Christmas is a-comin’, the goose is gettin’ fat! Anyone ever have goose? I doubt it. Eating goose is a sacred German Christmas tradition, but not one with which most of us in the good ol’ 904 are familiar. In fact, a Weihnachten dinner of roasted goose in many areas of Germany is nearly as common as turkey on Thanksgiving in America.
Most nations have very distinct traditional culinary treats specifically for the Christmas season. While Germans are stuffing themselves with big, fat, juicy, gamey, kinda greasy roasted goose, other cultures enjoy their holiday nom-noms. Believe it or not, I have some favorites I’ve cherry-picked from around the globe.
In most Italian homes, Christmas Eve is celebrated in the fishiest of ways. It’s the hungrily anticipated night when The Feast of the Seven Fishes makes its annual appearance. Leave it to the food-obsessed Italians to center a holiday feast around not one, not two, but seven separate fresh seafood courses. There are no specific maritime dishes required for this blowout meal, but I’m sure the proper choices are argued and debated by cooks all over Italy.
Opulence is the theme of a French Christmas dinner. By opulence, I’m talking foie gras. Imagine: a rich, silky, glossy, luxurious veloute of chestnuts. A soup so creamy, so buttery, contrasted with a slight earthiness from chestnuts and nutmeg, then topped with the ultimate palate pleaser: foie gras! I struggle to not drool as I write this. This decadent veloute, complimented with a glass of Cristal champagne, are by far the most important contributions the French have given to Western civilization.
Across the Channel in jolly olde England, a large animal haunch such as a beef rib roast is common, but for me, Yorkshire pudding is the real gift. I’ll explain: Yorkshire pudding is a kind of popover made from eggs, flour and baking powder, with the delicious addition of simmering beef fat. Hot beef fat is vital for rising batter and it has a delectable meaty tang.
Here in the States, there’s really no single dish that defines the Christmas feast. Each region, each family has a special tradition that’s renewed every year. The most popular Yuletide nibble is the humble Christmas cookie. Don’t let a lack of a national Christmas dish dissuade you—it just means you can create your own. This lemon tart recipe is a great place to start.
Chef Bill’s Lemon Tart
• 3/4 cup sugar • 2 egg yolks, cold
• 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice • 2 eggs, cold
• 3 oz. butter, cold, cut into six pieces
1. Whisk eggs, yolks and sugar in a bowl. Put over a bain-marie, whisk two minutes. Add 1/3 of lemon juice. Whisk until it begins to thicken. Add another 1/3 of lemon juice. Whisk until thickened. Add rest of lemon juice. Whisk to ribbon consistency.
2. Turn off heat, add butter one piece at a time.
3. Pour into baked crust.
4. Chill for several hours.
Pine Nut Crust Ingredients
• 10 oz. pine nuts •1/3 cup sugar
• 1 pound all-purpose flour •1 egg
• 8 oz. butter, at room temperature
• 1 tsp. real vanilla extract
Pine Nut Crust Directions
1. Pulse nuts in robot coup a few times.
Add the sugar and flour; pulse until nuts are finely ground.
2. Transfer to a bowl, add butter, egg and vanilla extract. Mix to incorporate. Split in thirds.
3. Butter and flour a false-bottom fluted pan. Spread dough in pan. Bake @ 350°F 10-15 minutes, rotate, bake 10-15 minutes more.
Email Chef Bill Thompson, owner of Fernandina’s Amelia Island Culinary Academy, at firstname.lastname@example.org, for inspiration and to get Cheffed-Up!