Posted 4th December 2014 by Martha Burton
The Christmas spirit is felt worldwide, and no matter where you are fantastic food is always at the heart of a fabulous festive period. Tesco Real Food team member Martha Burton spoke to top chefs from across the globe to find out more about how they celebrate Christmas and to get their tips for giving traditional British dishes an exciting international twist.
First stop, Spain.
Omar Allibhoy, one of the UK’s brightest young chefs and owner of Tapas Revolution, explained the importance of Christmas in Spain, it’s so important that they celebrate it over five days. Now that sounds like a great idea. Celebrations kick off with dinner on Christmas Eve full of delicious seafood; crabs, prawns, langoustines, barnacles, eels, and that’s just for starters. “The main event is always a baked grouper,” says Omar. “Which is bigger than the oven itself and is cut into two pieces and then joined back together.” On Christmas day Omar’s family follow the tradition of their hometown of Madrid and feast on a slow-cooked suckling pig, which Omar says is “roasted for over two hours in a good hot oven”.
The final celebration takes place on the 6 January, where families will sit down to a breakfast of roscón de reyes, which Omar explains is “like a big doughnut, it’s a mix between a bread dough and a cake dough, we put some confit fruit on top and dip it in hot chocolate.” Certainly beats a squashed satsuma. This doughy delight often conceals two unusual ingredients; a ceramic figurine and a dried bean. Much like the British Christmas pudding, the person who finds the ceramic figurine is blessed with good luck, but the poor individual who finds the dried bean has to pay for the roscón.
Omar’s top tip for a giving Brussels sprouts a Spanish twist? “Pan-fry them with Serrano ham and garlic, then add some sherry wine to glaze them and flambé them”. How about the turkey? “Inject the turkey with cognac for the 48 hours before cooking. Inject every part of the turkey, the breasts, the drums, the thighs, with half a litre of brandy. Do this every four hours and it will be super moist.”
Next stop, Norway.
Signe Johnsen, Norwegian chef and author of Scandilicious Baking, tells us that they celebrate on Christmas Eve in Norway, known as jueaften, and have a smaller celebration the evening before, on lillejuleaften, or Little Christmas Eve. Celebrations on 23 Decemberbegin with seafood, which Signe says is “usually a large, juicy fillet of Norwegian salmon, with a clean, crisp side salad of chopped kale massaged in lemon juice and oil to soften the leaves, which is given extra colour from the addition of shucked pomegranate seeds and some roasted winter vegetables such as carrots or squash”. The traditional ribbe, which Signe describes as “smoked and salted lamb ribs from the west coast of Norway, that have been slowly steamed over birch wood and water for about eight hours”, takes centre stage on Christmas Eve, with “buttery mashed swede that’s spiced with nutmeg, seasonal greens and potatoes”. Most importantly, to bring festive cheer dinner is served alongside beer and aquavit (a Scandinavian spirit).
The key to a Scandinavian Christmas is to keep it simple. As Signe says “you don’t want a menu that requires 10 pans, three ovens, and getting up at four in the morning.” Simply adding warming spices, such as nutmeg, to delicious mashed swede or potato, gives a fresh, Norwegian flavour. Signe also recommends “grinding up allspice berries and adding a generous pinch to your roast potatoes”. Simple, yet wonderfully festive and delicious. For Scandi-Brussels, add toasted almonds, crispy bacon and maybe even some wild dill pollen.
And finally, to India.
Vivek Singh, author of Spice at Home and owner of the Cinnamon Club, discusses how Christmas, a traditionally Christian holiday is now celebrated in India as “it transcends the boundaries of religion and people of all faiths, all colours, and all cultures celebrate in different ways”. Quiet poetic, really.
Vivek spent his childhood in Asanol, India, a coal-mining community with strong Anglo influences, and reflects on Christmas’ spent eating Indian Christmas pudding – a sweet-spiced garam masala cupcake – which he would share with school friends. After much celebrating on Christmas eve (which usually involved lots of music, singing and dancing), the family would gather for a quiet lunch of fried fish and what was locally known as ‘duck roast’. Vivek confesses “It was anything but a roast, it was just a duck curry, finished off in the oven.” Sounds pretty good.
To give classic roast potatoes a delicious Indian twist, Vivek suggests “roasting for about half the required time and then sprinkling over a coarsely crushed mix of cumin, coriander, chilli flakes, peppercorns, fennel seeds, and seasoning, before continuing roasting.” Alternatively, for beautifully spiced, part-roasted, part-pickled Indian carrots “put oil in a pan with black onion seeds, heat until they crackle and pop, for 10 seconds or so, chuck the carrots in and let them caramelise, add salt, sugar and white wine vinegar, and cook for three or four minutes in the pan, and another five minutes in the oven.”
We hope you’ve found this little adventure interesting and inspiring – we’re certainly going to be making some alternative Christmas dishes this year. Which do you think you’ll go for? Let us know in the comments below.