|SN: Listen to the words. [sings with the carolers] Call up the butler of this house, put on his golden ring. Let him bring us a glass of beer, and the better we shall sing||
Call up the butler of this house,
AB: Butler? I don't have a butler.
|SN: [laughing, continues to sing] Bring us out a table and spread it with a cloth. Bring us out a moldy cheese, and some of your Christmas loaf.||
Bring us out a table and spread
AB: Moldy cheese. That's impossible. I've never had moldy cheese in this house. You know that.
|SN: Here's the kicker. [singing] We have a little purse made of ratching leather skin. Give us some of your small change to line it well within||
We have a little purse made of ratching leather skin;
AB: So, beggars. Just as I thought. Well, beggars get the hose!
SN: Fine, fine. But remember, they have centuries of tradition behind them where they have certain unwritten, inalienable rights.
C: ... and God send you a Happy New Year ... [carolers booing and jeering]
SN: They could just barge right in here and wake the bats.
C: [pounding apparently on the roof]
AB: Little reindeer hooves?
SN: Grappling hooks.
AB: Grappling hooks? You're Santa Claus. Do something!
|SN: [begins laughing hysterically] Technically, I'm Saint Nicholas, the bishop of Myra on the southern coast of Asia minor, modern-day Turkey, patron saint of sailors, archers and children of all ages.||
Patron Saint of:
AB: Well, that's a very interesting client list.
But whatever happened to the
sleigh and big bag of loot and all of that?
SN: Oh, Dutch marketers came up with that angle. "Sinterklaas" they called me. Heh. You know, up until about 150 years ago, Christmas celebrations were really an opportunity for some wild and crazy times.
AB: Wild and crazy?
SN: Those were the days.
AB: Well, whatever happened to the manger, the star, wise men, shepherds?
SN: Oh, what I'm talking about way predates Christ. It was a winter solstice festival dating back to the Roman saturnalia, the Persian Mithra festival or the Babylonian Sacaea. The church tried to shut it down for centuries. Cromwell and his cronies actually outlawed Christmas at one point in England. Governor Bradford did the same thing in Plymouth in 1659. Copycat. Puritans don't like fun. But the people wouldn't have it. So the church finally decided that Christ was born on December 25th. Fabulous P.R.
AB: So, so what is it that they actually want?
SN: Can't you hear them, Virginia? "Here we come a-wassailin'." They want wassail, and they mean to get it from you.
AB: Well, I'm, I'm, I'm all out. You know, I meant to get by ... Wassail Barn ... this afternoon. But you know hectic things get during the holidays.
[a fire flares up outside window]
AB: Wait a second? What is that? What is that? What are they doing? What is
SN: Bonfire. Standard procedure.
AB: Are you serious?
SN: Well, ...
SN: ... I'd get on that wassail if I were you.
AB: Well, how! I don't know what wassail is! What is it?
SN: Well, it comes from the Old Norse ves heill, which became wes hal in Old English.
SN: It means "be in good health." Yes, and it means a drink, a strong drink.
AB: Oh, you mean like punch.
SN: Yes, well. Have you ever heard of mulled wine?
AB: Oh, I've heard of mulled wine.
SN: Well, it's the, generally speaking, the same thing, only it's wine and ale and apples.
AB: Apples? Why apples?
SN: Oh, that's an important symbol to the solstice. Later on they're going to go out and wire some apples to the tree and dance around it. It's quite a sight. [laughs] Oh! And really good versions of wassail have eggs, too. You know, eggs are symbolic of fertility and creation and all that.
AB: Yeah, I get it.
SN: Here, I've got something for you. That's a little recipe I lifted from a Lord's kitchen just this very morning. Well, I've got to go. [clears throat] Stay on your toes, soldier.
SN: Keep frosty. Watch those corners.
AB: I can't really read this. You call this a recipe? Hey. Hey. Hey, hey, hey, wait a minute. This isn't even a grocery list. Oh. [growls] Oh, bother.
[voiceover] When Twas the Night before Good Eats returns, there'll be wassail for everyone, a visit from a beloved dead author, a foolproof roast duck, American oyster dressing, a hungry pack of Cratchits and one very troubling fairy.
Christmas didn't become a [Federal] holiday in America until 1870.
[sighs] This wassail "recipe" is completely whacked. I'm going to have to adapt. Oh, hey. How do you like the acrylic menu holder? I got it for about a dollar at the local restaurant supply. It's good for keeping recipes out of harm's way but in clear view. You can even use a dry erase marker on it.
|All right, back to business. It says to bake a dozen apples. All right. Well, no temperature reference. But in old English recipes, typically if it was a hot oven, it would say "roast." So "bake" must be a medium oven, right? So we'll just go with our standard 350 degrees.||
All right, next I need ...
