The holidays are upon us, and this means you’ve got to get a roast in the oven, get a delicious stuffing going, prep the spuds, and still have time to unveil a glorious dessert at the end of the meal. While the prospect of holiday feasting strikes fear in the hearts of most, I’ve had a breezy time prepping my meal this year because the menu was so dastardly simple.
My Christmas menu for 4:
Dry brined garlicky roast chicken
Sourdough, chorizo and walnut stuffing
Mum’s Aloo Tuk
and saving the best for last, a Gingerbread and Salted Dulce De Leche Trifle.
Keeping the roast simple gives me ample time to focus on things like the stuffing and potatoes, and honestly these matter more. Dry brining is very simply the generous salting and freezing of a bird overnight so that the salt breaks into the meat, seasoning it well, and leads to less contraction of the bird’s muscles when cooking. This means that it retains a lot of its internal moisture as it cooks and keeps the bird juicy when cut into, and really isn’t that what we’re looking for? I mix garlic into the salt before rubbing it into the bird because I want my chicken to be garlicky and delicious.
For the stuffing, I will always urge you to opt for good quality bread. Something like a sourdough with a good colour on top and sizeable holes inside when sliced open, as opposed to a tight crumb (which is closer to commercial bread loaves) has the capacity to absorb and retain flavours. A better tasting bread makes a delicious stuffing. For this recipe, the bread absorbs flavours from rendered chorizo, softened alliums, toasted walnuts, greens and is studded with cranberries. It’s the kind of stuffing I’d dive into and forget all about the roast.
Mum’s aloo tuk is that perfect plate of spuds for a Christmas table that calls for a bit of technique when making. This technique is important if you want to make tuks that are crispy on the outside and fluffy inside. Twice-frying is very important for the tuk of course, but lightly flattening it against your palm when it’s still quite hot can be a real challenge.
Most of the elements for this trifle can be prepped way in advance and then it’s just a matter of assembling it. The gingerbread cake is a trusted recipe with treacle and candied ginger for that extra bittersweet edge which contrasts so beautifully with the salted Dulce de leche, extra ginger biscuits for texture and whipped cream to finish. You can make the dulce de leche a month in advance and keep frozen till it’s time to use it. The gingerbread cake can be made a few days in advance and since you’ll have to break up the cake into bits anyway for the trifle, just cram it in a box and keep refrigerated for the big day.
Recipe for the chicken
Dry brined garlicky roast chicken
Dry brining is very simply the generous salting and freezing of a bird overnight so that the salt breaks into the meat, seasoning it well, and leads to less contraction of the bird’s muscles when cooking. This means that it retains a lot of its internal moisture as it cooks and keeps the bird juicy when cut into
Chicken 1.2-1.5 kilos, skin-on and any gizzards removed and set to the side for another use.
Salt a generous amount for brining. Use a salt that’s not bleached like Puro
Garlic 15 cloves, minced
Pepper a few grindings
Extra virgin olive oil 1 tbsp
Bouquet garni optional
A day or really two days before you want to cook your bird, wash your whole chicken thoroughly. Rub together a rather alarming amount of salt- 1/4 cup at least and the minced garlic. Drop down this generous amount of salt from a height to evenly season the chicken. Flip the chook over and do this again. Be generous with the garlic and salt here. It’s this salt that’s going to help keep your chicken moist in the oven. Keep the salt on and transfer the chicken to the refrigerator where it can sit covered.
On the day of cooking-this could be 24 or 48 hours later, get your chicken out of the refrigerator and use paper towels to pat dry the chicken everywhere. This is to get any excess salt off the chicken and ensure that the final result is not too salty. Let the chicken thaw at room temperature if it’s too icy.
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees celsius and position a rack at the bottom of the oven if you want to catch any drippings or just put any roast veggies you’ll need later underneath. The chicken itself- arrange on a well-oiled wire rack. Drizzle over the extra virgin olive oil, a few grindings of pepper and stuff the cavity of the chicken with a bouquet garni and tie up the legs of the chicken. Arrange the chicken breast-side up over the wire rack and transfer to the hot oven.
Let the chicken cook for 35-40 minutes or until juries run clear when a skewer is inserted into the fleshy or the thickest bit of the chicken. If using an oven thermometer, insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the chicken, careful not to touch the bone, and if the temperature reads 75-76 degrees celsius, then the chicken is done.
Take the chicken out of the oven and let it rest wrapped in aluminium foil for 20 minutes before serving.
Recipe for the stuffing
Sourdough, chorizo and walnut stuffing
For this recipe, the bread absorbs flavours from rendered chorizo, softened alliums, toasted walnuts, greens and is studded with cranberries. It’s the kind of stuffing I’d dive into and forget all about the roast.
Sourdough 3/4th of a large loaf, or 1 medium-sized loaf (buy yours from Magazine Street Kitchen Bakery or La Folie), broken into bite-sized pieces
Olive oil 1 tsp
Chorizo 250g, casings removed
Red chillies 2
Cranberries 1/3 cup
Walnuts 1/3 cup, crushed roughly
Onions 2, chopped roughly
Celery stalks 3, chopped
Frozen spinach or regular spinach 2 cups
Apple cider vinegar 1/4 cup
Butter 110g, 55g melted and the rest kept at room temperature
Chicken stock 2 cups
Salt and pepper
Heat the oven to 180 degrees celsius.
