Food: Christmas Lunch hints and tips
26 December, 2021, 1:50 pm
GROWING up in Australia, I would always look forward to Christmas Day lunch. In our household, our extended family would come from afar — one of the few times we get to see how grey the oldies are getting and how fast the little ones have grown. It is also a day we overindulge in so much food that there are leftovers to last the week.
For many family and friends who come together at this time of year, enjoying food together is an expression of love.
And for those of us who choose to cook or bring food for others on Christmas Day, it is an act of selfless devotion to those we love.
My mum and dad would spend days preparing a huge feast of roast turkey stuffed with chestnuts and dates, an apricot jam-glazed leg of ham, sweet and sour pork ribs and parcels of pastries fi lled with minced meats.
One uncle would drive three hours from his seaside country town each Christmas with Jurassic-sized prawns and lobsters to enjoy with cocktail sauce, while another uncle would stop at the local Chinese barbecue restaurant to pick up two of my favourites; roast duck and crispy skin roast pork.
It was always the women in our family who graced the table with lavish desserts. My aunt’s perfectly high pavlova was always a highlight with fresh cream, mountains of berries, kiwi fruit and strawberries.
My sister, a pastry chef, would spend late nights at home baking cakes and cookies.
But it was always my mum’s Christmas pudding that was the happy ending to a huge feast. Her steamed pudding would soak for weeks in brandy, and in the old days, she used to hide coins inside for us kids to fi nd– until we realised that it wasn’t a very hygienic or safe thing to do!
Adding a festive touch
No matter what religion you follow, Christmas is a time that most of the family can come together and food is the excuse. Every family has their favourite dishes to serve at Christmas lunch.
Many Indian families will be enjoying mum’s jungly chicken curry with dhal roti, or dad’s famous goat palau with homemade pickles and chutney.
I’ve been to a few villages on Christmas Day and enjoyed a feast of lovo pork and palusami. I especially love lovo-smoked palusami, made with young leaves and fresh lolo, mixed with rendered pork fat and crackling.
Not exactly good for the arteries, but boy, it is a joy to enjoy just once a year! Using the colours of Christmas — red, green and white—can also spruce up your dishes and give them a festive touch.
We have plenty of local fruits and vegetables to create Christmas colours including tomato, spring onions, moca, ota, white onions, cabbage, capsicum and dhaniya.
Don’t get sick
What you serve at Christmas lunch can play a huge role in creating memories, reinforcing family ties and forging new friendships; so, don’t spoil it with contaminated food.
What many Fijians call a running stomach is food poisoning. Christmas Day can create lots of leftover food, which is great to enjoy at dinner or another day, but make sure it is stored properly. Food bacteria, or germs, grow and multiply in warm food over some time.
It is these invisible bugs that we eat that turn our tummies into a bacterial factory that has us running for the bathroom.
So here are some basic food preparation rules that are used in commercial kitchens to help avoid spoiling today’s Christmas celebrations.
The 2/4 rule means that once the food is cooked and left out at room temperature, you have hours to either re-heat it or put it back into the fridge for later use. But after four hours, this is when bacteria begin to multiply, and food should be consumed immediately or given to your animals.
Some of the worse dangerous foods are cooked eggs, chicken, pork and rice, which are highly susceptible and perfect environments for bacteria to grow.
You can’t see them, but rest assured, in our tropical climate, they are multiplying by the thousands. To prevent them from growing, food should always be stored at either below five degrees Celsius or kept hot at more than 60 degrees Celsius. Temperatures between four and 60 degrees Celsius are called the danger zone.
So before you eat that leftover curry or lovo chicken that has been sitting out for more than four hours, be prepared for your tummy to do a battle with bacteria.
Despite that leftover food tasting the same as if it was cooked fresh, the six-eight hour digestion period is how long it takes for the bacteria to travel from your mouth through your gastrointestinal tract to your stomach, where an epic battle of the germs will begin.
So the next time you find yourself running to the bathroom, calculate what you ate six-eight hours earlier and you’ll quickly discover where the food poisoning came from!
What to do with leftover food
Now that I’ve explained how food bacteria grows, the priority after any party is to get any leftover food back into the fridge or keep it hot over a stove or BBQ.
Stripping leftover meats is a quick way to get rid of the bones and keep the meat for salads or soups. Just prepare some salad ingredients like lettuce or cabbage, then combine the meat and vegetables with your favourite dressing or mayonnaise, and presto, you have a new dish. If you have steamed rice leftover then do what the Chinese do; refrigerate it for fried rice.
Once the rice is cold, separate the rice grains with your clean or gloved hands to make it easier to cook and prevent lumps. With whatever meats, seafood or vegetables you have left, fry this with the rice, eggs, some oyster sauce and light soy sauce to create an instant meal for later in the day or night.
Lovo meats and root crops can be turned into delicious stews. Just start a pot off with fried onions, ginger and garlic, add into the chopped meats and root crops with any other vegetables and herbs you have, and add some sort of liquids like coconut bu water, leftover beer, wine, tomato sauce, oyster sauce, soy sauce – just make it up!
The root crops will help thicken this Christmas lovo stew surprise, which will not only use up excess food but give the family something different to enjoy after the big party.
Stay safe, eat well and don’t forget to walk off your big Christmas meal. Merry Christmas!
Lance Seeto is the host of FBC-TV’s “Exotic Delights” and owner of KANU Restaurant in Nadi.