by Bruce Beaty
Each December, when the holidays descend upon us, I'm intrigued by the ways people of different religious and ethnic backgrounds celebrate the social events of the season. One of the cool things about working in a restaurant and living in a diverse community is the opportunity to witness these divergent practices and see what makes us different and what makes us similar. Over the years I've had the fortune to see the holidays through a very different lens than the one my Protestant, Southern upbringing provided.
I've learned about the Catholic tradition of a meatless Christmas Eve dinner called Cena della Vigilia , or dinner of the vigil, a multi-course dinner consisting mostly of fish and running anywhere from 7 to 13 courses. I've watched the Mexican and Ecuadorian cooks in my kitchen prepare Bacaloa, or salt cod for Christmas Eve, in a thin sauce of tomatoes, peppers and olives. I've also been served that same salt cod as a salad on Christmas morning at my in-law's house, reflecting their Trinidadian culture. A very good Chef friend of mine makes the best potato latkes I've ever tasted, like the ones his mother would serve from Hanukkah right through New Years, manifesting his Eastern European Jewish heritage. I've also been in Austria during the holidays and tasted the most delightful selection of pastries, strudels, and cakes imaginable.
Despite the fact that December is probably the busiest month of the year for most of us, we always seem to make time for, and look forward to the times spent around the table with family and friends. Breaking bread and communing together are among the strongest ties that bind us together.
The following recipes represent conventions and customs I've discovered while traveling and living abroad, and working with a truly amazing mosaic of people from around the world. These recipes are not meant to represent a single menu. But each could be a very strong contribution to any pot-luck you might find yourself at this holiday season.
Potato Latkes with Smoked Trout, Sour Cream and Scallions
Makes about 50 hors d' oeuvre latkes
This traditional, rustic Jewish appetizer is made a bit regal by substituting smoked trout ( or salmon) for the classic apple sauce and sour cream. Serve this at the beginning of any celebratory meal, and substitute the trout if you wish for anything you like with potatoes. Smoked sable fish (YUM!!) or sour cream with caramelized onions and chopped smoked bacon come to mind.How does creamy boursin or goat cheese with wild mushrooms sound?.
1 1/2 pounds Idaho baking potato, about 2 medium , peeled
1 large onion, about 6 ounces
1 tablespoon plus 1 1/2 teaspoons matzo meal
6 tablespoons flour
1 1/2 large eggs , beaten
2 1/4 teaspoons fine sea salt
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
Vegetable oil for frying
1 cup sour cream
3/4 pound smoked trout, skinned, flaked and all bones removed
4 tablespoons minced scallions, white and light green part only
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Use a box grater to grate the potato and onion, and place in a large kitchen towel, wrapping up the potato to squeeze out all water.Place potato in a mixing bowl and add the matzo meal, flour, eggs, salt and pepper and mix gently.
2. In a medium, heavy bottomed saute pan, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil
until hot but not smoking.Working in batches,add heaping teaspoons of
the potato mixture to tha pan and press with the back of a spoon to
flatten. Cook over medium heat until the edges are golden brown, about
2 minutes, turn them over until brown on the other side, drain them on
paper towels and keep them warm in the oven until all batter is used.
3. Arrange the latkes on a serving platter, top each with some sour cream, trout and scallions, serve at once.
Salt Cod Fritters with Spicy Tomato Sauce
Makes a lot
These super-light fritters are one of my favorite ways to enjoy salt cod, also known as bacaloa. They could easily find themselves as part of an Italian or Spanish holiday menu. When you consider that cod, and especially preserved salt cod practically saved western civilization from starvation during the 13th and 14th centuries, it makes one appreciate this underated fish even more.
1 pound salt cod, trimmed of any dark spots, bones removed
1 3/4 cups flour
1 3/4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup plus 1 teaspoon water
3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon milk
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons chopped scallions
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 clove garlic, very finely chopped
1 1/2 cups best quality commercial tomato sauce
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
2 tablespoons virgin olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
vegetable oil for frying
1. Soak the cod for 24 hours in a large container using lots of water, change the water at least 3 times.Drain the cod and chop finely in a food processor.
2.Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a large stainless bowl, whisk the flour, eggs, water and milk together. Add the cod, 1/4 teaspoon of the cayenne pepper, scallion parsley and garlic. Gently whisk in the flour just to combine and taste for seasoning. It will probably not need salt. Set aside.
