Three days to Christmas. In the kitchen
One would imagine that three days of toil to make a single dish might ruin Christmas fervour, but sometimes, good things come to those who wait. The experts share festive recipes that are a labour of love
Guava cheese /// AT Noir, Juhu
This sweet treat from Brazil made its way to Goan homes during the Portuguese rule. Guava cheese or perad, as the Goans fondly call the tempting tangy-fruity taste dessert, is available commercially throughout the year, but a fresh version finds a prominent place on the festive table every Christmas.
Chef Manish Khanna, founder and partner, Noir and Brownie Point, says, "While the recipe is simple with basic ingredients from the kitchen—guava, lemon juice, ghee and sugar—making it can be painstaking."
Chef Manish Khanna. Pics/Sayyed Sameer Abedi
On the first day, the dish is prepared using ripe, sweet guava of good quality and left aside in a cool, dry place. "If the place is warm, the cheese will turn hard; if it is humid, a fan must be kept to aid the drying process. Over the next two days, it acquires a crusty exterior, which makes it easy to cut and handle, but this is also what gives the dish a different texture and intense taste. Patience is of utmost importance. Stirring it on a low flame takes a while, and effort. A high flame could cause scorching and the sugar will caramelise, changing the texture of the cheese. When stored correctly, it stays for long," says Khanna.
Guava cheese is rich in vitamins and can be cut into pieces and had as is or added to savoury sandwiches for a tangy punch
5 medium guavas
400 gms sugar
Juice of 1 lemon
15 gms ghee
A few drops of pink colour (not required if using pink guavas)
Wash and clean the guavas. Cut into small pieces and blend in a blender till it turns into a fine paste.
Sieve through a fine wire strainer to remove seeds.
Transfer pulp into a wide, thick bottomed non-stick pan. Mix in the sugar. Cook on a low flame, stirring continuously. As the mix gets thicker, stirring may require strength. Stir till it starts leaving the sides and the bottom of the pan.
Add lemon juice and a few drops of colour. Mix well. Add ghee
and continue cooking for a
Transfer the mix into an oiled plate or baking sheet and keep aside for two days. Cut the guava cheese into squares. Serve.
Ulli theeyal/// AT Nair on Fire, Bandra
Chef Sara Nair, co-founder of Bandra kitchen Nair on Fire, has vivid memories of Christmas at her grandparents' home in Pampakuda, Ernakulam. "Some memories are etched forever, and savouring the ulli theeyal with rice is one of them for me," says Nair, who along with husband Vinod, runs the Kerala-style catering service with partner Toral Sanghavi. Considered the queen of Kerala curries, ulli theeyal is a tangy vegetarian gravy made with shallots, roasted coconut, tamarind and spices. A lone wolf in an array of meat dishes prepared at the Nair household, it stands out for more reason than one. "To begin with, it is a labour of love," says Nair.
"If you're preparing it for a large family, you need to slow roast coconut in the urli, a big brass vessel used in South Indian homes." Nair cautions that slow roasting takes patience. "There are no shortcuts. Roasting has to be done on a low flame while paying attention to the texture and colour of the ground coconut. A high flame will result in uneven roasting and ruin the taste."
Chef Sara Nair. Pic/Ashis Raje
At her ancestral home, tasks were divided to reduce preparation time. For Nair, peeling shallots was most challenging. Each lobe has a clingy skin. While Nair would prepare the vegetarian version, she says tossing in chunks of chicken or prawn is also kosher. Back in Kerala, her grandmother prepared the dish in bulk and sent a portion of it to the local church. "It's a versatile dish. Although it takes long to prepare, you realise it's all worth it when you finally dig in at dinner." Interestingly, the gravy can be kept at room temperature for three days without turning rancid. "Heat it once a day and you're sorted."
250 gm shallots peeled and sliced
1.5 cup grated coconut
1 cup tamarind water
1.5 tbsp coriander seeds
10 dried red chillies
1 sprig curry leaves
1 tsp coconut oil
2-3 green chillis slit lengthwise
1 small piece ginger chopped
Salt, as required
In a heated kadhai, roast grated coconut on a slow fire till it is dark golden brown, stirring almost continuously to roast it evenly.
Once it turns dark golden brown, add the coriander seeds and roast for another 3-4 minutes.
Add the red chilli and roast for another 3-4 minutes. Keep this to cool and then grind it without adding water till it is a fine paste.
In another kadai, take a spoon of coconut oil and temper it with mustard and curry leaves. Add the sliced shallots, slit green chilli, sliced ginger and sauté till the oil coats the onion and becomes transparent. Pour tamarind water and salt to the mixture and cook till the onion is soft.
Add the ground coconut masala to the boiled onion and reduce this gravy on a slow fire. Adjust the salt and the consistency to thicker than most curries.
Confit Duck /// AT Out of the Blue, Bandra
Imagine a well-cooked duck that melts in your mouth with a rich luscious, but mellow flavour. This centuries-old and time-honoured French dish is made using the whole bird and is nothing less than a big, fat blast of flavours. Chef Juliano Rodrigues from Out Of The Blue, says, "The meat is preserved in its own fat to get rid of moisture; also no harmful bacteria can thrive in the dense fat.
Juliano Rodriguez. Pic/Nimesh Dave
This procedure is similar to maceration, where fruit is usually infused in alcohol. However, here, the meat is infused with fat and flavour. The duck is cured with salt and gently cooked in its own fat. Confit is a method of cooking the duck meat in fat, oil or a water syrup at a low temperature. Confit cooking does not involve deep frying since it is prepared at temperatures around 93C and sometimes even lower. When cooked traditionally, the whole process is tedious but fruitful." Christmas is a time of family gatherings and just right for a large, decadent dish like duck. "Duck is served in a lot of restaurants around winter, making it a great substitute for turkey or chicken, which are available throughout the year," says Rodrigues.