AB: [oven beeps while AB sets it, to oven] All right.
a dozen apples. Oh, wait. Southern England. Those would be crab apples. Ooh, I
[laying on floor at a root cellar opening] Ah, let's see here. [claps lights on] Oh, ah. That's better. Now crab apples, of course, are a very, very small, extremely tart member of the apple family, highly prized by folks who make preserves, chutney, cider and the like. But since they're not really out-of hand apples, they're not very popular here in the United States. When I can find them, which isn't very often, I store them inside just a little cardboard egg crate. Why? Because it keeps them from touching each other, which is really key to making apples keep a very, very long time.
Now since, I'm not going to usually be able to find these, instead we are going to use six Fuji apples. Now I also store these guys so that they don't touch each other, wrapped in just a little bit of newspaper. That allows the ethylene gas that they give off to, you know, kind of dissipate, very, very easily. What's really important, however, if you want to store your apples for, say, months instead of weeks, is that you make sure that every apple in your batch is completely bruise-free. Bruises generate a huge amount of ethylene gas, and that basically signals the rest of the barrel to go bad. Which means that that old adage is actually 100% true. [claps lights off]
|[back at counter] Now to remove the cores, I just go with a standard apple corer, one that makes it easy to get the cores out. Dive right in, twisting, and you should have a nice, clean hole like that. No mystery there. However, this part's a little bit of a trick. I want to fill these with brown sugar, and that can be messy. So I just like to use a funnel. Stick it into the hole. Pour in some brown sugar, and then tamp it in with chopsticks, Kind of like loading a musket. It keeps things nice and neat.||
6 Small Fuji Apples, Cored
1 Cup Brown Sugar
|All right, the apples go in [the oven] and we'll add a cup of water to provide some moisture. That'll help them to soften. Now we're to cook these until they are tender. The recipe, ah, doesn't give any time at all. So we're going to go with 45 minutes. And that'll give us time to deal with the alcohol. I hope.||1 Cup Water|
[AB looking out window, groans] All right. This base is supposed to cook and be held on the hearth, which means relatively low heat. Which means we could also go with a nice, big, electric, crock-style slow cooker. Now this will let us steep and extract the spices without burning the spirits to come. Let's go shopping.
[at the spice cabinet] Clearly, this document was pilfered from a household with means, because it calls for quite a few spices. Now keep in mind, when this was written, England had not yet taken over the entire planet. So they still looked upon spices from the middle and Far East as precious commodities, perfectly suited to special dishes like this whole wassail business. They wouldn't have just dumped all this in. They wouldn't want to waste the spices. They'd save them for use in another dish, like, say, plum pudding, ancestor of the dread fruitcake.
|Now to make retrieval in these situations easy, I've come to rely on these little reusable muslin bags, kind of like tea bags. I buy these off the internet, have them delivered directly to my door, in fact. Now in this case, we will fill with ten cloves, ten allspice berries and one two-inch stick of cinnamon, okay? We will also need some ground spices added directly to the brew, including ground ginger, very rare back then, and nutmeg, which I always keep in my pocket.||
10 Whole Allspice Berries
1 (2-Inch) Stick Cinnamon
[at liquor cabinet] Next up, a bottle of Madeira wine. Now Madeira refers to the
wines of the Madeira islands located well off of the west coast of north
Africa. They belong to Portugal. Now, it used to be a favorite
stopping-off point for ships needing to resupply as they journeyed off across
the western oceans during the age of discovery. Because of that, the wines
of the area became very, very popular in England. Which, of course, owned most
of those ships and couldn't get wine from France because they were always at
war with them.
Madeira is special, because, like a port or a Marsala, it's a fortified wine, meaning that it's had spirits added to it to keep it from going bad during those long, hot voyages to the new world. That gives Madeira a very distinct flavor and not a small amount of sweetness.
[at root cellar; claps lights on] Now to the ale. Ale, of course, in this case means English ale, a top-fermented beer. And I also tend to keep these bottles stored down in the old root reach-in, because I don't like this beer really, really cold. Cold crushes the, the complex aromatic properties here. Now the application calls for three and a half pints. But that would have been the old pints, which were four gills. So we're talking about ...
with a calculator]
AB: Oh, thank you, Thing.
Yes, 72 of our ounces. Which, that means, whoo, a six-pack. How amazingly convenient. [claps lights off]
|So crank up your crock pot to either low or medium, if you have that setting. Add the spice bag with the cloves, berries and cinnamon. Toss in a teaspoon of ground ginger and a teaspoon of ground nutmeg. There you go. Then the Madeira. 750 milliliters—that's one bottle—and all of the ale, 72 ounces. Cover and bring to 120 degrees.||
1 tsp. Each Ground Ginger &
|[at refrigerator] Finally, this wassail like possets, nogs, and many other hot English tipples, calls for eggs. Six, in fact. And their introduction into this brew is going to be the tricky part seeing' as how there are no instructions or anything.||6 Eggs|
Now possets usually call for separated eggs.
And since I don't
have anything else to go on, that's the way I'm going to go here. So I like to
separate eggs into a small bowl. That way I can make sure that the whites are
not contaminated with any egg yolk before moving them off into the larger batch.