3. Heat about 2 1/2 inches of the vegetable oil in a large pasta pot to 375 degrees. Meanwhile make the tomato sauce. In a bowl, whisk together the tomato sauce, vinegar, olive oil and remaining 1/4 teaspoon of the cayenne pepper. Taste for seasoning and put in a serving dish for dipping.
4. When oil is hot, use a teaspoon to scoop out batter and drop carefully into the oil. Cook until deep golden .Use a slotted spoon to remove fritters, drain on paper towels and keep warm in oven until all fritters are cooked. Serve in a bread basket lined with a nice napkin with the tomato sauce on the side for dipping.
Fresh and Smoked Salmon Rillette
Makes 12 hors d'doeuvre servings
This is a very elegant hors d'oeuvre, perfect for either a Christmas or New Year's Eve celebration. Classically , a rillette is a cooked and then potted pork spread that is sold in crocks and can be found in every charcuterie shop in France. Here we use both fresh and smoked salmon.I first learned to make this while working at the great French seafood restaurant Le Bernardin in New York City and it is a real crowd pleaser.
2 shallots, peeled and finely minced
3/4 cup dry white wine
Fine sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
3/4 pound center-cut fresh salmon, skin and bones removed
1 tablespoon olive oil
3/4 pound smoked salmon
3 tablepsoons mayonnaise
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temp
Juice of 3/4 lemon
Zest of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons chopped chives or scallions
1 tablespoon chopped dill plus some tops for garnish sprigs
Baguette or pumpernickle bread
1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. In a small sauce pan, reduce the wine with the shallots until almost dry and remove from heat. Line a sheet pan with parchment or wax paper. lightly oil the paper with the olive oil. Slice the fresh salmon into 3/4 inch slices and arrange in a single layer on the paper.spoon the shallot mixture over the salmon and season the salmon with salt and pepper.
2. Bake the salmon until it is translucent and still quite pink inside, about 5-6 minutes. remove from the pan and cool.Puree the smoked salmon in a food processor until just smooth and transfer to a mixing bowl. Add the butter and mix with a rubber spatula. Flake the cooked salmon into small pieces, and add to the bowl along with all remaining ingredients except the bread and mix until just combined, do not over mix. Taste and adjust seasoning.Refrigerate rillettes for at least 3 hours, covered in the refrigerator.
3. Toast either the baguette slices or the pumpernickle and spread with the rillettes, cut into nice shapes and serve garnished with the dill sprigs.
Marinated Cocktail Olives with Citrus and Herbs
Serves 8 as an hors d'oeuvre
These olives are great to have out when guests are gathering at cocktail hour before dinner. These have a decidedly Spanish touch to them. I served these once at a Spanish Tapas party and had two friends who hated olives ask me for the recipe. To serve these at their best, allow one week marinating time, but 12 hours is ok.Use any variety or mix of olives you like.
1 pound olives, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup best quality virgin olive oil
6 garlic cloves
1/4 cup sherry vinegar
1 sprig fresh thyme
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1 sprig fresh parsley
fine sea salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
1. Remove 4 strips from both the orange and lemon using a sharp
vegetable peeler. Cut these into fine julienne strips.Cut the oranges
in half, then juice them, reserving the lemon for another use.
2. Smash the garlic cloves with a heavy chef's knife or cleaver. In a mixing bowl, mix together the orange and lemon zest, garlic, orange juice, olive oil , vinegar and herbs and whisk together. Add the olives, season with a pinch of salt, pepper, mix well and let marinate in the refrigerator for at least 12 hours, turning often. Let come to room temp before serving. Serve with toothpicks and cocktail napkins.
Pork Rib Roast with a Garlic and Herb Crust
Serves 6-8 people
This decadent pork roast is perfect for winter holiday party celebrations.Although many Americans might first think of filet mignon or a roasted bird of some variety at holiday time, pork is the single most popular meat served in Italy, Spain and France all year long.The highly arromatic garlic and herb crust will fill your house with the most appetite-inducing aromas. Serve with the Apple-Orange Compote and the Spicy Roasted Creole Potatoes recipes that follow.Allow time for the pork to marinate.
1/2 small onion, coarsely chopped
8 cloves garlic thinly sliced
1 head fennel, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoons fennel seeds
3 tablespoons chopped mixed fresh herbs, such as oregano, rosemary, thyme, parsley or sage.
