Yes, I am a few weeks late with this entry, but our friend Nat hosted such an extraordinary feast on Christmas day that it would be a shame not to share some photos with you. Nat and his twenty-some guests supped on a dozen dishes and three desserts. The meal was several days in the making, aided by his half-dozen staff members, some of whom formerly worked as hotel sous chefs.
I arrived mid-afternoon to find the production already well under-way. In fact, Nat and his staff were working from a five-page itinerary that had every step of the multi-day preparation scheduled!
First off, let’s talk about the Salmon Wellington. You may be more familiar with the version served with a beef loin inside, called Beef Wellington. In this version, two whole salmon fillets are topped with a ground mushroom mixture and then baked inside puff pastry dough. Not only is it a tasty way to eat salmon, but it is quite the show-stopper!
Left: Nat takes his frustration out on the puff pasty dough, which he made himself. Puff pasty is one of those pain in the neck sort of things that most people are perfectly happy to just buy from the freezer section of their local grocery store. Right: The salmon is covered with the mushrooms and additional dollops of butter before the top layer of the pastry dough is added and the edges are sealed.
Left: I used some leftover pastry dough to cut out decorative shapes that seemed appropriate for a seafood dish: a squid, a shark, a starfish, and some goldfish. Instead of slits to release the steam, I used a knife steel to make “bubbles”. Clever, huh?
Next item, the Garlic and Honey Roast Turkey. This is Martha Stewart’s recipe and it produces a reliably moist and tender bird. The trouble is that you have to remember to baste it every thirty minutes. If you have a staff, you can assign someone that responsibility. (Oh, if only I had a kitchen staff! Ha ha!)
The turkey, mid-carving. The skin gets very dark and crispy but fear not! Because you have remembered to baste it throughout the cooking, the meat remains moist and flavorful.
Our third main course was another type of turkey, this one prepared sous-vide. Sous-vide is French for “under vacuum” and the style involves cooking the food inside vacuum-sealed plastic bags which are then placed in a water bath for a long, low-temperature spa session. For example, the water bath for the turkey was something like 168 F. This way, the meat cannot get dry and tough, although more delicate cuts can turn mealy if you overcook them.
First step, turkey parts are sealed in bags with loads of butter and other seasonings. Next, the bags are placed in the sous-vide machine, which regulates the water temperature. It took about three hours to cook the whole turkey. Afterwards, the bags are taken out and put in a bath of ice water to immediately stop the cooking.
Once cool, you remove the turkey parts, pat them dry, and then immerse them in boiling oil for a minute or so. This allows the exterior to quickly crisp, forming a wonderful skin and an appealing color. On the right, you can hopefully see just how moist the turkey was after the combination of cooking methods. While the roast turkey had been moist, you had to add the qualifier, “for a roast turkey” afterwards. For the sous-vide turkey, the meat was very moist by any standard.
Other selected side dishes:
Left: Cornbread and chestnut stuffing. Right: Brussels sprouts with pine nuts.
Left: Yorkshire puddings (which are kind of like popovers). Center: Grilled broccoli rabe. Right: Cranberry chutney.
Just after 8:00, the guests had all arrived and the food was ready to serve. Dishes were lined up all along the edge of the kitchen counter, a buffet for which no plate had room enough!
I tried to get a little bit of everything on my plate but, alas, a dish or two may have been missed! I did try all of the main dishes and was in agreement with the other guests, all of whom preferred the sous-vide turkey to the traditional roast turkey. The Salmon Wellington was moist and perfectly cooked through but such a shame to have to cut the pastry in order to serve it!
Of course, the most memorable dinners are made not by the food – no matter how elaborate – but by the quality of the company. Tawn and I had the opportunity to dine with wonderful companions, some of them familiar faces and others new acquaintances. All of them, though, made our Christmas dinner an especially enjoyable one.
You may find this hard to believe, but some of us had enough room for dessert. Nat had prepared a trio of cakes. From the left: Strawberry and caramel angel food cake; coconut Christmas cake; and milk chocolate bombe. He also prepared homemade sauces – strawberry, coconut cream, and creamy caramel – to match the cakes. Since no cake is complete without ice cream, he made three flavors: dark chocolate, vanilla poppy seed, and pistachio.
I indulged in a slice of the strawberry caramel food cake but topped it with some coconut sauce, which had plenty of fresh coconut meat in it, and a scoop each of pistachio and vanilla poppy seed ice creams. What a spectacular end to the meal. Many thanks to our friend Nat for hosting this memorable Christmas dinner!