In a frying pan, heat a teaspoon of olive oil and add to it the chorizo, letting it render it’s fat into the pan, breaking it up as you go. Cook for 7-8 minutes on medium-high heat and using a slotted spoon, transfer the meat to the side.
In the same frying pan, add the onions, leek and celery, chillies, salt and pepper and cook on medium-low flame, stirring from time to time till the onions and leek have softened and browned-for 10-12 minutes. Add apple cider vinegar to the same frying pan and heat over medium-high till just coming up to a boil. Set this aside.
In a bowl, add the torn sourdough bread and mix in the onion and celery mixture.
Top with the crushed walnuts, cranberries, the meat mixture, frozen spinach and mix.
To this, add the melted butter, the 3 eggs and 1 out of 2 cups of stock. Season again with salt and pepper and stir till the bread has absorbed the stock. Add a glug more stock to moisten it. It shouldn’t look dry at any time or lacking in moisture. When it looks wet enough, transfer this to a shallow baking dish and top with the reserved butter.
Cover the whole baking dish with aluminium foil and transfer to the oven where it should cook for 20-25 minutes covered. After that, uncover the baking dish and let it continue to cook for 10 minutes more, and serve.
Recipe for the potatoes
Mum’s Aloo Tuk
Yield 6-8 servings
Mum’s aloo tuk is that perfect plate of spuds for a Christmas table that calls for a special bit of technique when making.
New potatoes 1 kg
Salt 2-3 tbsp for salting the potato
Vegetable oil for frying the potatoes
Spice mix for the tuk
Salt 1/2 tbsp
Turmeric powder 1/2 tsp
Red chilli powder 1/2 tbsp
Amchoor or dry mango powder 1/2 tbsp
Ground coriander powder 1 tbsp
Peel and cut the potatoes into quarters. Salt them and keep aside covered.
Fill a kadhai with the vegetable oil coming up to a little more than half. Heat the oil till a small piece of peel added causes a tiny ripple in the oil but it doesn’t sizzle like when it does when the temperature is much higher.
Carefully start adding the potatoes taking care to see they are completely immersed. Reduce the flame to a medium-low. Let them cool slowly in this manner. Check after 10-12minutes to check for doneness. Once they are cooked through, turn the flame to high and fry them till a very pale golden colour is attained. Remove onto a plate and switch off the gas. Let cool for 2-3 minutes max.
Very bravely take a piece of potato on your palm with the ridge of the potato facing you vertically. Press your other palm over it in a cup motion and exert gentle pressure to flatten it in the centre without causing it to crack much, but it’s okay if it does. Just cup it together again. Continue in this manner till all the potatoes are done. At this stage you can refrigerate them for later and they will keep for a couple of days. Cooling the potatoes will yield better results.
When you are ready to serve, heat the oil to 190 degrees, which you can check with a thermometer. If you’re frying without a thermometer, this temperature is on the higher side for frying. Throw in the potatoes 4-5 pieces at a time. Fry to a good golden colour. While that’s happening, mix your spices together and keep ready. Toss the potatoes in the spice mix and serve.
Recipe for the trifle
Gingerbread and Salted Dulce De Leche Trifle
Yield 1 large-sized trifle
You can make the dulce de leche a month in advance and keep frozen till it’s time to use it. The gingerbread cake can be made a few days in advance and since you’ll have to break up the cake into bits anyway for the trifle, just cram it in a box and keep refrigerated for the big day.
Gingerbread cake(Makes 1 small gingerbread cake)
Black treacle 150g (I used Lyle’s)
Brown sugar 50g
Caster sugar 60g
Orange 1, zested
All-purpose flour 200g
Baking soda 1/2 tbsp
Dry ginger 1/2 tbsp
Ground cinnamon 1 tsp
Salt 1/4 tsp
Just-boiled water 150ml
Candied ginger 50g, chopped
For The Dulce De Leche Layers
Dulce de leche with salt 1 cup, made in a baking dish covered with aluminium foil set in a larger baking tray with boiling water, baked in the oven for 1 to 1 1/2 hours in the oven.
Dairy Cream 450ml
Brandy 90ml for soaking the cake layers
Ginger biscuits 200g, bought from a bakery and crushed with a rolling pin
Whipped cream (non-dairy topping will do) 300g
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees celsius.
Grease and flour a 6-inch cake pan and set it aside.
Using a hand-blender beat together the treacle, brown sugar and caster sugar, butter, eggs, orange zest until well combined.
Sift the dry ingredients, namely the all purpose flour, baking soda, dry ginger, cinnamon and salt. Add in the whisked molasses, sugar and eggs mixture into the dry ingredients. Stir to combine and immediately add in the just-boiled water, whisking to combine. Add in the candied ginger and transfer to the cake pan quickly.
Bake for 45-50 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Remove from the oven and allow it to cool completely before cutting it into slices for the trifle.
Add the cooled dulce de leche to the dairy cream and add a large pinch of salt to the bowl. Whisk together till thick and adjust the salt if needed.
Whip up the non-dairy topping and set aside.
In a large trifle bowl, add a layer of the gingerbread cake. Soak it with brandy and top with a layer of crushed ginger biscuits and salted dulce de leche cream. Add a layer of whipped cream. Place in the freezer for a few minutes before continuing again. Do this layer after layer ensuring that the top layer is left for whipped cream.
Let the whole trifle sit covered in the refrigerator for all the layers to combine for an hour at least before piping the whipped cream on top of the trifle and bringing it out for your guests.