This looks fine, so yolk goes on one side, and the whites go into the other.
Once I've got all the whites done, let's whip. I'm going to take these up to a stiff peak. No further or we'll end up with big lumps in the beverage. This will probably take about eight to ten minutes, depending on your mixer. That looks very good. Then we'll move to the yolks. I want to take those, basically, to a ribbon state where they're slightly lighter in color and thicker in consistency. Then I'm just going to work the white foam into the egg yolks as quickly as I can. It takes two to three batches. Ordinarily I'd fold if it were a soufflé, but here I want smoothness, so I'm going with the mixer.
Now we temper. Slowly raise the temperature of the eggs, so that they won't curdle, by about, say, adding three ladlefuls—six-ounce ladles—of the hot liquid to the eggs. There. Now we're going to remove the little satchel of spices and then transfer the warm egg foam into the punch or the wassail. There we go.
|[at oven] Okay apples look good. Apples feel good, so ... [glass shatters as a rock is thrown through the window] Yikes! We have got to go.||
[note tied to the rock]
The apples typically float on top of the wassail, but,
they're sinking. But I don't care. Just get 'em in there. Oh, and let's not
waste that liquid either. That's got some apple goodness in it. Great. Now let's
serve this thing and save our home.
[voice over] When 'Twas the Night before Good Eats returns, the ghost of Charles Dickens goes shopping.
Wassail was also known as
Lamb's Wool, describing
the foam from heated ale, egg & apple pulp.
GUEST: Charles Dickens
AB: [to carolers] Okay, you guys have a great holiday. Now don't forget to go by
my neighbor's house. His name's McGregor, great old man. He'll have plenty of
coins for your little purse-y things there.
SN: Well, you got yourself out of that.
SN: And, ho ho! Hmm. [takes the last drink of wassail]
AB: Hey, that's for me! [groans]
SN: [smacks lips] You'll be much too busy for that.
SN: Hmm, not bad. Well, must be off. Church business, sailors and archers and children to watch out for. Besides, you have a visitor waiting as we speak.
SN: Cheery bye. Mmm.
AB: [closes door and returns to kitchen]
CHARLES DICKENS: [floating up in the air reading "Traditional Cooking Wisdom"] I had hoped you'd be better read. [slams the book shut] Crap.
AB: I'm sorry. Are you another spirit or a levitating, really rude home invader?
CD: [pulls out another book, The Book of Culinary Bedtime Stories and scans it] Consider me the ghost of Christmas fowl ... as in birds. And I must say, I'm sorely vexed at your suggestion that the groaning board would be better served sans goose. [slams the book shut] Crap.
AB: Groaning board? You've been reading too much Dickens.
CD: Ah, you know my work. [pulls out Forgotten Food Folklore]
AB: I'm, I'm, I'm sorry. You're Charles Dickens?
CD: [slams the book shut] Crap. The same. The ghost is a part-time gig.
AB: I'm going to quit taking sinus medicine and eating Chinese takeout. All right, I'm going to go with it. What's with the goose?
CD: [quoting from A Christmas Carol]
"There never was such a goose. Bob said he didn't believe there ever was such a goose cooked. It's tenderness and flavor, size and cheapness were themes of universal admiration. Eked out by applesauce and mashed potatoes, it was a sufficient dinner for the whole family. Indeed, as Miss Cratchit said with great delight, surveying one small atom of a bone upon the dish, they hadn't ate it all at last! And yet everyone had had enough, and the youngest Cratchits in particular were steeped with sage and onion to the eyebrows."
AB: It's A Christmas Carol. Some folks say that you actually invented our
modern notions of Christmas. [noting how he's floating around] How do you do that?
CD: [at refrigerator] Ironically, a lesser work, if you must know. Wrote it in a couple of weeks to cover the bills from Mrs. Dickens's fifth pregnancy. Ooh! Strawberries in winter. Fascinating. Anyway, "A Christmas Carol," not up to my usual standards, but it's the one everyone loves. Made it into a motion picture, you know.
AB: Yeah, with the Muppets. I remember. So what's this about the goose?
CD: Well, turkey would have been far too extravagant for common folk. Besides, Mrs. Cratchit would certainly have been a member of a goose club.
AB: Goose club? What's that?
CD: [now at the oven] She would have paid in her pennies all year round to be ensured a goose come Christmas Eve, as well as a spot in the baker's oven.
AB: Oh, sure, of course. With only a fireplace to cook in, she wouldn't be able to roast a goose unless she had a spit or something.
CD: Indeed. Now come with it, sir. What have you against a good goose?
AB: I don't have any ...
CD: Besides being wholly delicious, the goose is a symbolic continuation of Celtic Samhain and German Yule ceremonies among others.
AB: I ...
CD: Ritually devoured, the goose was thought to magically ensure the regeneration of winter into spring. And as a practical note, the goose with its size is perfectly suited to the family table.
