Christmas in the Caribbean. Watching my free-wheeling friends take off for sun and surf, I decided to go them one better and bring the warmth and color of Caribbean cuisine to our own fireside.
A hand-woven tablecloth, a pottery dish painted with characteristic Haitian panache, a background of reggae supplied by my teen-age son, all helped to set the tropical scene. Within a few hours we covered several thousand miles and several styles of cuisine.
Our tour began in the Dominican Republic with a crisp little shrimp fritter, flavored in typical Spanish style with garlic and onion. I suggest serving it with cocktails as a leisurely opening to this menu, but the fritters also would make an excellent first course, served with a coulis of fresh tomato and green peppers in echo of the local sofrito sauce.
A Leap of Tastes
From there it is a 500-mile leap to Barbados, often compared to the rural English country of Surrey with its gentle hills, golf courses and country clubs. British cooking at its best is exemplified by creamy soup in which crab is left to stand on its own against a brisk background of Sherry.
On to Puerto Rico for the main course, a plump chicken stuffed with raisins and coconut and served with pan juices as gravy. You might like to try the same stuffing in the Christmas turkey; it blends well with traditional accompaniments such as sweet potato, squash and cranberry sauce.
The chicken platter is adorned with a garland of fresh tropical fruits. Though intended purely as decoration, they must tempt the frailest appetite.
A Surprising Combination
Equally refreshing are cucumbers baked with orange--a combination that surprisingly resembles the taste of melon.
Last stop for dessert is Martinique, famous for the potency of its rum and the finesse of its cuisine. The two combine in an unusual version of that old favorite, baked bananas. Here the bananas are plantains that are layered with fresh pineapple, sprinkled with brown sugar and baked until caramelized. Topped with hot rum, the dish flambes with a gusto that truly celebrates the season.
CHRISTMAS DINNER IN THE CARIBBEAN FOR 6
Bombas de Camarones y Papas (Shrimp and Potato Fritters)
Cream of Crab Soup
Pollo Relleno Con Coco (Stuffed Chicken With Coconut)
Pepinos en Salsa de Naranja (Cucumbers in Orange Sauce)
Pineapple and Plantain Flambe
Suggested drink: Planter's punch or Cuba libres
Up to one day ahead make and bread fritters, then refrigerate. Make soup, but do not add crab meat, then refrigerate. Make stuffing for chicken, then refrigerate.
Up to three hours before serving prepare cucumbers. Keep at room temperature. Prepare fruit for flambe.
About two hours before serving stuff chicken, truss and roast. Prepare fruits for garnish.
Before dinner fry fritters. Serve with cocktails.
About 10 minutes before serving heat soup, then add crab meat. Remove chicken, keep warm and make gravy.
While serving soup reheat cucumbers in oven.
After serving soup bake fruits for flambe.
Just before dessert flame fruits.
BOMBAS DE CAMARONES Y PAPAS (Shrimp and Potato Fritters)
1/2 pound potatoes, peeled and cut in chunks
1 pound cooked shrimp, peeled and coarsely chopped
1/4 cup butter
1 bunch green onions, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 cup shredded Gruyere cheese
2 egg yolks
2 cups flour
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 cups fresh bread crumbs
Oil for deep frying
Place potatoes in pan and fill with enough cold salted water to cover vegetable. Cover and bring to boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer until tender when pierced with fork, 15 to 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, prepare shrimp. Melt butter in large skillet. Saute green onions and garlic in butter until tender, but not browned. Add shrimp and season to taste with salt and pepper. Continue cooking until shrimp are opaque, 1 to 2 minutes.
Drain potatoes. Mash or work through ricer into bowl. Stir in shrimp mixture. Let cool slightly. Stir in cheese and egg yolks. Taste to adjust for seasonings. Cover and chill mixture thoroughly.
Divide mixture into tablespoons. Flour hands, then roll mixture into balls. Set on wax paper. To bread, place flour, beaten eggs and bread crumbs in separate bowls. Roll ball of mixture first in flour, then dip in eggs, draining off excess, then coat with bread crumbs. Refrigerate breaded fritters, uncovered, at least 1 hour or up to 24 hours. Fritters may also be frozen.
To finish, heat oil to 375 degrees. Fry fritters a few at time until golden brown. Serve immediately. Makes 3 dozen fritters or 6 to 8 servings.
Note: Crab meat may be substituted for shrimp.
CREAM OF CRAB SOUP
1/3 cup butter
2 green onions, chopped
1/3 cup flour
1 quart milk
2 cups half and half
1/2 cup Sherry
1 pound crab meat
Juice of 2 limes
Dash Angostura bitters