning centrepiece to start the celebratory Christmas dinner with its pink colour, and peachy hues matching that of the crab. The fat and salt from the crab tastes incredible paired with the beautiful fine and persistent bubbles of the Prosecco.

This year Ireland lost the very beloved and esteemed wine critic Tomás Clancy. He once said of this sparkling wine, “If you want a classy pink sparkler without paying the colour premium, head for this Le Contesse from the Venetian hinterland, which embodies discount decadence in a clean, crisp, and blushingly pink sparkler.” There’s no way we could have said it better.

Le Contesse was founded in the early seventies and now specializes in the production of highly esteemed sparkling wines and DOC wines. Their painstaking selection is paramount to the intriguing aromas and flavours of the Le Contesse range. The winery is located at the beautiful foothills of Conegliano and Valdobbiandene.

Christmas Dinner Starter

Imen McDonnell is a cook, author, and photographer who contributes to Condé Nast Traveler (USA), Town & Country Magazine (UK) and is the writer and photographer behind the popular food blog, Before moving to her husband’s family farm in rural Ireland, she worked as a broadcast producer for global food and beauty brands, and as part of the production team for an Emmy award-winning television series while living in New York, Minneapolis, and Los Angeles.

Imen’s recipes and images have been featured in The New York Times, The Irish Times, The Sunday Times (UK) The Los Angeles Times, Town & Country Magazine, Saveur Magazine and more. Her first book, The Farmette CookbookRecipes and Adventures from my Life on an Irish Farm is a compilation of tried-and-true recipes with an emphasis on local, fresh ingredients and traditional Irish kitchen skills, which for Imen have healed homesickness and forged new friendships.

Christmas Dinner Starter

Imen McDonnell 📸