AB: That's fine ...
CD: I want you to protect my legacy by bringing it back.
AB: You don't understand, Mr. Dickens. This is America, okay? Goose rides behind Maverick. [ed note: a Top Gun movie reference] Of course until the accident. You know, flat spin, F-14. Very difficult to recover from.
CD: You babbling man.
AB: Well ...
CD: You mean to tell me in this age of wonders where you can purchase strawberries in winter there are no meat markets?
AB: Yes. We have meat markets. Huge meat markets. Open all night even.
CD: [pulls out a small pen and speaks into it] Two to beam up.
AB: Oh, you got to be kidding.
BEEF TENDERLOIN $3.99 lb BONELESS CHUCK ROAST $3.29 lb RIBEYE STEAK $7.69 lb FILET MIGNON $9.99 lb FLAT IRON STEAK $3.99 lb GROUND CHUCK $2.59 lb TOP SIRLOIN $3.99 lb BEEF CUBED STEAK $3.49 lb BOTTOM ROUND ROAST $2.99 lb GROUND CHUCK PATTIES $2.69 lb BEEF SHORT RIBS $3.99 lb
SKINLESS CHICKEN BREASTS $1.99 lb MARINATED CHICKEN BREASTS $2.99 lb CHICKEN THIGHS $1.99 lb CHICKEN DRUMSTICKS $1.09 lb WHOLE CHICKEN $1.29 lb CENTER CUT PORK CHOPS $3.29 lb MIXED PORK CHOPS $1.99 lb PORK TENDERLOIN $3.99 lb BABY BACK RIBS $3.89 lb SPARE RIBS $1.99 lb CENTER CUB BACON $3.49 lb
[House, the butcher is asleep with his head on the meat case]
AB: Not a creature was stirring, not even a moose.
AB: Food joke. Never mind.
CD: [clears throat] My good man. [clears throat and knocks on counter] My good man!
HOUSE: Welcome to meat town. How can I help you?
CD: What is your name, sir?
CD: Mr. House, we would like to see your Christmas fowl.
CD: And it better be well-hung. That's key, you know.
H: I don't know what you guys are after, but I got what's in the case.
AB: Ah, the case.
CD: Hmm. These lumps?! This isn't poultry! Th-they're lumps!
AB: Yes, it is.
CD: They're lumps! Lumps, lumps, lumps!
AB: Yes, It's ... They're poultry. That's how we do it. We slaughter it. We dress it. We pluck it. We clean it. We wrap it in plastic.
CD: [inhales sharply] Where are the geese?
H: This is America, buddy. We eat turkey. Goose sat behind Maverick.
AB: I've been trying to tell him this.
CD: No goose? But I had such ...
AB: Great expectations?
CD: Indeed. I never thought the modern age would bring such ...
CD: Hard times?
|H: We got duck.||
AB: Look, Dickens, House has duck. Our mutual friend here can set us up with a
duck. Ducks are a lot like geese. They're just smaller, and they don't have long
necks. But they float. They fly. It's the same thing.
CD: I'm afraid it's just not the same thing.
AB: Well ...
CD: This is very depressing.
AB: Come on.
CD: You'll have to carry on without me, my good man. Oh, don't be that way. [speaks into his pen again] One to beam up.
AB: Oh! [sighs] Don't look so bleak, House. You're not the one who has to drive home.
When 'Twas the Night before Good Eats returns, the goose is cooked ... No, no, duck. I mean, duck. Duck is cooked.
Due to their migratory habits ducks & geese have often served
as symbols of the mystic connection between heaven & earth.
There was a time when there were so many ducks in North America that the skies
sometimes went dark with migrating flocks. Now those birds, gamey and tough,
were best cooked either very, very, very rare or stewed for days and days and
days. Today's commercial ducks are all descendents of a mere handful of white
Peking ducks which made it from China to New York via clipper ship in 1873. And
they are far more succulent and cook-friendly.
Although most mega-marts do carry long island, or white pekin—no "g"—ducks, I strongly recommend that you buy fresh Long Island ducks directly from a processor via the internet. Indeed you will pay more, to be sure, but you and your dinner guests will be glad that you did.
Now cooking and carving a duck is something of a challenge, and here's why. Since they paddle instead of walk, the thighs and drumsticks are closer to the body. And the breast? Well, it's long, low and flat. We're going to have to use some special techniques to deal with this.
|First things first, orient your bird facing away from you. That means the drumsticks should be pointing toward you. Okay? and bend the wings back over themselves backwards so they won't flop around and get in the way. Also, this way they shouldn't burn.||1 (5-6 Pound) Duck|
Now the cavity itself is a real problem. It impedes even cooking, and it makes
carving very, very difficult. So we're just going to get rid of it altogether in a process we call butterflying; because basically it makes the bird look
like a butterfly. So take a pair of heavy duty kitchen shears, you will need
these, and basically snip up one side of the spine. It'll only really be hard
right around the thigh joint. You might need both hands. Just be patient. Snip
up one side. Come back down. Reach on the other side of this fatty appendage,
also called the pope's nose and snip up. Take your time. Make sure your
fingers aren't in the way. That is the whole spine. Now this I would not throw
away, okay? It's great for for duck stock. So freeze it and save 'em till
you've got enough to do that.
