Hoping to create the ultimate feast for the 25th? As the clock ticks down, we thought it best to turn to the professionals. We asked three of the busiest and most creative chefs around – Derek Dammann at DNA, Emma Cardarelli at Nora Gray and Frédéric Morin at Joe Beef – for tips on how to prepare their favourite Christmas dishes.
All three chefs are from Montreal, home to some of the most cutting-edge cooking in the country right now. Collectively, they've come up with quite a spread: a prosciutto-wrapped bird, roasted in wine and sauced with boozy gravy; a sumptuous stuffing, heady with orange and fennel; and a luscious potato soufflé with parmesan crust. This menu is probably the greatest gift you could give to your dinner guests this year.
Pheasant pot roast
A master of charcuterie and game, Derek Dammann works out of the modern DNA restaurant in Old Montreal. He cooks pheasant using a technique learned from his Italian grandmother and says the recipe can be adapted for chicken, capon, Cornish hen, even a small turkey – but cautions that the bird should be on the small side as it does need to be turned a few times during the cooking process.
"Preheat the oven to 420 F. Wipe the cavity of the pheasant and remove excess fat. Put six sprigs of thyme, two crushed cloves of garlic and butter in the cavity and season generously with salt and pepper. Lay prosciutto over the breast to make a nice blanket. Truss the bird with butcher's twine, making sure to go over the prosciutto to keep it in place. Choose a Dutch oven with a tight-fitting lid. Put in the pheasant, breast-side up, and pour 100 millilitres of white wine over it.
"Place the lid so it only covers the pot three-quarters of the way [to let steam escape]and roast for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and turn the bird onto its breast. Again put the lid on only three-quarters of the way and return to the oven for an additional 20 minutes. Remove from the oven again, turn the bird breast up, remove the lid and roast for 10 minutes. By this time the legs should just pull away from the body and the juices run clear.
"Remove the pot from the oven, add 50 millilitres of apple brandy. Remove the bird from the pot and let it rest on a platter for 15 minutes. Pour the butter and resting juices into the sauce. Put the pot on the stove to reduce the liquid slightly. Whisk four tablespoons of heavy cream into the sauce and season with sea salt to taste.
"Take the string off the pheasant and place the bird onto a warmed serving platter, remove the prosciutto and chop roughly, pour the sauce over the bird. Top with the crispy prosciutto and serve with a pitcher of sauce."
Veal stuffing with chestnuts and orange zest
Emma Cardarelli manned the stoves for Frédéric Morin for years. She grabbed the chance this September to open her own restaurant, Nora Gray, a small jewel box of a place on rue St-Jacques, where she cooks incredible southern Italian food.She makes a decadent stuffing for Christmas, based on her dad's traditional recipe. It's more meat than bread with warm spices and studded with chopped chestnuts.
"I use both ground veal and ground pork, a pound each. I find the veal gives a great texture that you can't get with pork alone. I also always use a 'panade,' which is milk-soaked bread. It is very important as a binder, as well as for texture.
"Sauté one cup of diced onion, one cup of diced fresh fennel and a diced Bartlett pear until translucent, then add two tablespoons of ground fennel, one tablespoon of ground sage and a tiny amount of ground clove.
"Once cooled, combine the meat, panade and cooked vegetables, then add the star ingredients, chopped chestnuts and orange zest.
"Throwing in two eggs at the very end helps with texture. Place the mixture in a casserole dish, lay strips of bacon over the top, completely covering it, place the lid on the casserole and bake at 350 F. About 20 minutes before the stuffing has finished cooking, take the lid off the casserole to crisp up the bacon."
Irreverent and quick with a joke, Joe Beef's Frédéric Morin cooks elevated comfort food in the Little Burgundy neighbourhood. He loves esoterica and history (as evidenced in the madcap decor of Joe Beef and Liverpool House, the restaurants he co-owns with David McMillan), so it's no surprise he finds inspiration for his menu in the obscure French movie Le Grand Restaurant. In it, Louis de Funès plays a restaurateur. "He goes to a table of Germans who've asked for a recipe for the potato soufflé," Mr. Morin says. "So he recites the recipe with a German accent and gets very authoritarian. It's very funny, so I like to do this recipe.
"Start with basic Joe Beef mashed potatoes: two pounds of fingerling potatoes, skin on, seasoned and mashed with ½ cup of warmed milk and ½ cup of cold, cubed unsalted butter. Separate four eggs, beat the yolks and incorporate into the potatoes, whip the whites to stiff peaks and fold into the mixture. Finish with a dusting of powdered parmesan and bake at 400 F for 20 to 25 minutes.
"Be sure to use powdered parmesan on top or else you won't get a nice crust."
These interviews have been condensed and edited.
Special to The Globe and Mail