Seasonal Chef: Late Night Christmas Eve Dinner

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After the tree is finished and the stockings are hung (or stuffed, if you’ve got little ones), for a quiet respite before the festivities of the next day, Christmas Eve is the perfect time for a late dinner for two.

Though items on this menu will need to be made a few days ahead, it contains the perfect mix of luxury and ease. Bon appétit and have a joyous holiday!

Gravlax

(Serves 6)

1½ pounds fresh center-cut salmon fillet with skin, cut into 2 equal size portions

Approximately 1/2 cup fresh dill, roughly chopped

1/4 cup kosher salt

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1 tablespoon white peppercorns

1 tablespoon black peppercorns

1/4 teaspoon whole allspice

6 whole juniper berries

1 tablespoon cognac

For the sauce: yields about 1 cup

3 to 4 tablespoons hot prepared mustard

2 teaspoons Coleman’s dry mustard

3 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

About 1/2 cup grape seed oil (or 1/4 cup extra virgin and 1/4 cup canola oil)

About 1/4 cup chopped fresh dill leaves

To prepare:

Ask your fishmonger to cut a center portion of salmon and remove the bones to make two matching pieces.

At home, check for small bones with your fingers and pull them out with long-nosed pliers.

Place one piece skin side down in a glass dish that is deep enough to hold both pieces.

In a spice mill, coarsely grind peppercorns, spice and juniper berries.

Mix in the salt and sugar.

Arrange the dill on the fish and cover with all of the spice mixture.

Place the flesh side of the other piece of fish on the seasonings (as if it were a book).

Drizzle with cognac.

Seal the entire dish with plastic wrap and then wrap with aluminum foil.

Place a dish directly on top of the fish and weight it with heavy cans or a brick.

Refrigerate the entire affair for 2 to 4 days, turning the fish over every 12 hours.

For the sauce:

Whisk the mustards together in a small bowl with the sugar and vinegar.

Mix until smooth.

Slowly whisk in the oil until the mixture becomes an emulsion.

Taste and adjust the seasonings.

Transfer to a clean glass jar and refrigerate for several days.

To serve:

Remove the salmon from the brine and scrape off curing seasonings and dill.

Using a very sharp knife, cut salmon into paper-thin slices.

Place on black bread or small plates.

Garnish with fresh dill and lemon wedges.

Add chopped dill to the mustard and spoon a dollop on the plate.

Roast Quail

(Serves 2)

4 quail birds, dressed

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 lemon, juiced

About 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

About 1 tablespoon brandy or cognac

1 small onion, sliced thin

Olive oil for drizzling

Crema di Balsamico for glazing (cream of balsamic)

About 1 teaspoon unsalted butter

1/2 bunch fresh watercress sprigs for garnish

To prepare:

Cut along both sides of the backbone of the quail with poultry sheers.

Spatch cock each quail (remove the backbones and breastbones).

Using the palm of your hand, flatten the breast so the legs are facing each other.

Sprinkle salt and pepper on the quail.

Place the birds in a shallow glass-baking dish.

Drizzle lemon juice, olive oil and brandy over the birds.

Wrap the dish with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

To cook and serve:

Preheat the oven to 475 degrees.

Lightly oil a baking dish that will hold the quail in one layer.

Scatter onion on the bottom.

Remove the birds from the marinade.

Arrange the birds skin side up and drizzle with oil.

Roast until the skin begins to brown, about 5 minutes.

Brush cream of balsamic on the skin and continue roasting until they are cooked through, about 10 minutes total.

Remove from the oven.

Rest about 4 minutes.

Pour the juices from the roasting pan into a small saucepan and bring to a boil.

Taste and whisk in a few drops of cream of balsamic and one teaspoon butter.

Serve the quail on a bed of watercress and pass the sauce at the table.

Brown Rice Pilaf

(Serves 2)

About 1 tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon unsalted butter

1 small onion, chopped

Few pinches dry thyme or marjoram

1/2 cup brown rice

About 1½ cups good quality chicken stock

Chopped fresh parsley for garnish

To prepare:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Coat the bottom of a 1-quart heavy casserole dish with olive oil.

Add the butter to the casserole dish, then sauté onion until it soft and translucent, about 4 minutes.

Stir in the rice and herbs and sauté 1 minute.

Add stock, stir and bring to a boil.

Cover and bake in the oven until the liquid is absorbed, about 25 minutes.

Remove from the oven, place a paper towel under the lid and bring to room temperature before garnishing with parsley and serving.

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