All right, now to further butterfly this guy, get it to lay out flat, we're going to have to cut through the breastbone. We just slice right through. Use a boning knife or a paring knife. It doesn't matter. There. Kind of open him up there a little bit. Now the very last thing, flip. And we're going to make two very, very shallow incisions along the breast. This is just to let excess fat out during cooking. Now what's key is you don't slice down, okay? If you do that, you'll go right through the skin and the fat and into the meat. Turn the knife sideways like this, so the blade's parallel to the meat. Press down and just pull back. That'll just barely open up the skin. There. See? We didn't even go through the fat. Perfect.
[at sink] Ducks, like witches and small rocks, float. They are, after all, waterfowl, and nature has wisely surrounded them with a rather thick layer of fat just beneath the skin that provides both insulation and buoyancy. This subcutaneous blubber has confounded many a cook. Because in order to produce a crispy skin—which anyone who's had peking-style duck knows, can be more delicious than the meat itself—you have got to cook out most of the fat: a process that usually takes a lot of time and generates a fair amount of mess and smoke.
All right, now let's deal with the flavor issues. Ordinarily pieces of poultry like this I would brine. That is soak in a wet cure. But I want the skin to be bone-dry when this goes into the oven so that I get a crisp skin. So a brine is definitely out. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't do a bit of salting.
But first, move your duck to a broiling pan. This is the pan that came with your oven. It's got the the slits on one side, fits inside another piece. There. You're going to put some paper toweling in the bottom of this pan. And then we're basically going to salt or, or go with a dry cure. And it's going to be a tablespoon per pound of duck. And I've got a a five and a half pound bird here, so that's going to be five and a half tablespoons. Just sprinkle it on both sides. This is koshering salt, and we're actually using it for what it's really designed to do, which is to cling to meat and pull out moisture. So we're actually koshering.
[at refrigerator] Store your duck, unwrapped, if you please, on the bottom shelf of the fridge for three to four days. Yes, I'm serious. Don't worry. Nothing's going to explode or implode or anything like that. This is the biggest flavor favor you can do this bird, and it's going to save you a lot of toil and trouble in the end. This period will also allow the skin to dry to a near-parchment consistency. Which will, when cooked, result in a crispy layer of goodness that I personally prefer to chocolate chip cookies. But that's just me.
[standing next to a hung piece of meat] Once upon a time, back in the good old days, animals were hung after killing, often at room or ambient outdoor temperature for several days. Although this was partly necessitated by the lack of refrigeration, what's really important is that hanging improved the texture and flavor of the meat as naturally-occurring enzymes inside began to break the meat down and as moisture began to evaporate thus intensifying the flavor. If you've ever enjoyed a dry-aged steak at a really, really good restaurant, you can certainly attest to the culinary upgrade provided by this situation. Now since duck is all red meat, thanks to a high percentage of myoglobin-rich, slow-twitch musculature, this bird and our bird will respond well to the same treatment, only under more controlled and, say, residential-friendly conditions.
To reduce any chance of cross contamination stash
your duck in the lowest depths of your chill chest.
Behold our semi-mummified duck. As you can see, the skin is a little darker and
completely dry. Which means it's going to separate nicely from the fat layer
underneath, which is what we want. Now if there is any solid salt still left in
place just brush or wipe away. As you can see from the paper towels, well,
a little bit of liquid has exited the beast, but most of it was lost to
evaporation. So this is what we want to see. Ditch the paper and leave this at
room temperature while you turn your oven to 350 degrees.
Now I know, typically with a bird this size, we would start with a higher oven temperature to get a nice sear on the outside. But in this case with this much fat under the skin, starting with a low temperature, just 350, until we hit an internal temperature on the bird of 180 degrees, is going to give us juicier meat and a better shot at crispy skin later when we boost the temperature. So that will definitely be coming.
Now no other prep is necessary on the bird: no rubbing with oil, no basting, no trussing, no nothing. So as soon as this box says 3-5-0, we load the bird.
[at oven] The bird goes into the middle of the oven, and your timer goes to 30 minutes.
All right, half an hour is up. Time to turn our bird, which is looking very nice. We'll cook for another half hour, and then we'll take its temp.
All right, time is up, and our internal is 180 degrees: which sounds high for poultry, but don't worry. Everything's going to be fine. Get the bird out and allow it to rest while the oven comes up to 450 degrees. [oven beeping] When it is nice and hot, the bird will go back in. Now this step is strictly for crisping the skin, which requires the higher heat.
[voice over] 'Twas the night before Good Eats will be back and properly dressed, too, with oysters.
Due to their thick layer of subcutaneous fat,
ducks are conveniently self-basting.
