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Season's eatings

With its tropical produce and French-Amerindian-inspired cooking, the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe puts on a seriously good Christmas spread. We asked some of the island’s top chefs what they’ll be serving this December

Season's eatings

Text by Sarah Warwick Illustration⁄SazMasterFlash

If you’re a northerner in global terms, you probably associate Christmastime with the cold and dark – with snowy landscapes, chilly nights and bobble hats. But over in the French Caribbean, it’s quite the opposite. Here advent is marked with a month of outdoor parties, where locals sing and dance to the beat of a drum under a constant sun, and Christmas is a 24-hour feast of chilli-glazed meats and gallons of festive rhum punch.
Along with Martinique and Grenada, the island has an unparalleled Caribbean food culture. Although the same tropical fruits and spices are found across the archipelago, here the French colonial influence, combined with an Amerindian heritage, has brought a particularly refined style of Creole fusion cooking.  
Now these islands are having something of a foodie renaissance as young chefs who have trained in Paris or London have returned to the island to inject new life into traditional recipes at their restaurants. So what will these exciting young chefs be serving up this Christmas? We asked them to make us a chic Creole feast fit for a rum-toting Caribbean Santa… 
 
 
 

Advent festivities

Christmas kicks off on the island with three weeks of advent, but instead of sharing calendars the islanders share songs. They hold daily parties called “Chanté Nwel” –  literally “Sing Christmas” – where dedicated bands play carols to the beat of a drum.

The songs are religious but with a twist – in addition to the usual nativity figures, there’s a local character called Michaud who gives his own take on the story. Tickets to the parties can sell out weeks in advance and they are generally accompanied by traffic jams as people cross the island to attend.

Traditionally the dish of choice for this period would have been kakado – crayfish – and these are still eaten, although the parties are also an excuse to break out the Christmas food early – handing round finger food on paper plates – particularly ham, smoked and dipped in a “chien” spicy sauce.

KAKADO IN CHRISTMAS DRESS & ITS MAKIS OF SHALLOTS, LACQUERED CARIBBEAN GOOSEBERRY JAM & PIGEON PEAS
by Ruddy Colmar. For two people

Ingredients 
  • 4 big kakado/crayfish, at least 
  • 200g/7oz pigeon peas 
  • 200g/7oz shallots
  • 100g/3.5oz onions, finely chopped
  • 50g/1.76oz bacon cubes
  • 4 tablespoons Caribbean gooseberry jam 
  • 10cl whipped cream 
  • 100g/3.5oz Japanese noodles 
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil 
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 50ml old rhum from Guadeloupe
  • 2 pieces mild chilli  

Method
  1. Cook the pigeon peas in a broth of onions, spring onions, vegetarian pepper, garlic and bacon cubes for 20 minutes. Let it reduce and pour in some whipped cream. 
  2. Reduce again.
  3. Lacquer the shallots with the Caribbean gooseberry jam, burn with old rum.
  4. Boil the Japanese noodles.
  5. Shell the kakado tails then roll the crayfish in the noodles. Pan-fry your dressed kakados, add salt and pepper.
  6. Make two zucchini rosettes (maki style) then stuff one with the pigeon peas and the other with the lacquered and burnt shallots. Raise the dish.
Ruddy Colmar grew up in El Rancho, a family-friendly resort on Grand-Bourg de Marie-Galante island in the Guadeloupian archipelago. He learned his trade first by observing chefs there, before later attending catering school in France. Four years ago he returned home to set up Au Widdy’s (named for a local mispronunciation of his name), a restaurant that, he says, aims to “reveal the finesse and flavour of the West Indian soil”. auwiddys.com

The Christmas feast

December isn’t a good time to be a pig in the French Antilles. Many families keep one that they fatten year-round, before killing it one or two days before Christmas. None of it goes to waste on an island that has been practising “nose-to-tail eating” since long before it became fashionable.

On the big day, which starts on the evening of 24 December, the table will be laden with the fruits of sad piggy’s demise: the triple-smoked glazed ham; chunks of slow-cooked pork with all kinds of spices and garlic; even pig’s tail or bacon in the slow-cooked rice and peas. 

A good portion of the pork will be destined for Pâtés salés Creoles, which are everywhere at this time of year. These ‘patties’ aren’t like the more-famous Jamaican ones, but made from puff pastry – a sign of the French influence. 

Other dishes on the Christmas table will have the Gallic touch as well. Yams are mashed with béchamel sauce and baked in the oven as a gratin, and the essential spicy black pudding, once again made from the poor porker, is known as boudin noir.