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground white pepper
1/2 cup Dijon mustard
1 4 1/2 - 5 pound pork rib roast, tied with butcher's twine ( have your butcher do this)
Coarse sea salt
1. In a food processor, combine the onion garlic, fresh fennel, fennel
seeds and the herbs and process to a thick paste. Using a sharp paring
knife, cut small X's in the skin of the pork. Season it with salt and
pepper, brush a thin coating of the mustard all over the skin side and
then coat with the marinade. Cover and refrigerate for 6-8 hours.
2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.30 minutes before cooking, take the pork out of the refrigerator at room temp. Place the pork in a roasting pan, crust side up and roast for about 17 minutes per pound, or 1 1/4 - 1 1/2 hours. The internal temperature in the thickest part of the pork should be 150 degrees when checked with a meat thermometer.Remove from the oven, cover loosely with foil and let it rest for 25 minutes.This keeps all of the juices from running out of the pork and onto the plate, causing a dry roast.Cut away the butchers twine and carve the pork into thick chops. Serve with the Creole Roast Potatoes and the Apple-Orange Compote.
Creole Roasted New Potatoes
Makes 8 side servings
2 1/4 pounds small red new potatoes
2 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 2/3 teaspoons cider vinegar
1 scant teaspoon dijon mustard
1/3 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1. You will need both the upper and lower racks of your oven for this
recipe. Preheat oven to 475 degrees. Put 2 large, shallow baking pans
in oven and preheat them for 15 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, quarter the potatoes, toss in a bowl with the vegetable oil and the salt. add potatoes to the 2 pans, and move around to distribute the oil and then cook, undisturbed until the bottoms are golden brown, about 12- 15 minutes. Turn the potatoes over, stir again and cook until the other sides are golden and potatoes are cooked when pierced with a sharp knife.
3. meanwhile, melt the butter in a sauce pan, add thew mustard, vinegar, cayenne and taste for seasoning. Remove potatoes from oven, place in a large serving bowl, add the butter sauce, toss well and serve immediately.
Apple and Orange Compote
Makes 6-8 side servings
3 large tart apples, such as Rome or Cortland
2 Oranges, preferable Valencia,
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons brown sugar
3/4 cup apple cider
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
sea salt to taste.
1. Peel, core and dice the apples. Cut the tops and bottoms off of the
oranges and sloce them as thinly as possible, coarsely chope and then
chop finely in a food processor, leaving some texture.
2. In a large saute pan, melt the butter over low heat, add the suagr and let it caramelize a bit , turning the heat to medium, and swirling the pan to prevent burning.
3. Add the apples and oranges and cook, stirring, until the fruit is lightly colored and the apples have softened. Add the Cider, lemon juice, ginger and salt to taste and cook for about 3-4 minutes until reduced a bit, taste for seasoning and serve just warm.
Austrian Walnut Praline Cake
Makes 8 servings
Few cultures can boast of making better desserts or pastries than the ones found in cafes and coffee houses in Austria and Germany.This classic cake is in good company with linzertorte, apple strudel, and sachertorte. You and your guests will swoon over this one. Try to eat it while it's still warm, maybe with vanilla or coffee ice cream, or sweetened whipped cream.
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing pan
1 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar
1 cup walnuts
4 eggs seperated
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons confectioners' sugar
2 ounces best quality milk chocolate, melted
pinch fine sea salt
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.Butter a 10 inch round cake pan. Line a cookie sheet with buttered parchment or wax paper.
2. In a heavy, large skillet, pour in 1/4 cup of sugar,cook over medium heat, without stirring, but swirling, until it turns a light amber caramel color.Take the pan off the heat and carefully add the 2 tablespoons butter and the walnuts. Now stir with a wooden spoon until all pieces of caramel are melted. spread the praline out onto the baking sheet and let cool completely.
3. Coarsely chop the nut praline in a food processor, not too finely, and set aside.
4. In a bowl, whisk to egg yolks and confectioners sugar together and whisk in the chocolate.
5. Put the egg whites in a stainless mixing bowl of an electric mixer, using the whisk , whip them until they are frothy, add 1/2 cup cup of the sugar and the salt and whip on high speed until soft peaks form. Add the remaining sugar and beat on high until stiff peaks form. Whisk in 1/3 of the egg white mixture, then gently stir in the remaing whites using a rubber spatula, the stir in the praline.
6. Spoon batter into the cake pan and bake until itt is golden on top, but still soft inside. Let cool in the cake pan for 10 minutes, Then invert onto a plate and serve at once.