COVID-19 and the restrictions that have come with it are like a guest that has, and continues to wear out his welcome. So, for many people, it is going to be difficult to get into what is becoming the holiday season with broken spirits, bare cupboards, deceased loved one – and so many other trials they almost seem insurmountable.
Despite it all, I tasked Chef Simeon Hall, who has just returned to the country after taking his culinary talents overseas for almost three years, to come up with a Thanksgiving meal for the home cook – despite Thanksgiving not being a true Bahamian celebration or holiday – because if there is one pillar of our existence that people can find comfort and hope in, it is food.
In coming up with his menu: slow-roasted all-natural chicken, albacore stuffing, day-boat whole snapper, pickled vegetables, down home peas n’ rice, green bean macedoine, and Kelliann’s macaroni and cheese – which he is also going to cook for his family this year, he decided it had to be economical, considering the times, and for him that means swapping out a turkey for chicken.
“Sorry, Mr. Turkey, but you’re out this year,” says Hall. “Too expensive and too big for my family of six – and I refuse to eat leftovers for 122 days after! Only so much times I want to eat my mom’s turkey bone soup.”
He apologized to his mom, Linda, for this quip.
“We’re doing roasted chicken this year.”
Hall’s perfect chicken recipe for 2020 entails selecting a decent all-natural bird, approximately four pounds, with no bruises; dry-brining it, because as he says “wet brining is so 2018.”
To make dry brine, combine 1/4 cup Morton kosher salt (other kosher salts need about 1/2 cup), 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar, 1 tablespoon sweet paprika, 2 tablespoons onion powder, 2 tablespoons garlic powder, 2 tablespoons black peppercorns, 2 tablespoons pink peppercorns, and 5 tablespoons canola or corn oil. Using a high-powdered blender, spice or coffee grinder, mill the peppercorns. Then blend all the remaining ingredients except the oil. You will have extra spice blend, which you can save for another use. Liberally rub the bird, including inside the cavity and under the skin on the breast. Rub with corn oil then refrigerate uncovered overnight.
Hall also shares what he terms is his mom’s “famous” stuffing recipe to stuff your chicken, and other great tips to help ease the pain of what he terms, not turkey 2020.
He’s also adding a whole fried local snapper to the menu.
“We live on an island – save the ham for Christmas.”
Bahamian baked macaroni and cheese will also be one of the offerings. It’s a side dish he owns up to only recently learning how to make well from a friend’s sister. He unapologetically confesses that he has just recently learned how to make it.
“One of my best friend’s sister is arguably the best, and I’m not ashamed to say I asked her for her recipe. So, all credit for the macaroni and cheese recipes goes to Kelli-Ann Whyly.”
Hall also urges people to try something different this year, and is giving us his recipe for his riff on a famous French-style salad – macedoine salad, which is basically steamed vegetables tossed in a citrus mayonnaise.
Hall uses green beans and makes a side of citrus-tossed steamed haricots verts.
Whatever ends up on your Thanksgiving menu, the chef encourages you to have fun. He says to create a menu card for the table and to ensure COVID-19 protocols are practiced. He shares recipes and tips which he hopes will lift people’s spirits as they cook for their homes.
Slow-roasted all-natural chicken
For the dry brine:
1 4-5 lb. roasting all-natural chicken
1/4 cup Morton kosher salt (other kosher salts need about 1/2 cup)
1 tbsp. dark brown sugar
1 tbsp. sweet paprika
2 tbsp. onion powder
2 tbsps. garlic powder
2 tbsps. black peppercorns
2 tbsps. pink peppercorns
5 tbsps. canola or corn oil
Using a high powdered blender, spice or coffee grinder, mill the peppercorns. Then blend all the remaining ingredients except the oil. Save the extra spice blend for another time. Liberally rub the bird and refrigerate.
Remove chicken from refrigerator about 30 minutes before and rub with oil. Preheat oven to 450°F degrees.
Roast for 15 minutes then rotate. Turn the oven to 275 degrees and cook to an internal temp of 165°F degrees, about 45 minutes.
