Christmas cooking

Published 11:29 am Tuesday, December 19, 2023

While Thanksgiving rules the roost in the holiday cooking world, Christmas in our household gives our family a chance to experiment with different proteins while celebrating the Lord’s Birth. Being that Christmas is right in the middle of various hunting and fishing seasons, our Christmas menu can encompass everything our region has to offer from the mountains to the sea.

Starting from the sea, oysters are a repeat headliner on our Christmas menu. While not on the table for dinner, they are served outside next to our firepit. The general rule of thumb with oysters is that you should only eat them in months with an “R” (i.e. September through April). Our personal preference is to wait until you need a jacket in the evenings and can see your breath while standing around the shucking table.

A shucking table is usually made of plywood with a hole in the middle to dispose of shucked oysters. It can be circular or rectangular, and the outside is lined with oyster knives, cloth towels, and add-ons for the oysters. Many people put a shucked oyster on a saltine cracker with a dab of hot sauce. I prefer to skip the saltine and send it straight down the hatch with some green Tabasco sauce.

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Duck season, generally, runs from late November through the end of January. Depending on the success of the season, ducks may be on the menu. Wild duck does not taste like farm duck. Wild ducks tend to have different tastes based on their diet. Ducks that eat mainly bugs and fish will best be served in dishes that cook for a long time with ample seasoning. I tend to pass on those ducks when they fly by my decoys much to my dog’s chagrin. 

Instead, I choose to shoot the delicious ducks: Wood Ducks and Green-Winged Teal. These birds, though smaller than mallards, fatten up on seeds and acorns for their journey south. Taking the time to pluck them after the hunt allows you to cook them in their own delicious fat to medium rare. Trust me from my experience when I say don’t overcook the duck. One year it got a little crispy and we still talk about the Christmas when “Dad burned the duck.”  

Our final favorite Christmas dish is what my son claims as his favorite. It doesn’t have an official name but is known as “Paul’s favorite meal.” It is a venison loin served with chimichurri. This weekend my son was in the deer stand looking to add to our freezer. His idea of a trophy hunt is how many of his favorite meals he can get out of a deer. While most hunters look through their binoculars to measure antlers, he is measuring them for steaks.

Turkey and ham are great, but they get old after a while. Using Christmas Day to try new recipes has added excitement to the day after the presents are gone and the trash is put away. If you are walking through the store and see bison or duck, give it a try. The worst thing that can happen is that you will ruin it. But, then you will always have the story of that one Christmas when you burned the duck.