You can take the boy out of Barbados but you can't take the big-hearted Bajan spirit out of Paul Carmichael's Christmas spread. The chef from Sydney's Momofuku Seiobo shares the greatest hits from the generous table his mother lays on for the big day back home.
"Christmas wouldn't be Christmas for us if it was just us," says Paul Carmichael. "If it was just me and my little brother and my dad and my mum and my older brother, it wouldn't seem right without the other 12 people." Carmichael, the chef of celebrated Sydney fine-diner Momofuku Seiobo (our current number-one Australian restaurant) says a Caribbean Christmas is a very social affair. And in Barbados, his homeland, the extended family is more extended than most.
"We start very early in Barbados," says Carmichael. "We get teased at breakfast by gifts that you can't open until later, then we go to church, then home for brunch, and then my mum would go out and pick up a bunch of older people and people who don't have family to spend Christmas with, and between 10 and 12 she'd be going back and forth dropping all these people at our house." The door is open to everyone, "and by 12 o'clock the place is looking pretty full".
Big as the crowd may be, though, the spread on the Christmas table in Barbados is going to be bigger still. The frankly epic menu Carmichael has given us here is only a slice of what would be served back home. "The table would be groaning with food. I mean a lot. What you see here is a drop in the bucket, the greatest hits." In addition to the spread in the following pages, you'd also see ham, "two or four chickens", several more salads, a sweet potato pie, another cake or two and jugjug, a Bajan take on the pease pudding made with boiled pigeon peas, salt beef and pork.
In devising this menu Carmichael said he had to defer to the true authority: his mother, Orlyn Carmichael, someone he describes as "a badass with a heart of gold". Speaking on the phone from Barbados, Orlyn says that cooking is something that's in her son's blood as much as her own.
Bajan roast pork.
"My great-grandmother was what you called a village cook," she says. "She would cook for all the weddings in the area, and then it came down to my grandmother and my mother, and now me. I do a little catering for people who don't have money for weddings and things. We're a cooking family. Paul likes to eat and he was cooking from the time he was three years old. My brothers are all cooks - everybody cooks."
Beyond what's at the table, and who's seated around it, the flavour of a true Barbados Christmas is something mother and son have no trouble agreeing upon.
"Laughter and fun," answers Orlyn without a second's hesitation. "It's a joyous day. It's such fun and joy and peace on that day."
Recipes by Paul Carmichael
A Bajan spread is quite a production and may involve some juggling of oven space - advance planning will make for plain sailing on the big day.
Soak fruit for great cake
Bake cake and brush daily with rum
Make Creole sauce for fish
Make curry paste for lamb and slow-roast lamb leg,
then cool, wrap loosely in foil and refrigerate
Cook corned beef for rice and peas
Make green seasoning (for the pork, Creole fish, and rice and
Roast pork, then cool, wrap loosely in foil and refrigerate
Wrap fish and Creole sauce in banana leaves and refrigerate
Soak beans for peas and rice
Prepare macaroni pie
Prepare and chill Coconut Punch
Roast lamb to reheat, then keep warm wrapped in foil
Bake macaroni pie and keep warm
Make peas and rice and keep warm
Roast pork to reheat and finish crackling, and set aside
loosely covered in foil
Prepare ingredients for salad, make dressing, and
refrigerate both separately
Roast Creole fish
Prepare Bajan Rum Punch (minus the soda)
Top up Bajan Rum Punch with soda and ice
Serve Coconut Punch
Plate fish, pork and lamb
Transfer peas and rice to a bowl
Serve macaroni pie in its baking dish
Dress and season salad
Transfer cake to a platter and finish with a glass of vintage Port or Bajan rum.
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