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FYI South Magazine > Winter 2007

Chef's Table

Comfort Food - A Holiday Classic

Comfort Food - A Holiday Classic

Comfort Food - A Holiday Classic

Many international workers and students in Taiwan feel the press of homesickness more acutely over the holiday season. At home, families are gathering together for traditional meals and "good, ole, home cookin".

They say that smell, over all other senses, can recall the most vivid memories. I can think of nothing more seasonal than the smell of roast turkey dinner with all the trimmings being cooked up in my grandmother's kitchen. It's just comforting.

Of course, not all cultures celebrate Christmas in the same way--some don't celebrate Christmas at all. But in most social networks, the idea of a large gathering centered on a communal meal is central to holidays and religious events. Commonly, central to these gatherings is a guest of honour, one that is rarely thought of, but is present for every holiday--comfort food.

Comfort food is a concept familiar to every culture--whether it is a traditional Christmas dinner of turkey or ham, with gravy and mashed potatoes, or spicy duck hotpot eaten with your grandparents in Pingtung. Comfort foods go hand in hand with certain holidays. During the Moon Festival, many Taiwanese turn to BBQ; it is quite common for Christian Greeks to have a lamb roast during the Easter season; and what would a Jewish wedding be without mozza-ball soup?

Many times, when far from home, a simple meal consisting of a few comforting foods can really help to settle nerves and make you feel more "at home"'. However, there are some foods that just can't be recreated without two primary ingredients: friends and family. Aside from these two key additions to a meal, there are other things to consider. The first is actual availability of certain foods, and the second is the equipment at hand. Being that we are in Taiwan, it is not easy to locate certain ingredients that are readily available in our home countries and not every Taiwanese kitchen has things like large ovens and other necessary appliances. So these are a few hurdles to overcome.

The following two recipes are very familiar to me. Simple and delicious, they can be recreated in just about any kitchen in Taiwan. These dishes remind me of home and of childhood; I hope they will be as comforting for you as they are for me.

Herbed Butter Roasted Chicken

Herbed Butter Roasted Chicken

- 1 medium-to-small chicken
(clean, remove head,
remove feet)
- 1 large onion, peeled and
roughly chopped
- 2 large onions, unpeeled
and cut in half
- 2 tbs. butter (unsalted)
- 1 tbs. olive oil
- Fresh herbs (rosemary, thyme, parsley, sage, basil, mint-one or a mixture)
- Salt and pepper

1. Pre-heat toaster oven to 250 C or 450 F. Wash bird thoroughly inside and out, pat dry. Starting at the top of the bird, breast side facing upward, separate the skin from the flesh by slipping your hand between the breast meat and the skin--be careful not to remove or tear the skin.

2. After washing the herbs, remove the leaves from the stems. Set stems aside and finely chop the leaves. Mix chopped herbs with butter and oil. Salt and pepper to taste. Spread butter mixture directly onto the chicken, under the skin. Spread evenly over the breasts, thighs and legs.

3. Stuff the chicken with herb stems and chopped onion. Add salt and pepper to the cavity as well. Fill bottom of shallow roasting pan with onion halves, place chicken on top. Cover the dish with aluminum foil, make sure not to make contact with the skin. Roast for 30 minutes.

4. After 30 minutes, remove the bird and drain all of the juices from the bottom of the pan. Set aside. Salt the skin, lightly and evenly. Place chicken back in the oven, uncovered, for a further 20 or 30 minutes, or until the skin is crispy and browned. Remove from heat and let sit 5-10 minutes before carving.

Crisp Roasted Potatoes With Chicken Gravy

Crisp Roasted Potatoes With Chicken Gravy

- 4 medium potatoes (cut into large, even chunks)
- Salt and pepper
- Leftover chicken juice from above recipe
- Potato flour

Place potatoes in a pot of cold water and bring to a boil. Boil for 5 or 10 minutes until par-cooked. Drain in a colander and toss, to roughen up the edges. Place in shallow roasting tray around the chicken. Roast for 30 minutes, covered. Before draining the juices from the pan, coat all sides of the potatoes with the chicken drippings. Roast again, uncovered, for the remaining 20 to 30 minutes.

When the bird is done, the potatoes should now be roasted crisp and brown. Remove from pan. Add the chicken juice back into the hot roasting pan over the stove top on medium heat. Pour in some potato flour to thicken. Stir and scrape up all of the juices and scraps left in the pan, until thick. Serve the chicken with the roasted potatoes and gravy.

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