Whether your menu is a mainstream one and you roast a turkey or something more esoteric and you choose goose what you make for Christmas dinner is done with consideration to what you ate last Christmas and for forty or so before it. None of us think about we ate that day a year before when we decide what to have for dinner on September 23rd, for instance. There was a time two or three centuries ago when, for those who were rich enough to choose what they ate or particularly religious, the calendar was packed with saints’ days and festivals with predetermined menus but now Christmas Day is one of few exceptions.
I wasn’t raised Catholic but we have adopted the tradition of eating seafood on Christmas Eve. Whether it comes in the form of risotto, a fish stew like cioppino, or this year’s delicious paella we get a welcome counterpoint to the heavier meals that follow. Traditions are less rigid for the 24th but there are still expectations for fairly Western flavours so anything further from the beaten path has to be served another day.
The two things I had in mind–spring rolls (Goi Cuon according to Cook’s Illustrated’s Best International Recipe cookbook) and pork belly on steamed buns would work especially well for the 23rd because they can be largely prepared ahead of time and served whenever out-of-town family rolls in. I’ve taken to modifying this recipe for spring rolls to use shredded napa cabbage instead of vermicelli because it makes things a lot easier and if this is being served as an appetiser I think the noodles make them too heavy.
For the steamed buns a city-wide shortage of pork belly (at least at Fiesta Farms, Fresh from the Farm, and my usual No Frills) meant that I had to sub pork shoulder at no great loss. I was working from this pre-Momofuku Cookbook, Gourmet magazine adaptation of Chang’s recipe.
We went through a bunch of wine (red and white) with this meal but one of the most interesting matches was with the 2009 Guilty Men Sauvignon Blanc from Malivoire. In true Niagara Sauv Blanc style this wine tends more towards acidic citrus like lemon and lime than the sweeter tropical fruit found in some of its cousins. It’s a fairly widely accepted idea that Gewurztraminer and Riesling are the two varietals that pair best with spicy, Asian food but I’m coming to think that Sauvignon Blanc also deserves a spot on this list. “Spicy” wine with spicy food makes sense for complementary reasons but slightly sweet, tropical, and acidic wine also makes sense for reasons of contrast.
A quick Christmas-related note: I received a bunch of foodster books as gifts and will be adding the ones I particularly like to my Amazon store so that you can share in my joy. First up is Francis Mallman’s Seven Fires: Grilling the Argentine Way which I’ve added to the Meat section of my store. It’s too bad that he takes a haphazard view towards caring for cast iron and even worse that he still believes that exploded myth that searing “locks in juices” but despite this is a really good cookbook that is full of great recipes. Some effort is made to adapt recipes for the modern, electric kitchen but this book will truly appeal to those who prefer cooking outside with gas, charcoal, or especially hardwood.