08 December 2008

Christmas Dinner Suggestions

Site Update: I've added keywords to all 567 posts. Scroll down on the left and you'll see a list of keywords based on region, grape, ingredient, etc. They're unobtrusive but will help you (and me) find things faster. Sometimes I'll pick up a wine and when I go to research it, I'll find that the first or second result in Google is my own site. There's over 2,000 wines listed on this blog, I can't remember every single one!

And now, some advice if your holiday cooking is stuck in a rut...

Interested in what wines to serve with Christmas dinner? Check out my Thanksgiving advice but add more reds from PIGS and throw in a bottle of Port for after dinner. But what to serve for that dinner?

A properly roast turkey and a good ham are incredible, but thanks to the pervasive sandwich culture of the US we eat lots of turkey and ham all year round. Here's some simple and tasty alternatives. None of these are exotic, but you'll need a probe thermometer and a roasting pan with a wire rack. Stop by some place like Bed Bath & Beyond and you can grab inexpensive versions for a total of $30. If money is tight, a disposable aluminum pan could be used, just set the pan on top of a cookie sheet and the meat on top of some carrots to let the fat drain away.

Do a little comparison shopping and you should be able to find these meats for $3-5 per lb., but aside from the duck you're not messing with a bunch of bones--the rest fall in the "solid chunk of edible meat" category. You may not have as many leftovers as a turkey would provide, but any of them will make for a memorable dinner and perhaps a new family tradition. And while none of these are difficult to cook, if you've never roasted something you might want to do a test run a week or two before the big day.

1. Duck
Duck is rich, savory, and infinitely more flavorful than chicken. It's all dark meat and the whole bird is surrounded by one of the world's most delicious substances, duck fat. Seriously, trim off the fat from the tail and some of the other excess flaps, render it out in a skillet and then fry up potatoes in the resulting grease. You'll never go back to Crisco.

I can usually find fresh ducks during the holidays, though frozen will work just as well. Roast at 350° until the thick part of the thigh registers 160° (duck is pretty forgiving, and you can go lower or higher depending on your comfort level).

2. Leg of Lamb
Boneless is the easiest way to go here for cooking and carving. In the photo, the lamb is on the right, pork loin on the left. Over a grill is the quickest and easiest way (plus lots of great smoke flavor), but an oven will work just as well. If you don't feel like making a French sauce but want something other than mint jelly, try this: take a jar of raspberry preserves and combine it with chopped fresh mint and walnuts or pecans. Stir it all together and serve beside the lamb as a kind of chutney.

While I prefer my rack of lamb medium rare, I think leg tastes best at medium/medium-well. However you roast it, cook until it's about 140° but don't let it dry out.

3. Pork Loin
Unlike the thin tenderloins, a pork loin is about four inches across and is a solid log of meat with a fat cap on one side. Many grocery store versions are pre-brined or marinated and can be roasted as is. Fruit is a natural pairing: I used orange slices for the one in the picture, but apples, prunes, grapes, or cherries will work also. For more liquid flavorings, cook it in a Dutch oven or other covered pot. Try an oven temp of 350°-400°. Don't overcook it or it will be dry and tough; take it out when it reaches an internal temperature of 150°.

After resting, cut thin slices and serve with the sauce of your choice, or even simple Dijon mustard.

4. Ribeye Roast
One of my favorite things in the world, and it definitely has the "wow" factor with a minimum of work. Some prefer the roasts with ribs on, but I find it easier to use the boneless roasts. Buy as much as you need to feed the guests that are coming, let it air dry in the fridge for about a week. Coat with some salt and pepper (or mustard and herbs, or BBQ sauce, or whatever flavor you want), and cook it in a low oven (around 200°) until it reaches an internal temperature of 125°. Let it rest and either carve off steaks or thin slices depending on what folks want. Check out the Alton Brown method if you'd like more details, just ignore the terra cotta pot--it works perfectly fine in a normal roasting pan.

5. Entire Goat
Just kidding! I love goat but it's a little hard to find everywhere. Give it a few years and I'll have a great cabrito recipe for everyone. Until then, good luck with the Christmas planning.


Samantha Dugan said...

Okay, great pictures....I'm starving now. That Alton Brown method is really good, we are a Prime Rib on Christmas Day family and have used that a few times...then we use the drippings to make popovers..shiver, delicious!

I've yet to cook a whole duck but this post has me thinking I should just get over my fear of being smoked out of my kitchen and just do it...I do loves me some potatoes fried in duck or goose fat.

Benito said...


I've never had smoke in the kitchen with a duck--you can roast it much like a chicken, the skin's just a lot thicker. I usually just shove some orange or lemon wedges in the body cavity.

I'm glad to hear that you're in a prime rib family--it was purely a restaurant treat until I saw the Alton Brown episode and decided to try it at home. I've done it a dozen or so times since and it always gets a great reception.

For laughs, newer visitors to this site ought to check out my attempt at Peking Duck, complete with picture of the duck tied to a string hanging over my stove. (No, there are no pictures of me drying it out with a hair dryer.)

Fredric Koeppel said...

what a bounty of carnivorous delights, though I must insist on a bone in the rib roast; it really contributes to the flavor.

Samantha, using meat drippings to make popovers is basically Yorkshire pudding.