If you are pondering what to serve as side dishes with the roast turkey this Christmas, Ottawa chef Matthew Cunningham has a few tricks up his sleeve to help you put your personal stamp on the meal.
“In terms of sides for Christmas you don’t want weird stuff. You just want familiar stuff,” says the executive chef at Restaurant Eighteen.
“For example, why not serve scalloped potatoes instead of mashed. Or do a great mash by browning the butter,” Cunningham suggests.
“To do this, take about a pound (500 grams) of butter, bring it up to a boil, lower the temperature, simmer it while whisking the bottom so you get the milk solids off the pan so they won’t burn,” he says. After the potatoes are cooked, add the browned butter and two per cent milk and mash.
“The result is a nutty golden brown flavour, which is very intoxicating,” he says.
Cunningham is very partial to root vegetables, such as parsnips and rutabaga.
“For perfect parsnips cut them into equal-sized chunks and then gently simmer them in milk until tender. Strain and puree the parsnips, adding in a little milk, which is healthier than using cream and butter and allows the natural flavour of the parsnips to shine through.”
Cunningham adds a little olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and then purees the parsnip mix in a blender. He also adds fresh sage, thyme or marjoram.
He cuts rutabagas into batons and blanches them for about five minutes. In a pan on the stove he caramelizes white sugar to the point where it is a little bit bitter. He then adds a little liquid and brings it to a high heat. Once it is past the soft stage he gently and carefully swivels the pan until the bubbles subside. He adds the raw rutabaga and about 250 ml (1 cup) of water to stop the caramelization.
“The rutabaga picks up a little of the sweet and bitter,” Cunningham says.
He glazes the dish with butter and fresh herbs such as tarragon.
If Brussels sprouts are on the menu, the chef has a different idea for their preparation.
“I would cut them, leaving the root intact, and just slice them twice and cook them slowly in light cream with thyme and a little garlic.”
He then strains them into a baking dish, adding a little of the cream back, and tops with breadcrumbs and cheese. At the restaurant, that cheese would be Riopelle produced in Quebec.
If that cheese isn’t available, Cunningham suggests using a double or triple brie, “but Riopelle is best because it has funk to it.”
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