SLOW-COOKED SMOKED HAM WITH HONEY & HIBISCUS FLOWER
By Jimmy Bibrac

Ingredients

  • One smoked pork ham (about 3 kg)
  • 100g of hibiscus flower (dried)
  • 5 tablespoons honey
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 1 large carrot
  • 1 white onion
  • 1 small bouquet of thyme
  • 50cl white wine
  • salt and pepper to taste 

Method

  1. In a roasting pan, season your ham and add honey, garlic and white wine.
  2. Add the washed carrot, peeled and cut into strips, also cut the onion coarsely, and add with the bay, thyme and the hibiscus flowers.
  3. Make sure meat is covered and leave to marinate for 24 hours under cling film.
  4. The next day, remove the film and bake the ham in its marinade at 130o for four hours, basting every 30 minutes.

Jimmy Bibrac grew up around food, taking his knowledge of ingredients from his farmer father and sharing his keen passion for cooking with his family. He specialises in what he calls “the Creole Gastronomic inventive cuisine” focusing on local flavours and spice. He has had his own restaurant, O Z’épices, since 2011. o-zepices.restaurant-guadeloupe.net


P
ÅTÉS SALÉS CREOLES
by Vanessa Bolosier. Makes 20 small pies

Ingredients 

  • 2 tablespoons sunflower oil
  • 200g/7oz minced (ground) pork or beef
  • 2 garlic cloves, very finely chopped
  • Half red habanero chilli, very finely chopped
  • 3 spring onions (scallions), very finely chopped
  • 3 sprigs thyme, leaves only, very finely chopped
  • 2 sprigs parsley, very finely chopped
  • Half teaspoon ground allspice
  • Half teaspoon mixed spice
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 300g/10.5oz chilled puff pastry dough
  • 1 egg yolk, beaten with 1 teaspoon (low fat) milk

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas mark four. Line a baking sheet with baking parchment.
  2. Heat the oil in a frying pan (skillet) over a medium-high heat and brown the meat. 
  3. Add the garlic, chilli, spring onions, thyme, parsley, allspice, mixed spice, salt and pepper, and cook for two to three minutes. Leave to cool slightly. 
  4. Divide the pastry into four. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the first piece of pastry until it is 2mm thick. Using a 10cm-round cutter (or a small glass), cut out 10 circles. 
  5. Place the pastry circles on a lined baking sheet. Put one tablespoon of the filling in the middle of each circle; don’t overfill. Cover it with another pastry circle. Using the tines of a fork, crimp the edges of the pastry. 
  6. Repeat until you’ve used all the pastry and filling. Brush egg yolk all over the top of the pies with a brush. 
  7. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes, until golden brown. 
  8. Serve hot or cold.

Vanessa Bolosier was born in Guadeloupe but now lives in London, where she’s been spreading the love for Creole food. In 2012 she launched an Antilles pop-up supper club because, as she says, “Not many people knew about the cuisine of the French Caribbean.” Last year she turned her recipes into a book, Creole Kitchen (Pavilion, 2015), and her take on Creole has taken off in the UK – she’s even cooked for a Spice Girl (Mel C, if you’re wondering).  

Dessert island

Take one cocoa-producing island, and add the influence of French patisserie – not to mention an abundance of tropical fruits and homegrown spices, and you’ve got the makings of some cracking desserts. Typically every family will have their own chocolate log – the Bûche de Noël – on Christmas day, and many will also have a blancmange with coconut milk. There’s also the prospect of a Mont Blanc, made from sponge, coconut cream, tropical fruits and grated coconut – sometimes with a red-currant syrup drizzled on top. The peel of a large grapefruit – a chadec – is candied and served on the side, along with oodles of chocolates.

PRESQU'ÍLE (PINEAPPLE & COCONUT TARTLETS) 
by Jeff Antus 

Ingredients 
For the vanilla panna cotta
  • 1 cup liquid cream
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 40g/1.4oz sugar
  • 5.5g/0.2oz gelatine (2 leaves)

For the coconut sablé Breton

  • 3 egg yolks
  • 130g/4.5oz sugar
  • 140g/5oz butter
  • 200g/7oz flour
  • 60g/2oz dehydrated shredded coconut 
  • 1 teaspoon fine salt
  • 8.5g/0.3oz baking powder

For the caramelised pineapple

  • 1 pineapple
  • 1 lime
  • 1oz sugar
  • 1 dab of butter

Method

For the panna cotta

  1. With the tip of a knife, split the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape out the seeds. 
  2. In a saucepan, boil the liquid cream with sugar, add the gelatine and let the vanilla seeds infuse. 
  3. Pour into hemispherical shaped moulds and leave to set in the fridge for at least three hours.

For the coconut sablé Breton

  1. In the tank of a beater, pour the egg yolks, sugar and whisk until a creamy colour is achieved.
  2. Add the softened butter and mix, then add flour, coconut, salt and baking powder. 
  3. Leave the mixture in the refrigerator. 
  4. Roll out the dough then store in the refrigerator. Cut out circles of dough using a cookie cutter or the rim of a glass.
  5. Preheat oven to 180oC/356oF/gas mark four and bake the dough 10 minutes. Leave to cool. 

