Tue | Jan 19, 2021

Don’t go ham this Christmas - Chef Noel Cunningham saves the day with last-minute cooking tips

Published:Thursday | December 24, 2020 | 12:11 AMKrysta Anderson/Staff Reporter
Christmas is not complete without a baked ham.
Christmas is not complete without a baked ham.
A bowl of water helps keep the dessert of the season – fruit cake – crack free.
A bowl of water helps keep the dessert of the season – fruit cake – crack free.
Get creative with your vegetables like Chef Cunningham did with these carrots.
Get creative with your vegetables like Chef Cunningham did with these carrots.
Try baking your mac and cheese in muffin tins so that everyone can have their own crust.
Try baking your mac and cheese in muffin tins so that everyone can have their own crust.
The secret to Cunningham’s tender roast chicken is the brine.
The secret to Cunningham’s tender roast chicken is the brine.
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Christmas Day is one day away, and already foodies are salivating as they prepare for festive feasts.

If, for whatever reason, you’re still unsure as to how to go about preparing your ham, other meats and cakes for tomorrow, don’t worry: Food has you covered.

Every team deserves a good coach. So, we’ve enlisted the expertise of award-winning chef, Noel Cunningham, for your kitchen. The Canadian-Jamaican, who knows more than a few things about food, supplied us with a few culinary pointers for the big day. He notes that when it comes to Christmas cooking, time, temperature and techniques are important to having a successful dinner.

THE SECRET TO SUCCULENT HAM

The key to succulent ham is doing it low and slow. Cunningham recommends covering the ham with foil paper to add moisture on the inside and prevent it from drying out.

“You don’t want to overbake it because your ham is already cooked, since it’s smoked. You want to bring it to a good temperature. Heat [your] oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Place your ham flat side down on a rack in a shallow roast tin pan. Cover with aluminium foil and you bake usually at 20 minutes per pound until it is fully heated through,” he advised. After 30 minutes, remove the ham from the oven, remove the skin, do the scoring and add your cloves to it. Apply your glaze 10 minutes before the ham is finished baking.

HOW TO BAKE A DELICIOUS FRUITCAKE

Make sure you sift all your dry ingredients and your butter and eggs are at room temperature – taking them out of the fridge a few hours before or overnight is encouraged. The results will amaze you.

“For my cake, I love my fruits to be blended. So if you didn’t get a chance to soak them, you can go ahead and steam them low and slow for a few hours and then you can always purée those in the blender,” he added. A water bowl in the oven will help bring moisture to your cake so it doesn’t crack.

EXCITING ENTRÉES

Christmas should be filled with good memories. For that reason, Cunningham says you should avoid preparing something you haven’t cooked before because you run the risk of spoiling it.

“My favourite entrée meat is pot roast beef. It’s nice to slice and creates some activity with everyone slicing. It cooks pretty good as well,” he said.

A roast chicken tip: brine the chicken with one litre of water to four tablespoon of salt, and whatever flavour and spices you’re using.

For example, if you’re making a rosemary and thyme roast chicken, the good chef advises that you add some rosemary and thyme to that salt water, with a little sugar. Let it boil and come to room temperature, then pour it over your chicken and let it stay overnight. Next, remove the brine and add the spices with your usual seasoning and put it to roast. Baste your chicken every 20 minutes while it’s roasting so you’re adding moisture and don’t end up with a dry chicken.

CREATIVE SIDES

Cunningham suggests doing a mixture for sides. The chef loves baked mac and cheese. He does his in a muffin tin; that way everyone can get the best part: the crust. For him, less is more and don’t be afraid to get creative with flavours.

“You can go simple with your vegetables like an orange glazed carrot, [spread] honey drizzle over some tomatoes. So now your spread looks bigger, if you don’t combine all the vegetables. And some persons may prefer one thing over the other, [so] they can choose freely, rather than attempt to pick out what they don’t want.”

krysta.anderson@gleanerjm.com