It has been two months since the festive season began but, somehow, Christmas is when the real fun begins. This is when I throw caution to the wind, let go of deadlines and all work commitments, and decide to have a good time myself (which usually involves a great deal of cooking) and share the joy with friends.
It is the perfect time for a formal sit-down dinner with turkey as the centrepiece and Christmas pudding as dessert. And I usually hand out my Turkey with Sage recipe. Although a lot of people enthusiastically ask for it, many don’t actually cook it. This could be because they don’t know where to buy a turkey or simply don’t have an oven big enough to cook one. I get a bunch of emails after every Christmas, asking me for the Honey Roast Ham and Christmas pudding recipes, both of which, I am reliably informed, never get made. These are old-fashioned recipes, which need time to source and cook, patience, the right equipment, and lots of enthusiasm.
X-mas twist: Use a lemon and jalapeno glaze to spruce up your recipe.
I usually also do Honey Roast Ham for Christmas lunch. These are not Virginia or Kentucky hams, but the whiff of warm, smoked ham cooked in a liquid of herbs, spices and beer can be quite irresistible.
This year’s twist is a lemon and jalapeno glaze. And, of course, we have to have Christmas pudding, even in the afternoon, even if we’re sweating away in the sun.
If you’ve ever been to the UK around this time of the year, you would know that Christmas dinners are as full of idiosyncrasies as the British themselves: the mystery surrounding the chipolata sausage and the turkey; the cubist theory behind the uneven potatoes; or the uniqueness of Brussels sprouts and bread sauce. Let us just put it down to British eccentricity, which is at its best during Christmas. This is when all those little quirks can be let out of the closet. Anyone who has suffered at the hands of British cooks will tell you this is one time when you’ll find something edible on a British table.
This is my answer to Christmas in the tropics. You can find great quality duck in both New Delhi and Mumbai. James Smith in Pune supplies all major cities with its excellent birds. Ducks are a strange breed. They look big, but actually have very little meat proportional to their size and, therefore, can only feed about three adults. If you can’t get your hands on a couple, chicken will suffice.
Slow Roasted Duck/Chicken with Plum Preserve
2 whole ducks/chickens
½ cup olive oil
2 tsp salt
1 tsp freshly milled pepper
A few fresh sage leaves or ½ tsp dried sage
1 litre chicken stock
½ cup chopped carrot
1 cup chopped leek
1 cup chopped celery
6 pcs star anise
2-3 bay leaves
2 glasses dry red wine
½ cup plum preserve
Zest of 1 orange
½ cup cream
Marinate the ducks/chickens with salt, milled pepper, olive oil and the sage leaves for three to four hours. Place the marinated birds in a deep baking dish along with the chicken stock, carrot, leek, celery and bay leaves. Place this in a pre-heated oven at 150 degrees Celsius and cook for one-and-a-half hours, or until tender. Allow to cool in the braising liquid for 15 minutes. Take out from the braising liquid, carve and keep warm. Strain the liquid into a saucepan and add the wine. Reduce the liquid by half. Add the plum preserve and allow to simmer gently. Add the orange zest and cream, and correct seasoning if required. Pour on the ducks/chickens and serve at once.
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