For the caramelised pineapple

  1. Peel the pineapple and remove the core, then cut into 1cm dices. 
  2. Squeeze the lime. 
  3. In a saucepan warm up the butter and sauté the pineapple dices. 
  4. Add sugar, lime juice and caramelise the pineapple. Allow to cool in the refrigerator.

To serve

  1. Put the biscuit on a plate, garnish with a layer of caramelised pineapple and top it with the panna cotta.

jeff antus had dreamed of being a chef since childhood, but studied agriculture at university in France. It was only after he appeared on the French Masterchef show in 2011 that he started to realise his dream, returning to the island, and launching a gourmet food truck, Délices du Papillon, with his wife Aurélie. Now a restaurant in Baie-Mahault, Papillon is fully booked every day. delicesdupapillon.com

POM MASSALA YULE LOG
By David Vignau

Serves 7

Ingredients

For biscuit 

  • 45g egg whites
  • 62g caster sugar
  • 30g flour
  • 120g grated coconut
  • 60g icing sugar

For apple sauce

  • 200g apple, cubed
  • 50g brown sugar
  • 70ml passion fruit juice
  • Pinch cinnamon

For white chocolate mousse

  • 100g milk
  • 6g orange zest
  • Half vanilla pod
  • 45g egg yolk (around three medium yolks)
  • 35g sugar
  • Half gelatin sheet 
  • 50g white chocolate 
  • 230g whipped cream

Method

  1. To make the biscuit, whisk the egg whites with caster sugar. Sieve the flour, grated coconut and icing sugar. Use a spatula to gently add the dry mix to the egg whites.
  2. Spread 8mm-thick layer of mixture on a hotplate covered by a baking paper. Cook at 170o for 15 min. Leave to cool.
  3. Delicately braise the cubed apple in a pan with passion-fruit juice, sugar and cinnamon. Cook until lightly crunchy and put aside.
  4. Make a custard with the mousse ingredients by infusing the orange zest in the milk for 15 minutes. In another bowl, whisk the egg yolks and sugar; then add to the hot milk. Warm to 65o. 
  5. Fluff up the gelatin in the iced water and wring out. Mix the gelatin and white chocolate into the custard. Cool down to 40o. 
  6. Whip the cream and gently whisk into the mix.
  7. Assemble the yule log in a silicone baking tin, by placing a layer of mousse, then a biscuit rectangle, then a layer of apples, another layer of mousse and finally a new layer of biscuit. 
  8. Freeze for 24 hours. Remove from tin. Allow to rest in the fridge for four hours. 
  9. Adorn with your choice of fruits and chocolate.

An artisan of pastries and designated Maître Chocolatier, David Vignau arrived in Guadeloupe six years ago, fresh from a 13-year stint at Lindt’s research centre in France. He loves to experiment with the tropical ingredients of the Caribbean, and prides himself on attention to detail and “passionate craftsmanship”, comparing his work to that of a watchmaker or jeweller. Find him in Baie Mahault. facebook.com/davidvignau.maitrechocolatier

Festive cheers!

Christmas is always an excuse to enjoy the island’s rum – sometimes too much. Some of the songs sung during Chanté Nwel are about this – one features a man who becomes so merry his neighbours have to roll him down the street.  

For the festive season, the island’s everyday cocktail, the Ti’ Punch, is given a twist using sorrel syrup, made from hibiscus flowers, and other cocktails are made including coconut, chocolate, even peanuts. Shrubb is the most famous festive drink, traditionally made with air-dried orange peel soaked in rum with cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla pods. Young islanders are commissioned to eat loads of oranges in December so their parents can collect peel to infuse the rum.

Christmas cocktails
by Rainer Boucard
SHRUBB
Ingredients 
  • 6cl spicy Longueteau rum
  • 4cl orange juice
  • 2cl squeezed tangerine juice
  • 2cl vanilla syrup
  • 1cl lemon juice
  • Dash of Angostura orange bitters
  • Grated nutmeg and cinnamon
  • Vanilla pod

Method

  1. Add all the ingredients and ice to a shaker.
  2. Shake, and strain into a glass filled with fresh ice.
  3. Garnish with an orange wedge.

COCO LOVER (Alcohol free)

Ingredients 

  • 10cl coconut water 
  • 7 mint leaves 
  • Two cucumber slices 
  • 2cl lemon juice 
  • 1cl cane syrup

Method

  1. Add the simple syrup and lime juice in a highball glass, 
  2. fill with ice and stir. Add the coconut water, mint and cucumber. Stir well to combine. Garnish with a mint sprig.

Rainer Boucher has built up fame on his native island through years of experience despite being a self-taught bartender. He is the founder of the Bartender of the Year awards, which he set up in 2010 in partnership with the Creole Beach Hotel (this year’s event takes place on 17 December). He takes inspiration from the “wealth” of tropical fruits and spices on the islands, and guarantees visitors a “unique gustatory experience”.

Norwegian flies to Guadeloupe from Baltimore/Washington, Boston, Ft Lauderdale-Florida and New York/JFK. Book flights, a hotel and a rental car at norwegian.com

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