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BRENT PINHEIRO
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We all know that nothing beats a Trini Christmas, a fact that has been immortalised in Susan Daniel-Maicoo’s “Trini Christmas is d best” parang. [Sidebar: I hope she and the Venezuelan mister from Margarita are somewhere living their best life.]

Anyway, Christmas is literally right around the corner so, if you’re looking for some ideas on how to upgrade Christmas lunch, I’ve got you!

I spoke to several pros for this piece and here’s what they had to say.

Sweeten your sorrel with simple syrup

Photo: Baidawi Assing | EatAhFood.com

Sorrel is synonymous with Christmas…point, blank, periodt! But instead of boiling the sorrel and adding sugar afterwards, Chef Ben of Quan Kep’s Pork Shed says you should use simple syrup instead to sweeten your sorrel. It’s super easy too, here’s how to do it:

Step 1: Bring equal parts water and sugar to a rolling boil. 

Step 2: Add spices – think orange peel, a couple of pieces of star anise, and a tablespoon of grated ginger along with your regular cinnamon and cloves. 

Step 3: Wait for a few minutes until it becomes ‘thick’ and then take it off the heat. 

Step 4: Strain and mix into the boiled sorrel. Add some Angostura bitters and serve chilled.

PRO TIP: Want to amp up the flavour and colour? Use black sorrel instead of red sorrel.

Make your own Ginger beer… literally.

Photo: Baidawi Assing | EatAhFood.com

Sticking with the simple syrup theme for just a little bit longer, here’s one for ginger beer. Baidawi Assing, content creator at eatahfoodtt.com (and self-proclaimed bay leaf & roucou ambassador) shared a neat trick for making a flavourful ginger beer using simple syrup. Here’s how:

Step 1: Bring equal parts water and white sugar along with some grated ginger (about a 2-inch piece is fine but feel free to adjust the amount of ginger based on your liking) up to a rolling boil. 

Step 2: Once the sugar crystals have dissolved, turn off the heat and let it cool. 

Step 3: Strain and add about a shot glass of the syrup to any cold beer you have on hand and, voila… ginger beer! 

The great thing is that you can use non-alcoholic beer for this recipe to make it family friendly or, mix it with club soda for ginger ale. If you need visuals for this, the recipe is here

PRO TIP: Baidawi says you should feel free to experiment with other flavour combos – a combination of black sorrel, clove, cinnamon and ginger boiled in the syrup and then added to beer makes for a wicked sorrel shandy.  

Brine your Turkey

Photo by Monstera from Pexels

Full disclosure: I’m a vegetarian so I won’t be trying this one, but turkey is a good alternative to pork. It does have a reputation for being dry though, so to avoid that Chef Ben says you should brine your bird for at least 24 hours. This ensures it is succulent and flavourful when roasted, #dryturkeyNOTHING. Here’s a guide for a 10-12lb bird:

Step 1: Bring 3 cups water to a boil, and then add 3/4 cup sugar and 1/4 cup salt. Go crazy with aromatics – garlic, onion, citrus, and rosemary make a nice mix. Throw in a couple of bay leaves, two sticks of cinnamon, and thank her later. 

Step 2: Once boiling, remove from the stove and add four more cups of water. 

Step 3: Submerge the bird in the liquid and refrigerate overnight, or two days if possible. 

Step 4: When you’re ready to roast, remove from the brine and pat dry. Season with additional spices and put little pieces of butter under the skin. 

Step 5: Roast at 350°F (180°C) until the internal temperature reads 165°F (74°C), then remove from the oven and allow to rest for at least 20-30 mins before carving.

PRO TIP: Total cooking time depends on the size of the bird. Smaller birds will cook faster so, allow for about 12 minutes per pound for an unstuffed turkey. If the temperature is too high, the proteins in the meat start to tighten, squeezing out moisture and leaving the meat drier.

Glaze that Ham

Photo courtesy Ben QK

When Marcia Miranda sang ‘bring dong d ham’ … did you feel that? Good, because ham is life! There’s just something about the smell of ham baking with pineapple and cloves that screams Christmas.  

Some people tend to just unwrap their hams, stick some cloves in, and put it to bake. Those people, dear reader, are what we call savages. Don’t be like them… upgrade your ham life with some glaze! It adds sweetness to the already savoury ham. Making a glaze is super easy too! Here’s how Chef Ben does it:  

Step 1: Combine 1/2 cup of honey with 1 teaspoon of cinnamon, 1/4 cup of brown sugar, and 1/4 cup of orange juice. 

Step 2: Heat on the stove until the sugar melts and everything is combined.

Step 3: During the last 30 mins of baking your ham, remove the foil and brush on the glaze every 10 minutes. That’s three glazings!

Step 4: When the ham is done, hit it one more time with the remaining glaze. Let it sit for about 15 minutes to allow the juices to redistribute. Don’t cut into the ham while it’s hot!

PRO TIP: If you want a crispy crust, turn the oven to the broil setting in the last 3-5 mins of cooking time to get a dark outer layer while keeping the meat inside juicy.

Think fishy thoughts!

With ham, chicken, and turkey (to a lesser extent) available everywhere you turn, it’s easy to forget fish is an option. But, Chef Attala Maharaj, Owner of Sails Restaurant and Pub and the Salty Dog Restaurant, says stuffed whole fish can make a great addition to your spread. It may look intimidating but, with the help of your local fisherfolk, you’ll be baking up an Instagram-worthy masterpiece in no time. Chef Attala says the trick to great seafood is simplicity so, here’s how to make a simple roast fish:

Step 1: Look for a fresh whole fish suitable for baking e.g. snapper and grouper, and ask your fish vendor to debone it for you. You want your fish to be around 5lbs – if it’s too small it will dry out, but if it’s too large then it doesn’t cook evenly. 

Step 2: Season your fish. There is no need to over-season here – fresh green seasoning (chadon beni, chive and parsley), garlic, ginger, salt and black pepper are the basics that work well with and elevate almost all types of seafood.

Step 3: Prepare your stuffing separately – this can range from mixed vegetables such as ochroes, tomatoes, onions, sweet peppers, etc. to a medley of chopped seafood such as shrimp, crabmeat and fish. Stuff your fish generously, including little cubes of butter.

Step 4: Cover with aluminium foil and bake for 45 mins at 350°F (180°C). Then, remove the foil and continue baking for an additional 10 mins. 

Step 5: When finished, remove and garnish generously with melted butter, lemon wedges, chopped parsley, and dill. Serve to a chorus of oooohs and ahhhhs. 

PRO TIP: There are two popular ways to prepare fish for stuffing – butterflied and canoe. Butterflied means laying the fish on its side, while the canoe allows the fish to sit on its belly and be stuffed (like a canoe).

Be safe, avoid having large gatherings and please don’t put the COVID in Christmas. You’ll end up on Uncle Terry’s naughty list!