Christmas dinner on the Island of course isn’t all about turkey; it can be as diverse as traditional fare that includes ye olde roast goose and figgy pudding, or it can be as locavoric as Island-grown or caught veggies and fish. It can be heavy enough to coat us against winter’s chill or light enough to maintain our healthy diet. It can be passed down from great grandma or freshly discovered in a Cathy Walthers cookbook. It can be a huge affair with friends, family, and beyond, or an intimate dinner for two. We asked a few of our favorite chefs what they’ve dined on for Christmases past. They’re all good enough to tide you over for any cold winter night.
Jean Dupon’s Shrimp in Pernod
Jean Dupon of Le Grenier on Main Street in Vineyard Haven provides a quick and elegant main dish for two, combining the gifts of the sea with Pernod, an herby, anise-flavored liqueur. Mr. Dupon, who runs the oldest chef-owned restaurant on the Island (35 years), describes the recipe: “It’s a little different from the traditional. It’s very delicate, but very easy to make.” It can also be doubled, tripled, or infinitized to accommodate more people.
Shrimp in Pernod
16–20 uncooked shrimp
2 chopped shallots
1 tsp. anise seeds
Juice of 1/2 lemon
2 oz. Pernod
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup heavy cream
Gently and quickly sauté shrimp, shallots, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and anise seeds in a small amount of oil or clarified butter. Flame with Pernod. When the flames die out, add the heavy cream. Reduce over low heat until large bubbles form. Watch carefully. If the recipe reduces too much the cream will break down. If this happens, remove from the heat and add a little bit of cream, stirring until it recombines. Taste and adjust seasonings if desired. Serve hot over rice, linguini, or pasta of your choice.
Daniel Finger’s Oyster Stew, and Apple Butter
Daniel Finger, who creates delicious comfort foods at Doug Smith’s Lucky Hanks (Upper Main in Edgartown), provided the recipe for a hearty main course stew and, for generously smearing on biscuits, apple butter that he describes as “more of a sweet spiced apple pectin paste.”
The first, he tells us, is a dish his grandmother, Marguerite Loucks Dye, used to make on Christmas Eve. “I have made some slight modifications,” he says, “but I give her all the credit.”
Oyster Stew (serves 3 to 5)
1 acorn squash
1 large shallot
2 cloves garlic
1/2 bottle white wine
1-2 cups water
1 pint (2 cups) cream, half and half or whole milk (depending on how rich you want your stew) 2-3 sprigs fresh thyme
2-3 fresh bay leaf
1/2 tsp. fresh ground nutmeg
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. fresh ground pepper
Splash of sherry (optional)
Peel, core, and dice acorn squash, about 1/2 inch pieces. Finely chop garlic and shallot. Shuck oysters over a bowl with cheesecloth or mesh strainer to catch and filter oyster liquids (or buy 1-2 jars “fresh shucked oysters in liquid” at grocery store — do not use canned oysters!).
In a medium-large pot, sauté garlic and shallot over med-high heat with a little bit of the butter. Add diced acorn squash when garlic starts to brown, mix for one minute with a wooden spoon, then add white wine. Add thyme and bay leafs.
Cook the white wine down with herbs for a few minutes to burn off the alcohol. Add the rest of the butter, melt, then stir in the cream. Once the liquid mixture comes to a simmer, stir in oyster liquids and 1 cup of the water, then season with salt, nutmeg, and pepper. Let stand for a few minutes, then blend either with an immersion blender or in a stand-up blender. Taste, and add more water if necessary.
Place uncooked, shucked oysters in soup bowls, 1-2 per person. Ladle hot soup over oysters. Add a splash of sherry and garnish with a little chopped chives or scallion. Serve with hot crusty bread
The apple butter recipe, according to Daniel, will keep for months (“or even years!”) if properly sealed in mason jars.
Apple Butter (Makes more than 1 quart)
15-20 apples (preferably Macintosh or Granny Smith)
1 cup sugar
1 stick cinnamon
1 gallon water
1 pinch salt
1/2 tsp. each of ground cinnamon, allspice, and clove.
1 tsp. lemon juice
Peel and core apples and cut into quarters. Bring 1 gallon water to simmer, add apples, simmer/boil 10-12 minutes, or until apple pieces start to fall apart and are tender. Strain cooked apple pieces and pulp from water. Put apple pulp in a blender and blend until smooth (it will look a little like applesauce). Pour “applesauce” into pot, stir in sugar, spices, lemon juice. Allow mix to simmer on low-medium heat, stirring occasionally, until it starts to turn brown and a skin starts to form on top between stirs (between 30 minutes and one+ hour). When it turns brown and gets thick, the pectin is fully activated and when cooled, will turn gelatinous. At the point when it’s hot, thick and ready, pour into clean mason jars and seal, or store in any sort of plastic container.
Peter Smyth’s Creme Caramel
Peter Smyth, chef and owner of Slice of Life on 50 Circuit Avenue in Oak Bluffs, has been cooking there for 10 years. He and his wife, Jen, have recently opened Pear Tree Pastries and Provisions at 55 Circuit Avenue. His recipe for Crème Caramel is a family favorite for birthdays and Christmas and, he says, a big hit with the elder ladies of the family. “I made [it] for my grandmother and later found out my mother-in-law shared the same appreciation for this.”
4 egg yolks
2 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup of light cream
1 Tbs. of vanilla
Slight pinch of salt
2 cups water
1 cup of sugar
4 ovenproof ramekins
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Combine water and sugar in saucepan and boil until golden brown and thickened (be careful it will go from golden brown to dark quickly and is very hot). Pull off stove and evenly pour in ramekins. Combine egg yolks and sugar and beat well. Add the rest of the ingredients and strain through a fine colander. Pour evenly into ramekins. Place in a baking pan that will allow you to fill water 1/2 up the sides (do not put water in yet). Pull oven rack out slightly and place dish in middle and carefully pour water in without splashing. Bake for about 30 minutes or until you gently shake the pan and it’s almost set. Gently remove from the oven and let cool. Refrigerate at least 4 hours. Gently run a small paring knife around edges and invert onto a small plate.