GUEST: Ghost of American Christmas Feasts Past
[timer beeping] Ten minutes is up, and our bird has indeed taken on a beautiful golden
brown and delicious exterior, just what we wanted.
[at counter] Beautiful, ain't it? Now technically speaking, if we pay attention to the thermometer, we would think that this is overcooked. But here's the thing; birds, especially ducks and geese that are hung or dry-aged before cooking tend to remain juicy even if they're taken to a higher internal temperature. Some people say that's because there's actually less moisture inside to cook out. Some say that it's because of the, the effect of the salt on the proteins. Whatever it is, we call it good eats.
Now let's just move this guy over so that we can get to the fat in the pan, which I am going to drain before assembling a dressing of some type. One of the reasons I'm being so careful to get every drop of this stuff is that duck fat is like culinary gold. And whatever is left over, I'll be using to sauté up some potatoes, mm-hmm. But dressing first.
|Now I'm going to need about a quarter cup of this fat added back to the pan, which is over medium heat. Now let's get some aromatics.||¼ Cup Duck Fat|
Let's see, one onion will certainly be a good start. Now usually in a situation like this, I would cook up an entire mirepoix: you know, onion, celery and carrot. But I got to tell you, I'm not a really big carrot fan when it comes to duck. I don't know why. So I'll double up the celery instead. We'll also need a couple of eggs, probably, as a binder.
GHOST OF AMERICAN CHRISTMAS FEASTS PAST: [appears in a bright light, AB doesn't notice]
You know what's funny about celery, the aroma of it cooking is actually more Christmasy to me than, I don't know, a Christmas tree. Well, funny.
|While we're here, go ahead and reset the oven down to 350 degrees. Ready to go.||
|All right, the one and a half cups of onions and the one cup of celery go into the fat along with, eh, we'll say a half teaspoon of kosher salt and a quarter teaspoon of black pepper. I'm just going to eyeball that. And just stir this, again, medium heat, until the aromatics become nice and translucent. It's going to take about ten minutes. And that'll give you plenty of time to think up a lead player for this little sideshow.||
1½ Cups Chopped Onion
1 Cup Chopped Celery
½ tsp. Kosher Salt
¼ tsp. Freshly Ground Black
GHOST OF AMERICAN CHRISTMAS EVE PAST: [sliding across kitchen] Oysters!
AB: Aah! Who are you?
GACFP: I am the Ghost of American Christmas feasts past. See? Stripes, stars, stars, stripes.
AB: What do you want with me?
GACFP: I want to talk to you about the most American holiday food of all time.
AB: [scoffs] You got to be kidding.
GACFP: Sir, I never kid about such things. Do you want to take a slow boat ride?
AB: Boat? What b ...
[in a flash of light, AB and GACFP are sitting in a boat in the kitchen]
GACFP: For your safety, please keep your hands and feet inside the vessel at all times. [he begins to row out of the kitchen]
GACFP: And here we are. Thank you. When Europeans first
arrived in the new world, they found estuaries, tributaries and bays teeming
with Crassostrea virginica the size of slippers.
GACFP: All you had to do was reach overboard with a shovel or a rake and pull in all you wanted. Behold.
[the fog on the water is blown aside showing the bottom
of the lake riddled with oysters ... the size of slipper]
GACFP: You know, the natives around Manhattan binged on these for millennia. But then the Dutch and English arrived and all but wiped out the wild stocks.
AB: Oh, not sweet.
GACFP: Still, the Chesapeake and other bays were chock-full of 'em.
This would be a good place to note that since oysters are bivalve filter feeders, where they grow greatly affects the size, flavor and texture of the final critter. That is why Malpeques taste like Malpeque, Chesapeakes taste like Chesapeake and Apalachicolas taste like Apalachicola even though they're all technically the same species.
GACFP: And of course, by the late 1800s, the arrival of railroads and Irishmen
greatly changed the oyster scene.
AB: Um, what's that got to do with Christmas?
GACFP: Well, Christmas is in December, isn't it?
GACFP: And December's cold, ain't it?
GACFP: Well, that made it the first time of the year that live oysters could be shipped any significant distance. With railroads going into major industrial hubs, they could then travel via horse and cart to secondary and tertiary markets, right?
GACFP: And like oranges and pomegranates, oysters became seasonal specialties of the holiday season.
AB: Got it. Irishmen?
GACFP: Ah, the Irish. Well, back home, they traditionally consumed fish stew on Christmas Eve. But now that they lived in urban centers of America, oysters replaced the fish.
AB: Got it. Got it. So what about the south?
GACFP: Ah, in the south, oyster pie was huge until that whole silly turkey thing came along. Now that is the story you need to tell.
GACFP: Of course, you. Because of sustainable aquaculture, the stock levels of oysters have risen to their greatest point in 100 years.
GACFP: Can America count on you to serve up oysters this Christmas?
GACFP: Well, this is your stop.
GACFP: Out you go.
