a chimaicanese christmas

(Thank you, Andrew Zimmern for coining that original tagline for Chinese-Jamaican.)  These are my Aunt Cela’s recipes that I grew up enjoying all these years. I brought them with me to the US and then to Thailand.

The first thing I used to do was make the dark fruitcake or black cake. I started soaking the fruits in brandy back in September and baking the cakes in early December so they could soak in rum. But fruitcakes being what they are–heavy, sticky, and sweet– I could never get the family to take to the idea of eating a slab of rum-soaked fruit baked in  a cake and topped with brandy butter sauce.

In the family, I had greater success with the roast turkey and the accompaniments: giblet gravy, bread-potato stuffing, potato salad, baked ham, and cranberry sauce. Now that my daughter is married, she is making her own Christmas traditions. Hopefully someday she will turn to her own multicultural heritage for inspiration.


Roast Turkey

1 roasting turkey, about 7kg, thawed 3 days in the refrigerator (estimate 1 pound per person)
1 teaspoon salt/pound
2 teaspoons black pepper/pound
1 teaspoon garlic powder/pound
1 stalk scallion/pound, cut into 2 inch lengths

Bread Potato Stuffing
Giblet Gravy
Potato Salad
Baked Ham
Cranberry Sauce

  1. Dry turkey inside and out. Put turkey in a large roasting pan with a folded cheesecloth underneath it to soak up the water. If this is a pre-basted turkey, skip this next step. In a small bowl, add salt, black pepper, and garlic powder. Mix well. Rub well inside and outside turkey. Crush and rub turkey with scallion. Leave inside and outside the turkey. Loosely cover the turkey with a doubled cheesecloth and place in the fridge overnight.
  2. Cook’s Note: Resting in the refrigerator helps to dry out the skin so that the turkey skin roasts golden and crisp.
  3. Next morning, while baking the ham, prepare the stuffing. Preheat the oven to the recommended temperature. Heat oven to 325˚F.
  4. Scrape out all scallion inside and outside the turkey. Stuff the bird loosely and sew up the cavity. Stuff the neck too and pin it closed.
  5. Brush the skin with oil. If it is a self-basting turkey, no need to brush the skin with oil. Cover the breast with foil until 1 1/2 hours before cooking time is up. Set bird on a rack with a pan to catch the drippings.
Approximate Roasting Times for Stuffed Turkey
Turkey Weight Before Stuffing Roasting Time
6-8 pounds 3-3 1/2 hours
8-12 pounds 3 1/2 -4 1/2 hours
12-16 pounds 4 1/2 to 5 1/2 hours
16-20 pounds 5 1/2 to 6 hours
20-24 pounds 6-6 1/2 hours
Approximate Roasting Times for Unstuffed Turkey
Turkey Weight Roasting Time
6-8 pounds 2 1/2 -3 hours
8-12 pounds 3-4 hours
12-16 pounds 4-5 hours
16-20 pounds 5-5 1/2 hours
20-24 pounds 5 1/2 -6 hours


Baked Ham with Five-Spice Cherry Sauce

I used to make this with pineapple slices but I found this recipe on the Better Homes and Gardens website and loved it, so I make it instead. Some traditions, unlike the fruitcake, are easy to adapt.

1 tablespoon whole cloves
3-5 pound smoked ham, preferably Virginia ham
1 cup mango preserves, or marmalade (peach preserves in original)
1/2 cup chopped tart dried cherries, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup unsweetened pineapple juice, orange or apple juice, or water will do
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons five-spice powder

Special Equipment: roasting pan with lid

  1. Put the ham in the pan, uncovered. Or use a pan lined with heavy duty aluminum foil for easier clean up. If the ham has no skin, skip to step 3.
  2. If the ham has a skin, you have to roast the ham to remove it. So heat the oven to 400˚F/200˚C. Roast the ham, uncovered, skin-side up, for about 30-45 minutes or until the skin browns and shrinks away from the ham, revealing the fat underneath. Remove the ham from the oven and carefully trim away the skin, leaving some fat behind, then discard the skin. Do not turn off the oven. Reduce heat to 325˚F/175˚C and continue with step 4.
  3. Heat the oven to 325˚F/175˚C. Score the fat diagonally with a knife to make a diamond shaped pattern. Stick cloves in the center of each diamond.
  4. In a small bowl, combine preserves, cherries, juice, mustard, ginger, and five-spice powder. Pour over the ham. Cover with lid or cover loosely with parchment, then cover with aluminum foil, if using a foil-lined pan. Tuck the ends under the edge of the pan to create a seal.
  5. Bake for 1 to 1 1/4 hours or until the ham reaches an internal temperature of 140˚F on an instant read thermometer.


Bread-Potato Stuffing for Roast Turkey

This stuffing is not heavy; it has interesting herbal flavors that have been  absorbed by the bread and the potato.

