A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Chef Foster: Get ready for feast akin to Cratchit’s, enjoy the celebration with family and friends

It probably started long before Ebenezer Scrooge sent the boy around to “the poulterer’s” to fetch the big tom in the window at the end of A Christmas Carol. Maybe as far back as the first Christmas, or maybe the first celebration of food and Christmas.

I’m talking of course about Christmas dinner, the penultimate familial celebration of the season, sometimes referred to as a bacchanalia for its opulence and bounty.

Bob Cratchit’s family, certainly was not well off, but this day, this meal, was the one opportunity after a year of sacrifice, to celebrate family in the richest way possible.

During the visit with Scrooge, and the Ghost of Christmas Present we observe the Cratchits eating a roasted goose, but after a night of transformation it’s Scrooge who upgrades the menu and lays on the trappings of a real feast.

I can honestly say that I’ve never had a feast quite like that. Our family celebrated well, but I also have a sibling with a birthday the next day. So rather than gorging on one day, we split the feasts into two. It’s still a fair amount of food and fun, just prolonged a bit.

For the countries and people who celebrate Christmas there is a certain urge to go all out this time of year. Some people will scrimp and save all year while others have the capabilities to raise the bar to even higher levels.

What’s important though, and the aspect that even Dickens hit on, is inclusiveness. Scrooge is shown again and again where he might have made a difference in his life or that of another if he had only joined in.

That thought is crystallized forever by the last two ghostly visits, and personalized by the descriptions of the family gatherings, complete with the foods laid out on the tables and the warmth emanating from the shared feast. 

Reading A Christmas Carol from this point of view, gives it a richer and more approachable context even to the modern audience, because who doesn’t like a good get-together around the holidays.

It may start with Thanksgiving, but it certainly peaks with Christmas. 

Those of us, of a certain age will remember watching The Homecoming, A Christmas Story, which chronicled the Walton Family of 70’s television fame. The reason I bring it up is to reinforce the notion that rich or poor the focus on family and food, especially at this time of year is part of the fabric of our celebration.

My family generally opted for turkey, an occasional ham, or in conjunction with my sister’s birthday, a crown roast of beef.

From Disney’s A Christmas Carol animation

This was the 60’s, 70’s and a bit of the 80’s as the kids grew, moved on to college and other lives, and then started to bring their own kids back. A big chunk of meat was necessary to feed all those people, and there was rarely anything left to snack on. No one went hungry. There were roasted potatoes and vegetables, rolls and butter, gravy and stuffing if there was a bird involved. One dinner stood out among all the others and that was roast leg of lamb. It was a rarity to be sure, I can’t remember much lamb at all growing up. But true to form, my mother wanted something different and she did her homework. Roast leg of lamb, bone in, with garlic and herbs, roasted potatoes and gravy.

I still cannot make a leg of lamb as good as that one, and she never made much lamb after that. We all ate it, probably not with the same relish as I did, but aside from its inherent deliciousness, it was also the novelty of it all.

To be fair we had a try at goose as well, not to my liking as it was fatty and tough.

Looking back now that failure was probably operator error, as that was the first and only goose I think any of us had eaten. If I was cooking it now, I would probably brine it, rub it down under the skin with winter herbs like sage and savory, render all the excess fat by roasting it ever so slowly, (hours at 200-250) and then finishing in a hot oven for the final 30-40 minutes. Baste repeatedly, to achieve a golden crust and at the end the skin should crackle.

If you accomplish all this your goose will be nothing like the one I had so long ago on Christmas, and probably the equal to the one the Cratchits had in that redemptive story of family and feasting.
  
Roast leg of lamb

First the selection of the roast is important. If you feel comfortable carving a bone in roast, it is by far the most flavorful of the choices. If you get a boneless roast, make sure that there is a netting around it that you can take off and then put back on so that the roast keeps it shape.

Make sure you have a fat cap on the roast. That will help to tenderize the meat as it cooks, flavor the meat, and keep it moist. If roasted correctly the fat cap should be crisp and golden when the internal temperature reaches 145 F. 

Bone-in requires that you make small slits in the leg to place garlic cloves around the roast, rub it down with salt and pepper, rosemary and thyme and then wrap the leg for up to 24 hours.

For the boneless roast you can also rub the inside of the roast in the same manner. Do not leave this for 24 hours or it might be overwhelming. Roast at 325 F until the internal temperature is at 145 F or medium rare. Rest covered for 15-20 minutes and the temperature will rise about 10 degrees to a perfect medium.

If you’re serving it with a gravy, treat it like a turkey gravy and remove all the fat from the roasting pan. Add flour to form the roux, stock or water for flavor and whisk until smooth.

If you want roast potatoes, and you will, pick a small Yukon gold and blanch it skin on. Add it to the roasting pan about a half hour before the finish and turn them occasionally, you won’t regret the extra work, these potatoes will be amazing!

John Foster is an executive chef who heads the culinary program at Sullivan University’s Lexington campus. A New York native, Foster has been active in the Lexington culinary scene and a promoter of local and seasonal foods for more than 20 years. The French Culinary Institute-trained chef has been the executive chef of his former restaurant, Harvest, and now his Chevy Chase eatery, The Sage Rabbit.

To read more from Chef John Foster, including his recipes, click here. 

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