GACFP: [throws AB out of the boat and back into the kitchen]
[AB falls onto the counter] Ow! A boat? More like falling out of a helicopter.
[still winded and in pain] Oh! Well, I'm going to tell you one thing; I am not going to
shuck oysters on Christmas Eve, especially if I'm going to cook 'em.
All right, although I would never serve them raw, shucked oysters packed in their own liquor freeze fabulously, up to three months, in fact. [he's pointing to a container of oysters already in his sink] I usually buy a few pints when the oyster season just gets underway in October when the oysters are still relatively cheap. If you wait till November, the price will double as demand increases. Must be those Irishmen.
Refrigerator thawing overnight is preferred. But you know, if you're in a pinch, you can thaw them under barely flowing cold water. All right, just set the tub in a slightly larger vessel and let the water just trickle on 'em. You'll waste a gallon or two of water, but just skip your shower. Oh, and by the way, that bulge; that's normal. That happens when the, when the package freezes.
|[back at the stove with the onions and celery cooking] So when the aromatics are nice and translucent, kill the heat and then combine one pound of old, crumbled-up cornbread—several days old—with five ounces of oyster crackers.||
1 Pound Cornbread Staled &
5 Ounces Oyster Crackers,
|Oyster crackers? You know oyster crackers. They come in little bags like this. You put them in soup. They're good. You can put them in dressing, too.||
GOOD EATS BRAND
|For this dressing, we'll go with the traditional herbage. One and a half teaspoons of dried thyme, a teaspoon of dried sage. Add the onion and celery mixture along with two lightly beaten eggs and one pint of small oysters with the liquor, please. Now use your clean hands to combine. But be careful about those hot aromatics. You want to make sure to break those oysters into bite-size pieces as well.||
1½ tsp. Dried Thyme +
1 tsp. Dried Sage
2 Eggs, Lightly Beaten
1 Pint Small Oysters, With
Then simply return the mixture to the pan thusly.
There. The key is to not over pack it, okay, or it won't brown properly.
Now go wash those oystery hands.
When you've done that, move your dressing to the middle of the oven and bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until golden brown and crisp around the edges, kind of like that. Perfect.
[voice over] When 'Twas the Night before Good Eats returns, the sugar plum fairy as you've never seen her before.
When dressing is cooked inside the bird it's called
“stuffing” which for various reasons, is evil.
Sugar Plum Fairy
[sitting at the table] When your dressing is nice and crispy, move it to a platter and serve with the duck right on top, where it'll be nice and easy to carve.
[a flash of light and the Cratchit family is sitting with him]
AB: Well, I declare! It's the Cratchit gang.
TINY TIM: God bless us, every one.
CRATCHIT GANG: [swig their drinks, bang them down on the table, yells] Let's eat! [they tear into the duck and dressing with their bare hands]
[a flash of red light outside]
MARTHA CRATCHIT: It's her!
[the family begin packing up the food]
BOB CRATCHIT: Nasty piece of work, that one.
MRS. CRATCHIT Oh, she always comes before dessert.
PETER CRATCHIT: Flight captains better bug off and quick!
AB: Bug off and quick? What are you doing? Are you going to leave me anything? Well who's going to clean up all this mess? I ...
[a flash of white light, AB looks at the messy table] Look at this place. This is what I was talking about. Holidays come, you cook all day long ...
SUGAR PLUM FAIRY: [taps him on the shoulder]
AB: Just a minute.
... You cook all day long, they snarf it down in two seconds flat, and then ...
SPF: [turns AB's head around to look at her] Well, hello there, you rascally bad boy.
I am so wanting to wake up from this dream. [begins slapping himself] Come on. Wake up. You can do it, big guy.
SPF: [pulls AB up into the air]
SPF: Were you going to go and deprive those little children of their rightful yuletide sweets? Were you? Huh?
AB: No, no.
SPF: Oh, I should hope not. That would make me a very angry little fairy. And you wouldn't like me when I'm angry. No, not one little bit you wouldn't.
AB: No, no. I was, I was going to make them some ...
SPF: Sugar plums? Sugar plums? Weren't you? Weren't you? Weren't you?
SPF: Oh, I just adore sugar plums. I'm the Sugar Plum Fairy, you know.
AB: Oh, really? Well, I've always had visions of you dancing in my head.
SPF: Oh, you're a flirt, aren't you? [bonks him on the head] Flirting is naughty and I won't have any part of it. I won't. I won't.
SPF: Now tell me what goes in them. Tell me, tell me, tell me.
AB: Uh ... plums?
SPF: Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong. Sugar plums are English ...
AB: No, British, actually.
SPF: Whatever. And there, a plum can mean a date or a fig or an apricot or even a raisin. Any dried fruit, really. And of course there's sugar and spice.
AB: And everything nice.
SPF: Hmm, no. Just sugar and spice.
SPF: But they're nice enough, don't you think? Oh, let's make some. I want some right now, now, now!
AB: Okay, okay.
