There is still time to prepare for your festive feast. RODDY DAMALIS suggests some choices other than turkey
I like to look at any special occasion from all aspects, the meal is always the foundation, following that, is the wine selection. On a day like this I like to choose a bubbly as a welcome drink, which always gets my guests in a fun mood.
The décor of the table is a very important aspect of any dinner party and even more so for the Christmas main event. Flowers are always wonderful, fresh holly must definitely make an appearance. I always add an orchid or two, as they last for weeks after. We all have some lovely baubles packed away, so get them out, polish them up, add some candles and voila, you have a fabulous table!
A little selection of ‘melomakarouna’ (Honey macaroons) and ‘kourabiedes’ (Cypriot short cakes) always feature somewhere for after the meal. For me the festive season starts when I scout the first ‘melomakarouno’ in the bakery! They are a staple on my kitchen counter, one or two with my coffee in the morning, there is of course afternoon tea, and then the mandatory TV nibbles at night!
So, back to the menu… as much of a traditionalist as I am, I must hang my head in shame and admit that I have forsaken the turkey. For many years now, I have preferred serving duck, goose, pheasant, or baby chicken for this special meal. For me these yield more flavour and add a little pizazz. Also, if it is a smaller group, you have less wastage.
Today’s recipes are a baby chicken stuffed with pine nuts, sultanas, chestnuts, and rice. The cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg bring back every Christmas memory all in one deep breath. I love serving these as each guest has their very own tiny little turkey.
The other option is the duck in cherries, a classic combination of which I shall never tire. I adore serving this dish. For some reason people generally shy away from serving duck at home and keep it as a restaurant treat. Please do try it, and you will see that it will very soon become a favourite go to recipe for which your guests will thank you!
Christmas Baby Chicken Stuffed With Chestnuts
4 x 400g whole baby chickens (cleaned, with parson’s nose removed but extra skin at base left on)
Olive oil (for coating)
Cracked black pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup rice
1 large onion (finely chopped)
100g pine nuts
¼ teaspoon cinnamon powder
Pinch of clove powder
Pinch of nutmeg
1 cup water
500ml white wine
6 bay leaves
1 large red onion
200g chestnuts (Marons glacé, fresh, tinned or frozen)
½ teaspoon thyme
½ teaspoon corn flour
½ teaspoon sugar
For the sauce: brown onions, bay leaves and thyme in butter. Add remaining ingredients and simmer for 15 minutes.
For stuffing: Sauté rice, onion, and pine nuts in olive oil. Add spices and water; reduce the heat.
Cover until the water has been absorbed and the rice is half cooked. Allow to cool.
For the chicken: Coat chicken in olive oil and spices. Brown under grill in a pre-heated oven at 200C for 15 minutes until golden.
Remove and stuff each chicken with the filling. Secure with a toothpick. Pour sauce over and cover. Bake in a fan-assisted pre-heated oven at 220C for 70 minutes.
The Duck and The Cherry
The trick of caramelising the duck with the sugar can be used with pork crackling too, with great results. A mashed potato or pure of celeriac root would work well with this dish. I use this recipe as a Christmas party main course, as it lends itself to a celebratory menu beautifully.
4x 250g duck (leg and thigh section – if they are small pieces, allocate 2 per person)
2 bay leaves
1 cup water
1 cup dry white wine
Fine black pepper
200g sour cherries [frozen]
2 cups commandaria [a port or madeira can be used]
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 heaped teaspoon corn flour (dissolved in a little cold water)
fine black pepper
2 sprigs of fresh thyme (if using dried thyme, use ½ a teaspoon)
Coat the duck with salt, pepper and paprika. Brown in a pre-heated oven at 220C for 15 minutes
Remove the juices from the pan and keep for the sauce
Add water, white wine and bay leaves to the pan, and cover well with foil
Bake at 180C for a further 1 hour
Uncover, sprinkle with a little brown sugar and brown for a further 10 minutes until crispy
For the sauce place the commandaria, duck juices, salt, pepper, brown sugar and thyme into a sauce pan and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the corn flour and stir until thickened
Reduce heat and add the cherries cook for 5 minutes
Plate the duck and pour a liberal amount of the cherry sauce over, serve immediately