For the stuffing:
8 pieces toasted plain white bread
2 packs traditional Ritz crackers
1 tin albacore tuna
6 oz. unsalted butter
1/2 cup small diced onion
3 stalks small diced celery
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 cup low sodium store bought chicken stock
In a heavy bottom pan add 1/2 the butter, onions and celery and then turn the stove to a medium heat. Gently sweat the ingredients. Add the tuna and tuna liquid. Fold in the bread and crackers and sauté for about 2 minutes or until slightly golden. Add the stock and remove from the heat. Add thyme and use this to stuff the cavity of the bird.
Kelli’s Macaroni and Cheese
2 boxes Mueller’s Elbow Macaroni, 16 oz, uncooked
1 can Campbell’s Condensed Cheddar Cheese Soup (10.5 oz)
½ can Campbell’s Condensed Cream of Mushroom with Roasted Garlic Soup (10.5 oz.)
1 large green bell pepper, chopped
1 large white onion, chopped
1 clove of garlic, chopped
2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 sprig fresh thyme leaves
3 pinches salt
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 cup softened butter (1 stick)
2 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
3 (16 ounce) bags cheddar cheese
1 can evaporated milk (12 ounces)
Bring large pot of water to a boil and add pinches of salt, 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder and 1 teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil. Add uncooked elbow macaroni. Boil until al dente. (Not soft.)
Strain water off of macaroni. In pot, add butter, cream of mushroom and canned cheddar cheese and gently fold in macaroni.
In a blender, or Ninja – place paprika, black pepper, onion, pinch of salt, bell pepper, garlic and thyme and 1 teaspoon of olive oil and puree. Add seasoning mixture into macaroni mixture, stir well, slowly adding two of the cheese packages evenly. (Reserve 1 bag of cheese for top of macaroni)
Separately beat eggs lightly and add evaporated milk, pouring about half a cup at a time. Then fold well into macaroni mixture.
Spread the macaroni mixture evenly into a large prepared (oiled and floured) baking pan about 13 x 9. Top with remaining bag of cheese, cover with foil.
Bake at 375°F for 1 hour, then remove foil and turn oven to 350°F until top is a golden color. Allow macaroni to set before slicing.
Whole Fish with Pickled Vegetables
For pickled vegetables:
Thinly slice 1 heirloom carrot and a yellow onion.
Add 1 cup of vinegar, a pinch of salt, pinch of sugar, 10 all spice berries and a bay leaf to a pot. Bring to a boil then immediately remove from the heat. Allow to cool to room temperature then pour over the vegetables. Reserve to top the fish with, later.
We are in The Bahamas – I’m not giving you a recipe for fried or baked fish – yours may actually be better than mine, but, I will give you some tips.
• Select fresh fish with clear eyes, bright red gills, firm skin and one that smells like the ocean and not fishy.
• Don’t let your fish marinate for too long. This makes it tough, so 20 minutes tops.
• I worked at a very famous Bahamian restaurant that displayed fresh fish from which you could pick your fish and get it prepared anyway you want. One of the tricks was to season any fish to the bone within 6 minutes or less and this is how we did it – combine 6 fresh bird peppers, 1 goat pepper, 1 cup local sea salt, 1 large “finger” of fresh ginger, 4 cloves of garlic, 1 cup fresh lime juice, 6 sprigs of fresh thyme and pulse in a blender. Bathe the fish in this marinade for 6 minutes or less minutes and it will be seasoned to the bone.
Green Bean Salad
This is definitely one of my favorite salads. So simple, but yet so tasty and satisfying.
1 lb. fresh fresh beans, cleaned and washed
1/2 cup high-quality mayonnaise, whipped
Hardboiled egg (12 minutes in boiling water gives you a perfect hard boil)
Cloves of garlic, minced
¼ red onion, small diced
Juice from half lime
Salt and pepper to taste
Blanch green beans in rapid boiling water. Remove after 4 minutes and submerge in iced water then strain and pat dry. Cut into 2-inch pieces. Add the remaining ingredients and toss liberally. Garnish with some edible sprouts and flowers.