SPF: You better get your choppy. [drops him]
AB: Oh! [puts a food processor on the counter]
SPF: Oh, such a pretty choppy.
AB: Oh, thank you. I like it.
SPF: Let's totally annihilate six ounces of toasted almonds. [she
tapes the processor and they appear] Ooh, crunchy yummy.
AB: Wow. That's kind of magical. Okay, next?
6 Ounces Slivered Almonds,
SPF: Four ounces of dried plums. [bell tinkles and plums fall into food processor]
AB: Whoo. I thought you said there weren't going to be any plums.
SPF: [grabs AB's ear]
AB: Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow!
SPF: Say "petunia".
AB: Petunia! Petunia! Oh!
SPF: Thank you.
AB: Jeez, around here we call those prunes.
AB: All right.
SPF: Now four ounces of dried apricots and figgy-wiggies. [bell tinkles and they magically are added]
AB: How do you do that?
SPF: Now get to chopping.
AB: Chopping. Okay, okay, okay.
SPF: But don't work that fruit until it forms a big, nasty ball. That would be bad, and bad rhymes with mad, and that rhymes with pain.
4 Ounces Dried Plums
4 Ounces Each Dried Apricots
SPF: Goody. Now let's toast some spicies.
AB: Spicies? Spicies.
SPF: [at the spice cabinet] Oh, look. See? A few of my favorite things.
SPF: [knocking spices off the shelf] Oh, no. No, no, no, no, no ... [growls]
AB: Maybe if you told me what you wanted ...
SPF: Ooh ... [gasps]
AB: I could help you with ...
SPF: [continues dropping spices to the floor] Ooh. No, no, no, no, no
AB: Oh. Hey. Easy. I, ...
SPF: [gasps] Oh. A quarter teaspoon of anise seed and, hmm, fennel seed—that
makes my nose tickle. A quarter teaspoon of that. Oh, and caraway seed. That
always carries me away to Christmas. Oh, and cardamom, a quarter teaspoon of
AB: Oh. Got it.
SPF: It's so exoticy.
SPF: Let's go get spicy.
¼ tsp. Anise Seed
¼ tsp. Fennel Seed
¼ tsp. Caraway Seed
[AB voiceover] Toasting the seeds before grinding, of course, wakes up the volatile oils, and that makes for more flavor.
SPF: Now toss the seeds with a quarter cup of fine sugar.
AB: Is confectioner's okay?
SPF: Oh, I don't care where you get it.
AB: All right.
SPF: Oh, and a pinch of salt.
AB: All right, salt.
SPF: Oh, and a quarter teaspoon of cardamom.
¼ Cup Confectioner's Sugar
Pinch of Kosher Salt
¼ tsp. Cardamom
AB: Cardamom. You know, cardamom seems like such a funny thing to put into a
dessert. I wonder ...
SPF: [grabs AB's ear again]
AB: Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow!
SPF: Say "poinsettia".
AB: Poinsettia! Poinsettia!
SPF: Good boy. Now add the plummies.
AB: Plummies, plummies. Here we go.
|SPF: And a quarter cup of honey just to hold things together. Now stir that all up with your hands.||¼ Cup Honey|
AB: Okay, now what?
SPF: Then roll into quarter ounce portions.
SPF: You can use one of those springy spoony things of yours. [gets a disher]
SPF: Now let them sit on the counter for a few hours to dry.
AB: Or overnight under a clean tea towel.
SPF: Whatever. Then roll them around in your hands to warm them up and coat in
AB: Which is available at bakers supply shops and, of course, the internet.
|1 Cup Coarse Sugar|
AB: There, how's that?
SPF: Hmm. Actually, I would go with a pretty little plate with pictures of happy little children and fairies and puppies and kittens and snowflakes on it.
AB: I thought we wanted people to eat these, not throwup on them.
SPF: You think that's funny?
AB: Maybe a little.
SPF: I think wedgies are funny. [gives him one while rising him in the air]
AB: Wedgies? Wait, oh! Ow! Hey, hey, hey!
[AB wakes from laying on couch, groaning and breathing heavily]
Whew! That was, that was a crazy, crazy dream. Oh, man, morning. Whew.
I'm smelling food. I must be really hungry.
[looks back at table and sees duck, sugar plums and wassail]
You got to be kidding.
[at the table, laughing] All right. So maybe I was wrong about this whole Christmas feast thing. Maybe this meal really does have some magic in it. Well, let's find out if it's got some good eats in it. Happy holidays. Whoo! Wassail. I'll try one of these [sugar plums]. That's good eats. Let's see if this [duck] is good eats. [chuckles]
During the holidays, families gather to celebrate traditions and create memories. But for families facing hunger, the holidays can be one of the hardest times of the year. This year, share your season with a hungry child and help end childhood hunger in America. Visit strength.org/foodnetwork and donate today.
Transcribed by Jennifer Schleicher
Proofread by Michael Menninger
Last Edited on 08/27/2010