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Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Festive meals for Christmas

By Dennis Khng

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Christmas is always a special time of the year. For me and many, it is a time of celebration and commemoration of all the good that has happened while putting aside the bad! It is also a time to take stock and look forward to the New Year. Indeed, what better way to do that than with a festive meal with family and friends.

HCMC’s growing food and alcobeverage market will ensure everyone finds a wonderful restaurant or fine supermarket to get their festive fare for a warm, home-cooked meal. To help things along and keep up with tradition, I have curated six traditional Christmas dishes and paired them with wine.

Let the feasting begin with a lovely holiday salad, Fennel Salad with Orange Balsamic Vinaigrette Dressing, that offers a unique, relaxing fennel aroma reminiscent of aniseed, on top of vegetables mixed with a tangy orange sweetness and sour balsamic vinegar. I recommend a California Chardonnay with this.

The relatively higher sugar levels in the Chardonnay that imparts subtle flavor notes of honey melon or young, sour mango pair nicely with the tanginess of the orange. A zesty start to your meal.

Onto the main dishes, and one of your first ones should be a lighter meat like ham. Honey-Glazed Ham, a classic honey-glazed dish, always reminds me of Christmas, with that sharp saltiness from the cured pork and the sweetness of honey. I suggest pairing it with a red Beaujolais-Village. This famous wine is produced by 38 villages in the hills of the north Beaujolais region (just below Burgundy, France) and is made from the Gamay grape. Meant to be drunk young, a vintage between one and three years old is best.

Displaying more tannic properties, a fuller body and better structure than the standard Beaujolais appellation (wine region category) but overlaid with the fresh sweetness of black fruit such as cherries typical of the Gamay, it will go beautifully with your ham.

In fact, another dish that will work harmoniously with the wine is Roast Turkey with Chestnut Stuffing and Cranberry Sauce. The richness of the white meat, crunchiness of the stuffing and tanginess of the cranberry amount to a full, slightly sweet flavor profile that the Beaujolais-Village will work well with. Its tannins and low-to-medium acidity will help digest all that goodness. A very versatile, easy-drinking wine, it is one of my favorites.

What is Christmas without Roast Beef and Horseradish Sauce? This is usually the Star of the Show. Pair it with an Italian Nebbiolo. The substantial tannins of the Nebbiolo grape will complement the beef, while the chocolatey, cherry, tobacco-like taste will match the sweet horseradish sauce and enhance the overall flavor. Its relatively high acidity will add structure and after-taste and be an interesting balance for the slightly charred, peppery properties of this dish.

The Nebbiolo grape is used in top-quality red wines from the northern Italian Piedmont regions of Barolo and Barbaresco and shows off its best multi-layered flavors with aging. Pair the red wine with Holiday Creamy Mashed Potatoes too. Sprinkle generous fried bacon bits and spring onions on this side dish and enjoy. This staple side dish for Christmas is meant to be creamy and needs a hearty red.

For dessert, indulge in a traditional Chocolate Yule Log Cake. For a change, instead of the usual dessert wines, choose an aged Port, at least 10 years old. Port is a type of fortified wine, usually sweet but sometimes in semi-sweet or dry styles. Traditionally, Port is from the Douro Valley region, a demarcated appellation or wine-growing territory in northern Portugal. Nowadays, you can find similar port-like wines from other countries such as Argentina, Australia and Canada.

Offer this, and your guests will be deliciously surprised. With its unique dark brown color, this fortified wine has a solid, dense sweetness that will seamlessly match the chocolate sponge cake. A sweet end-note to your year-end feast. Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

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