Make sure you preserve the meat correctly so that there's no moisture or micro-organisms involved. Skipping the salt-curing stage reduces the shelf life of the confit, so make sure it's done properly. Duck fat is important. It makes the dish delicious
100 gm sugar
1 tbsp salt
2 litre water
50 gm rosemary, oregano, and thyme
Brine the duck in sugar, salt, water and herbs for 24 hours. Drain the water. Allow to set.
Place the duck in a six-inch deep pan, add duck fat and seasonings. Set temperature of oven very low—approximately 80C. Slow cook for 12 hours.
Once the duck is cooked, allow it to rest in duck fat for three hours. Then drain the fat and reserve for future use.
Allow the duck to rest for 24 hours before service.
1 duck (leg, approx 160 gm)
1 tbsp goat cheese
150 gm mash potato
100 gm confit carrot
50 gm charred broccoli
4 crispy onion rings
50 ml rosemary jus
Place prepared duck confit on a tray and bake for three minutes on high temperature till the duck's skin is crisp.
On a plate, first place the mash in the centre, followed by the confit, then some carrots and broccoli next to it in a circular 12 clock and 1 clock dial.
Place the duck on the mash followed by the jus and some micro greens and balsamic reduction for garnishing.
Chef Rohan D'Souza. Pics/Anurag Ahire
Roast chicken/// AT Silver Beach Cafe, Juhu
According to Rohan D'Souza, culinary director, Silver Beach Hospitality, roast chicken is a significant dish at Christmas since it is perfect for a large group of people who plan to celebrate the energy of the season together.
Roast chicken involves a two-method process. He says, "We do it in a different brine solution. Rather than a salt and water brine, we also add aromatic vegetables, carrot leaves and celery.
After blending both salt and water with this mix, I apply it to the chicken and keep it in the fridge for 24 hours." After taking it out, the chicken is rested so that the moisture is released. "This method has proved to be one of our best brine experiments so far." Now the chicken is roasted for two hours.
"After taking it out of the oven, I let it dry, drizzle some paprika and oil on the chicken. I roast it again, but this time, for one hour and 10 minutes." The entire process takes over two days as "more the brine enters the meat, the better it tastes".
"Roast chicken can be paired with a glass of single malt, cognac or wine. "I know of 15 ways to make roast chicken, but recipe with the brine experiment is exclusively reserved for Christmas this year," he says.
Chef Kaustubh Hadkar. Pics/Datta Kumbhar
Crispy pork/// AT: Sofitel Mumbai, BKC
Chef de partie of Sofitel Mumbai, Kaustubh Hadkar, and executive chef Neeraj Raut spent almost a year figuring ways to get crispy pork right in time for Christmas 2019. "After a lot of RnD, we nailed the recipe. The result is a crispy skin and juicy pork belly," Hadkar tells us. Crispy pork takes exactly two days of preparation before it is finally put on a table, ready for serving. On day one, the pork belly is marinated. "For this, you need to use a knife to make several cuts across the skin of the pork belly. Ensure that you cut through the skin and not into the meat," he adds.
To make the marination more effective, sprinkle salt, pepper, fresh rosemary and then drizzle in some olive oil. "Rub the pork all over this mix and place the pork, with skin side up, overnight in the refrigerator. Also, apply vinegar; it helps break down particles of the skin. One important instruction is to dry the skin a little with a cloth so that it does not get extra salty." Next morning, apply more vinegar and sea salt to the pork. Before stuffing it into the oven, ensure that the skin does not touch the corners of the appliance. If the skin touches the oven, the meat will become too dry.
Roast it at 185°C for 40 minutes. Now, use a cloth to remove additional salt and put the pork back into the oven and cook it at 220°C for 25 minutes. This helps you get a puffier pork skin. "If you follow the procedure well and are patient, the meat will become juicy and the skin, crispy. You can pair the dish with mashed sweet potatoes and wine. The dish can also be served with vegetables stir-fried in sauce of your choice." The chef tells us in order to get perfectly cooked meat, avoid exposing it directly into the oven or it will shrink and die. We are told that this is Kaustubh's favourite dish, so go on and make him proud.
Chef Jasjit Keer. Pics/Sayyed Sameer Abedi
Slow roast turkey with apple cider jue /// AT Alfredos, Malad
While curating the new Christmas menu for Alfredos, Malad, chef Jasjit Keer wanted to ensure the slow roasted turkey with apple cider jue occupied pride of place. It was his way of honouring a long-held custom."Traditionally, every household that celebrated Christmas kept the best turkey for the family. We wanted to bring alive that experience," says Keer. As is the case with most festive dishes, prepping begins well in advance.
Day one involves rubbing a mixture of sage, thyme and rosemary, brown sugar, orange rind, apple cider and kosher salt on the bird. Once the turkey is covered with the rub, it's allowed to sit overnight in the fridge to infuse the flavours. For a juicy, tasty turkey, Keer says it should be fresh and well thawed. Extreme generosity while salting and seasoning can elevate the taste because "turkey on its own does not have much flavour".
Slow roast turkey with apple cider jue
"Butter helps the turkey meat stay tender and the skin get crispy. I usually soak it in brine and toss in some bay leaves, cloves, crushed garlic and pulpy orange juice to infuse an extra tart flavour." It takes up to 3.5 hours for a large bird to cook. A sign of a well-done turkey is when it is moist and fragrant inside and crispy on the outside. "Another way to tell if the turkey is cooked well, is when it starts looking fuller, tender and plump. Ensure that the meat bounces back when you poke it, without leaving a dent."
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