Most of the tasks on our holiday wish lists are fun and festive. But choosing an appropriate holiday entrée can be more challenging than gifting your Secret Santa. Here’s some help.
For Easter, it’s ham, or maybe leg of lamb.
For the Fourth of July, it’s burgers and dogs, along with a rack or two of ribs if you’ve got any patriotic spirit at all.
And for Thanksgiving, of course, it’s turkey dinner with all the fixins’.
But Christmas — in the secular sense of Santa Claus, sleigh bells and snowmen, that is — doesn’t have a signature centerpiece for the holiday table.
For all its prominence as the season of giving, its status as that glorious day around which the entire kid world revolves, the one occasion every year when we pretend that peace on Earth and goodwill to men is actually a thing, the Yuletide is something of a stepchild to other holidays’ culinary traditions.
We’re up to the task of figuring out suitable gifts to give to our loved ones — in some cases, our relatives — but with the challenge of what to serve said gift recipients at Christmas dinner … not so much.
We’ll explore a center-of-the-plate holiday wish list in a moment, but first: consider what we’re teaching our children about the Big Man’s proportionately large appetite.
We make a real show of setting out some treats for Santa’s arrival on Christmas Eve, but c’mon. When you’re bustin’ your rather ample butt huffing up and down endless chimneys dragging a sackful of toys for good little girls and boys, that little tray of bite-size cookies and curdled milk on the coffee table next to the fireplace doesn’t exactly qualify as rocket fuel on a cold winter’s night.
What would make Old St. Nick a whole lot jollier is a couple of big ol’ beef brisket sandwiches, coupled with a shot glass — uh, make that a tumbler — of high-end brandy.
As his Personal Elf Assistant would testify, that’s what turns Santa’s no, no, no into Ho, Ho, Ho!
You doubt that? Then ask yourself: Why do all the depictions of Santa loading up his sleigh at the North Pole show him with “cheeks like roses and a nose like a cherry?”
Those florid features didn’t come from chuggin’ eggnog, I can assure you.
But back to the Christmas menu.
Four classic recipes
After the tree’s all trimmed and the stockings are hung by the chimney with care, the next item on the holiday To-Do list is determining What’s for Christmas Dinner™.
And we’re not talking about Grilled Tofurkey and Stuffed Aubergine, a vegan favorite that resides at the top of the official Lump of Coal List.
Instead, consider designating these traditional dishes as your family’s go-to for its get-together this holiday season.
🎄 A Christmas Goose. How about savoring the same meal that the Cratchit family enjoyed in the Charles Dickens story “A Christmas Carol?” Or that was a staple of the holiday season in the 19th century London of Sherlock Holmes (“The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle”). A whole roasted Christmas goose, with the cavity stuffed with fruit-filled dressing, adds a pleasing flavor and a tantalizing aroma to a classic Christmas dinner event.
🎄 Prime Rib Roast. This richly marbled mound of beef is best prepared by first seasoning it with a rub of garlic, onion, celery, coriander and thyme, then placing in a 120-degree F oven for about 15 minutes per pound. That will achieve the perfect rare-to-medium-rare finish. Just don’t go to the humble card when your guests express their amazement at how much effort they assume went into serving this spectacular entrée (Correct answer: “Yes, it was a ton of work — but I’m all about the spirit of the season!”)
🎄 Game Hens. These small, succulent birds are described by most celebrity chefs — and nobody in Culinary World outranks the folks starring in TV cooking shows — as very “user friendly” … unlike those some-assembly-needed toys you’ll waste Christmas Eve trying to decide whether the leftover parts are really essential or not. Just stuff each hen with bread cubes, walnuts, green onions and cranberries, season to taste with parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme (and Scarborough Fair’s not a bad background tune during prep time), then roast in a 400-degree F oven, basting regularly until golden brown.
🎄 Pork Belly. Seriously? Yes, indeed. A slow-roasted pork belly ends up as a wonderfully tender, savory, delicious mix of crispy crust and melt-in-your-mouth meat that can be sliced, shredded or just scarfed down by guests like a pack of wolves — depending on your family’s familiarity with Emily Post’s Blue Book of Social Etiquette. Besides, after a few rounds of Jim, Jack or Johnny while everyone waits for the pork belly to finish cooking, who’s gonna care about table manners?
So there you have it: Four outstanding, if non-traditional, choices for your own Very Culinary Christmas.
Serve it up with plenty of catered appetizers and top-shelf liquor as accompaniments to the distribution of expensive stocking stuffers, and I can virtually guarantee that this year’s Christmas dinner will be remembered as one of the best ever.
Consider all of the above as a holiday gift to my loyal audience of readers.
Whom I’m confident comprise a group even more numerous than Santa’s herd (flock?) of reindeer.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!
The opinions in this commentary are those of Dan Murphy, an award-winning journalist and columnist.