Chef Santiago Lastra, from the award-winning restaurant KOL, in London, recalls the big traditional turkey that was always part of Christmas dinners at his family home in Mexico. "It is always served with many side dishes like mole and romeritos [a traditional Christmas recipe with the same name as the wild rosemary-like plant]", he says.
"But the day after, at my home, it was always about improvisation. In Mexico, we add some spices and other ingredients to change the flavours of the leftovers, so we feel we are eating something new,” Lastra explains. One of the recipes for this is ‘taco dorado’ (golden taco), a recipe that pairs tortillas that haven't been eaten the night before with the leftover turkey meat.
It's a kind of Mexican flautas (flutes), but deep-fried, allowing a crispy layer on the outside with moist meat in the filling. Taco dorado is a traditional Mexican taco made of corn tortillas, usually filled with potatoes, chicken and chorizo, then deep-fried until nicely golden. Lastra used only turkey meat for his version and created a rich and flavourful salsa using turkey stock, cranberry sauce, and chillies to spice the dish up. "I think the combination of the turkey with the tortilla creates a delicious flavour in this recipe.”
A ‘day after’ recovery risotto
During his childhood in Argentina, chef Mauro Colagreco, from three-Michelin starred Mirazur, in Menton, France, recalls his mother's Russian salad being a classic at family parties. Her goal was to use leftovers from roast chicken to make a fresh recipe for hot days, since Christmas in the southern hemisphere is celebrated during summer. "Since I live in Europe today, Christmas is usually cold, so I thought of a way of adapting the recipe as a risotto,” he says.
Colagreco's version also uses chicken trimmings, but incorporates them into a warm, comforting, and, above all, easy dish. "The day after Christmas, we're all with a hangover from too much eating and drinking, and spending time in the kitchen is the last thing one wants," he adds. His ‘day-after risotto’, as he calls it, uses the carcass for the broth but also a shallot and Parmesan cheese to give it extra flavours. "It's the reinterpretation of any mom's dish.”
A 'crossroads' curry
Chef and culinary researcher Ivan Brehm, of one-Michelin-starred Nouri, in Singapore, has always been interested in the ways different cultures cross at the table — he coined the term ‘crossroads cuisine’ for the menus he serves at his restaurant.
His leftover Christmas dish couldn’t be different: curry debal (devil curry, in English) is a Kristang dish (with Malaccan-Portuguese origin) often served one or two days after Christmas, using as many leftovers as possible (in original Kristang, ‘debal’ means ‘leftover’).
"It is incredibly spicy, super tart — think vindaloo on steroids,” he explains. The Eurasian dish combines eastern and western flavours (chicken, potatoes, white vinegar, mustard seeds, etc), bringing Portugal and Malaysia together in a delicious curry. The chicken is added to the pot, and it's coated with the spice paste. Then the potatoes, sugar and salt are added to the pot and the stew is covered with water and white vinegar.
"The use of vinegar instead of lime or tamarind is a Portuguese loan, making a dish that packs a punch and awakens the spirit,” he says — a good option for a post-Christmas hangover.
Brehm warns this is an adaptation of a classic and includes a few unorthodox ingredients. "Because you will be dealing with leftover meats, a fair bit of intuition is necessary to obtain enough gravy and good consistency. Different meats will result in different textured curries", he adds. Brehm also recommends: serve it with steamed white rice.
Bread is gold
More than a recipe, rabanada (the Portuguese answer to French toast) is a tradition established for decades from north to south. More common at Christmas, as a dessert for the night feast that brings together families and friends, it has slowly taken over menus
So much so, four years ago, chef Vasco Coelho Santos decided to include a rabanada at his Michelin-starred Euskalduna Studio menu in Porto. The dish has turned into an instant hit, proving the appeal of the slice of bread (usually stale) bathed in eggs and milk, then sat in a pan until beautifully golden outside.
The Portuguese version also takes a dose of Port wine, which makes it unique and different from others. Some add cinnamon sticks or lemon peel to give it more flavour; others include honey. Historically, rabanada was born from an effort to preserve and use all the leftover bread. And it has many meanings for Christmas, a date that celebrates Jesus, who used bread to represent generosity and communion.
Coelho Santos' take on the traditional dish made it tender on the inside, crispy and golden on the outside. "I use a technique of freezing the french toast before frying, which leaves the bread crumb with an almost cream-like texture," he explains. "It's our most modern version, but one that pays homage to a classic of Portuguese cuisine that, more and more, is consumed all year round.”