As I began to prepare yet another New Year's Day meal, I decided to see if I could elevate these ingredients a bit. This is a favorite meal but, let's just be honest, it can be a little boring. You may recall, I posted the traditional version of this Southern New Year's meal least year, along with a history and explanation of the meaning behind the ingredients (click here to read).
This year, I began with all the traditional ingredients. I did deviate on the preparation in quite a few ways. My goal was to demonstrate multiple techniques, textures, and minimal treatment of fresh ingredients in order to preserve and highlight each while also creating a harmonious plate.
First I made a Cornish Hen confit, however I did not get to cure the meat for days or weeks, as is often the case. If you're not familiar, confit is the French word translated "preserve" and is one of the oldest methods used for centuries to preserve meats and flavors. You do this by curing the meat in salt for about 24-48 hours then poaching it in its fat, infused with flavorful aromatics, on a very low heat. The meat is then carefully removed and placed in a container and the fat is strained over the meat until it is completely covered. It can then be stored and cured in a cool place for up to several months. When ready to eat, you just pull the meat out of the fat, remove excess fat, and cook in the oven until browned. As you can see, the meat has a lovely color, it is extremely tender and flavorful. I was really happy with the result and I didn't miss the pork a bit.
Next the turnip roots were prepared in two ways: first, the raw root was very thinly sliced in a mandolin and seasoned in red and white wine vinegar, sugar, sea salt, and olive oil. The acid of th vinegar acts as a pickling agent and actually cooks the vegetable a bit. Next I cut them into pieces a little larger than a matchstick. The remaining large turnip roots were peeled, simmered half immersed in water and seasoned generously with sea salt, sugar, and a tiny dash of white wine vinegar just to preserve the bright white color. They are cooked covered by a cartouche, or circle made from parchment paper. The result is two very different flavors and textures. The pickled turnip was really nice with the black eyed peas.
I treated the greens very simply. Usually, turnip greens are boiled for long periods of time with bacon or ham until there is almost no resemblance to the original bright leafy green. I assure you this cooking method is not necessary to achieve good flavor and tenderness and it certainly isn't as healthy for you. By adding a small amount of water and butter to a stainless skillet over medium heat and seasoning lightly with sea salt and white pepper, the greens become very tender in just a few minutes and have a very good flavor. As you can see they also retain their beautiful color.
Next, I made a really yummy and light fried cornbread using a cast iron skillet. There really isn't anything super magical here. I do like to use a piping bag to put the batter into the hot oil. This allows me to actually make a really interesting shape (a pretzel shape for example) vs. just a cornbread pancake.
The blackeyed peas are easy. I prefer to use frozen blackeyed peas as they are flash frozen fresh from the field and tend to hold up better to cooking for the length of time they require. We season them very simply when they are nearly finished simmering and add a bit of pork because...well it's tradition. Lastly, I had some left-over homemade cranberry sauce, which is made by taking fresh cranberries and simmering them in simple syrup (equal parts sugar/water). I add a splash of orange liqueur or triple sec and some orange zest. The pectin in the fruit and the sugar cause the sauce to thicken as it cools. The sauce is really yummy by itself or with pretty much everything on the plate.
Anyhow, I was inspired to do something a little different this year, so I thought I would share. I know a lot of people who read these posts wonder how the heck I can find the time to do this stuff. The truth is, it really doesn't take long. If you know the techniques and plan in advance, these meals come together rather quickly. Trust me, if I can do it, so can you.
Happy New Year, All!