It’s Christmas day, and time for the final part of our series on the roast dinner, and the final article of the year. 2021 has been a difficult year, especially in the early months, and I haven’t been able to post regularly. Well, here’s to ending the year right, and hoping for a brighter one ahead. Anyways, sides……
Utsav: What sort of tweaks would you add to the sides if you’re going for a more Oriental or Indian flavour profile with the roast chicken itself?
Nodee: All of these vegetables can turn oriental and Indian depending upon how you cook them! If you add jeera to fondant potatoes, it becomes jeera aloo! If you cook beans in soy and honey and throw some sesame seeds on top, who is to say it’s not a Chinese side. Food transcends cuisines easier than we can imagine, no? That said, the accompanying carbs probably change from bread rolls to rice and pulao, or naans in an Indian setting.
U: Speaking of transcending cuisines, let’s talk about gravy. I really love the word, and I really think that at some point during the British Raj, there has been a barter of words. While the Brits and indeed people all over the world use the word “curry” to describe Indian food, we in turn have borrowed the word “gravy” and used it to redescribe our own dishes. That being said, what does the word mean in its original context?
N: The etymological origin is from the Latin “granum” or French “grane” from seed or spice- which became adapted into English via misspelling, as many others. It simply describes sauces, specially those made by adding stock and flour to drippings of meat, like I described.
U: Could you quickly run through the process of making a basic gravy, and how you could add some tweaks to the basic formula?
N: Once your bird and veggies are cooked, transfer your baking tray to the gas. Heat it up till it bubbles, and a splash of red or white wine to deglaze the pan. Add a little flour slurry in it and wait for it to thicken. Salt, pepper, lemon- you can’t go wrong with the basics. The only additions I would suggest are fresh minced herbs or spices like cinnamon or oregano.
U: Moving on to stuffing. What exactly is it, and how do you go about making it?
N: Stuffing is basically cubes of slightly stale bread, sauteed in butter with onion, garlic and chives. Some people add eggs too, and this is baked in an oven before it goes inside the bird.
U: Would you classify stuffing as a side, or does it have a more unique place in the whole equation?
N: It is a side that has a dual role in the way it takes up the flavour of the meat, yes, but you can also serve it as is. Make sure to cook it through to avoid safety issues from uncooked poultry. Ideally, a meat thermometer should read 165F or higher when you are cooking anything within the bird’s cavity.
U: Another rather specific component, especially in Thanksgiving dinner, is the cranberry sauce. Why cranberries, what does it bring to the meal, and what possible alternatives could we use?
N: Anything sweet and tart could serve the purpose of cutting the richness of the meat and gravy. Consider it the “achaar” analog to the roast meal. I’ve tried adding dried cranberries or raisins to the stuffing or veggies, and that elevates the taste too… Rhubarb maybe more easily available for the same purpose, and can be stewed and served as a side.
U: Meat, veg, gravy, stuffing….our meal is nearing completion now. But we all know that no meal is ever complete without dessert. So, on to sweet territory.
N: It’s not so much a territory as a Kingdom altogether. Probably better known as pies and tarts. Be it pumpkin, Apple, chocolate, key lime… Can you really go wrong? Crumbles and cakes… Mostly everything goes, with a scoop of ice cream. Thanksgiving favourites are apple and pumpkin pies. Both seasonal produce, so it’s an added bonus. Christmas can bring in plum cake, puddings and crumbles. A German chocolate cake or a sachertorte would also be delicious.
Do remember you have eaten a full meal by now, so fruitier, lighter flavours may help. A scoop of vanilla ice cream goes a long way with decadent desserts too
U: Alright, it’s time to bring it all together. An elaborate meal like this requires proper planning. Let’s say you’re cooking Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner for a group of four to six people, within the restraints of a typical Indian kitchen, using more or less easy to procure ingredients. Run me through the menu, and break down the process for me.
N: It requires a lot of planning. Buying the produce beforehand, marinating the meat and baking the dessert to get those things out of the way. Mash and mise-en-place for the bake and fast cook sides can be done a day ahead. Make sure you cook the sides before your guests arrive, and let the aroma of the roast pervade your house as you get ready for the meal. Once the roast is baked, rest your meat and prepare your gravy. There, you’re done. Pour enough wine for the evening and it’ll be a holiday to remember, indeed.
A typical menu for me:
Bread rolls and garlic butter
Green beans sauteed
Baby carrots, caramelised
Wine, a lot of it
U: That sounds absolutely wonderful. And you do have a few of these recipes on your blog right?
U: Any specific recommendations on recipes and chefs to check out in case somebody wanted to venture deeper?
N: Nigella fits the bill for most holiday cooking.
Yotam ottolenghi for the veggies and the sides.
The world is your oyster when it comes to desserts.
U: Indeed. Thank you so much for sharing your insight and knowledge, and walking is through the holiday dinner with such simplicity. Any closing piece of advice?
N: No advice, except to feel the glory of the roast with all your senses and enjoy the upcoming holidays! I would like to thank you for asking such insightful questions. We need to get together and cook the next holiday meal. Maybe that would be a good read for the readers of Gourmet Glutton!
U: Wouldn’t that be awesome! Happy Holidays to you too. Have a great Christmas and a wonderful year ahead.
And that’s it for the year. Wishing all the readers of the Gourmet Glutton a very Merry Christmas. See you in 2022!