It’s Christmas! What’s for Dinner?


By Tom Becker

We all have holiday culinary traditions. Leaning on heritage, family dynamics and geographical influences, our holiday tables are laden with a wide variety of creations. From my youth in the upper Midwest, Christmas reflected either a traditional English-influenced meal or a German-styled offering. The English side is pretty typical of the American Christmas dinner of roasted vegetables, mashed potatoes, gravy and roast turkey. Otherwise, the German version would likely feature duck or roast, cabbages and roasted potatoes. The preparation of these dinners is always quite fun with the kitchen filled with workers, watchers, stories and sneaky tastes.

This Christmas, I’m looking at a menu of marinated roast duck with an orange-cranberry sauce, pan roasted Brussels sprouts and French Onion mashers. Follow along and let me lead you through the preparation.

For the duck we’ll use, perhaps, a new technique for you. We’ll spatchcock or butterfly it. Spatchcock? The term is believed to date back to 18th century Ireland and refers to grilling a bird after splitting it open down the back. Cooking the flattened bird can lessen the cook time, cook it more evenly and it creates a moister finished product. A spatchcock is simply done by using kitchen shears or a good knife to remove the backbone. Cut into the cavity and alongside the backbone from tail to neck. Repeat the process on the other side of the backbone to completely remove it. Flip the duck over and with your hand, firmly press down on the duck at the breast and just below the neck until it pops and allows for the duck to lay flat. Do this 4 – 6 hours before cooking to give you time to marinate the bird.

There are many ways to flavor the duck, from a simple olive oil, salt and pepper rub to garlic, herbs and wine and more. My choice for todays’ duck will consist of:

4 crushed garlic cloves 4 T Dijon 6 T Sauvignon Blanc 4 T Olive Oil 2 T Soy Sauce 2 t Tabasco 1 T Herbes de Provence Salt and Pepper to taste.

Mix this combination in a bowl and adjust the seasoning to suite your palette. Place the duck in a stainless-steel roasting pan breast side up and brush on the marinade. Turn the bird cut side up and season with the rest of the marinade. Tightly cover with wrap and refrigerate until 1 hour before cooking when you will remove it from the refrigerator, re-rub with the excess marinade and let it reach room temp.

For the sauce you’ll need 1 C Orange Juice, 12 oz. rinsed cranberries, ½ C chicken stock, 3 T sugar, 1 crushed garlic clove, 1 t ginger powder and 1/3 C orange marmalade. Combine all of the ingredients in a pot, bring it to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Reduce the liquid by half, stirring often for about 30 minutes. Remove from heat and let it cool 30 minutes. You now have a choice. Pour it through a colander and keep the liquid only for the sauce, or place the entire mixture in a processor or blender and puree. You can then use it as a thicker sauce for the duck. Regardless, refrigerate it and warm it before plating.

The Brussels sprouts are easy. A pound of sprouts will serve four. Rinse them well, slice off the bottoms, peel the outer layers and dry them on toweling. If they are large, cut them in half. As long as we’re having duck, how about cooking them off in duck fat? Remove all of the excess fatty skin from the duck before seasoning and render the fat as you would bacon. Over medium to medium low heat, slowly cook the duck skin to withdraw the oil. Stir often and avoid browning. Easier still, Duck Fat is available at the store. Toss the sprouts in the fat or olive oil along with 2-3 chopped garlic cloves, salt and pepper. Get a good coating. At medium heat, heat a large saute pan with some of the fat for a minute and stir in the sprouts. Stir frequently and cook until you have a good brown, about 15 minutes. Add a splash of white wine, reduce the heat and cover, stirring occasionally 15 minutes or until tender.

The potatoes are a fun combination of classic mashers with caramelized onions and Gruyere. To caramelize, use 3 pounds of sweet onions. Skin and remove the ends, cut in half and then cut into ¼” slices. Melt 3-4 T butter in a wide heavy pan at medium heat and add the onions and a teaspoon of salt. Cook and stir for 15 – 20 minutes, until the onions begin to brown. Do not let them crisp! Reduce the heat to medium-low, add 1 teaspoon of sugar and mix well. Cook slowly until you have sweet-brown onions. Set aside.

Make your favorite mashed potatoes but at the end, add the onions and ½ C shredded Gruyere. Serve hot topped with butter.

Slow-roast the duck at 350 with the breast side down for 60 minutes. Flip it, baste with the juices and cook another 30 minutes to a finished temperature of 165-170. To achieve a crispier skin, finish cooking for 5 minutes under the broiler. Watch it carefully!

By doing the marinade and prepping all of the vegetables in advance, this is a pretty simple dinner, but when plated is definitely a fine dining quality meal. Happy Holidays all!!!

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