1 1/2 lb potatoes/ 5 pound turkey, boiled and mashed
3/4 lb (12 oz) bread cubes/5 pound turkey
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup onions
1/2 cup scallions
1/2 cup garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/2 cup cilantro, finely chopped
1/4 cup Chinese celery stems (discard the leaves), finely chopped

  1. To boil potatoes: bring water and potatoes to a boil. Cover pan, reduce heat, and boil gently 15-20 minutes.
  2. Melt butter in a large skillet. Sauté onions, scallions, garlic. When onions are transparent, add bread cubes. Stir well. If too dry, add up to 1/4 cup water. The cubes should be softened. Add potatoes and mix well. Add cilantro and celery. Mix well.
  3. Stuff bird and prepare to roast.

Cook’s Notes:
• Instead of stuffing the bird, season the stuffing with poultry seasoning or Lawry’s seasoning salt to taste. For a moist stuffing, add a cup of chicken broth. If using chicken broth, reduce the amount of poultry seasoning. Spoon into a buttered 1 ½ -3 quart baking dish. Dot with butter. Bake 350˚F before roasting the turkey or if there is room in the oven, bake it with the turkey for about 30-40 minutes or until lightly browned.
• Make Stuffing in a Bundt Pan. Mix the bread potato stuffing recipe with 3 eggs lightly beaten with salt and pepper. Then brush the inside of the pan with 1 tablespoon melted butter mixed with 1/2 tablespoon flour, making sure to brush inside the crevices. This will help your Stuffing in a Bundt Pan come out of the pan. Pack stuffing into the pan. Then bake 25-30 minutes @350˚F and cool in the pan. Unmold in a plate and serve at once. (from Food Network and A Spicy Perspective)


Spicy Giblet Gravy (15 pound turkey)

The giblet gravy is high in iron; it has a complex flavor,  from the tang of the cilantro and kunchai (Chinese celery) to the spicy savory appeal of the Scotch Bonnet/habañero pepper.

Turkey giblet broth
Neck and giblets finely chopped
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup onions, finely chopped
1/2 cup scallions, finely chopped
1/2 cup garlic, finely chopped
flour to thicken
Powdered Colman’s Mustard
Pickapeppa or A1 Steak Sauce
Worcestershire Sauce
Salt and Pepper to taste
6-8 Red chilies, seeded and chopped (or 1 Scotch Bonnet) or discard seeds and chop
1/2 cup cilantro, finely chopped
1/4 cup Chinese celery, stems only, finely chopped

  1. In the morning, boil the neck and giblets in a saucepan with enough water to cover. Reserve broth. Chop neck and giblets fine in a food processor.
  2. Melt butter. Sauté onions, scallions, and garlic. Add flour a tablespoon at a time, stirring, until the mixture is thickened. Turn heat to low.
  3. Gradually add the giblet broth. Gravy should be thick. Add more flour and water as needed, stirring after each addition.
  4. Mix Colman’s into a thin paste with water. Add to gravy, stirring well. Add Pickapeppa or A1 and Worcestershire sauces. Add salt and black pepper to taste. Add parsley and celery. Add giblets. At this stage, if there are any children or adults that do not like pepper, divide the gravy and add the chili pepper to one but not the other. Serve hot.
  5. Cook’s Note: Because this is so popular, make extra giblet gravy out of chicken giblets.


Cranberry Sauce (Food Network)

I always used to use the tinned jellied cranberry sauce. No more! As they say, fresh is always best.  I had saved a frozen bag of cranberries from last year, and they still  taste fresh!

12 oz bag fresh or frozen cranberries
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon zest of lemon
2 tablespoons water, plus more if needed
sugar, salt, and pepper to taste

Rinse the cranberries and set aside 1/2 cup. Put the rest in a saucepan with the sugar, lemon zest, and water. Cook for 10 minutes on low heat to soften the cranberries. You may need to add extra water, 1 tablespoon at a time, if the cranberries seem to be dry and stick to the bottom of the pot. Increase heat to medium and continue cooking 12 minutes or until cranberries burst. Reduce heat to low and stir in the reserved cranberries. Taste. Add sugar, salt, and pepper to taste. Best served at room temperature.


Potato Salad

1 medium potato per person
1 hard boiled egg for every 2 people
unsalted butter, room temperature
1 small shallot, halved and thinly sliced
salt and pepper to taste
Green peas, corn, red and green sweet peppers

Boil eggs and potatoes as directed. Peel and place in a large bowl. Add shallots.

In another bowl, add the butter and mayonnaise at a ratio of 1:2. Whisk well to combine. Add to the bowl and mix well. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Garnish with one or more: frozen green peas, thawed; corn kernels, fresh or canned, well drained; chopped red and green peppers. Mix well to combine.