When it comes to lining up festive menus, a little bit of patience can go an awful long way. Whether it’s macerating fruit in innocuous booze, or the subtle art resting your meat, time is an element that plays into a number of our best loved techniques.
Nowhere is this more relevant, than with house cures. The partnership of salt and time is capable of equipping us with unique texture and flavour. More importantly, it arms switch items that can be plated and on the pass in a matter of seconds.
Salmon has long been the go-to for Christmas menus, providing an efficient starter that puts no pressure on cook space. Basic salt and sugar cures provide the common base, while variations of herbs and additional seasonings arm you with a wide range of options.
In the run up to Christmas, spruce and pine needles can be blitzed in a blender with your salt prior curing your salmon sides. The result is a fresh, wintery back note that sings of the season. Cinnamon and clementine deliver similarly ambitious festive flavours, while the milder, fresh water flavour of trout can be an admirable left turn when it comes to Christmassy cured fish.
Carpaccios are another valuable commodity when it comes to the Christmas rush, the thin slithers of meat being rolled out and stored between sheets of greaseproof paper. While beef is the classic option here, the remarkable gamey flavours of venison work perfectly, while similar techniques can be used with duck breast and pigeon.
Smooth chicken liver pates are ubiquitous this time of year providing much of the same benefits as the afore mentioned salmon. However, a rustic move into rillettes is a strong option for Christmas this year. This robust, shredded meat product provides an added element of heft to dishes and can work well across brunch, lunch and dinner service to deliver a more dynamic contrast in textures.
Of course, it’s impossible to talk about Christmas curing without bringing attention to the brine. It’s an unstoppable force when managed correctly. This process allows you to elevate everything from your turkeys and chickens, through to your feathered and furred game – which welcome the added moisture with open arms. As well as tenderising and inviting moisture into the meat, it’s also a way of getting seasonings and spices to penetrate deep into the fibres of the animal.
The brine comes into play with one of the most famous Christmas centrepieces, the festive ham. Whether you go whole hog with glazing and studding with cloves, combine jerk spicing a la Jamie Oliver, or take a more considered and simplistic approach to this showstopper, create theatre by having front of house carve it table side. You can also incorporate the meat intones and terrines.
Tight time management is key in any commercial food environment, not least at this busy festive period filled with staff-dos, annual get-togethers and family reunions. With such high expectations and a tall order for the ovens and hot plates, this kind of savvy, salted preparation technique can be a total luxury for the kitchen. From the humble salmon side, to the wafer thin venison carpaccio, forethought, salt and time could be a masterful way to approach this lucrative time in the calendar.