Spice It Up

By Chandra Orr

September 11, 2009 6 min read

Tired of humdrum ham and traditional turkey? Spice it up this season with international flavors that add a kick to Christmas dinner.

"People have been leaning toward bigger and bolder flavors -- more spice, more aromatics, more nuances," says chef Joey Altman, host of the award-winning San Francisco cooking show "Bay Caf?" and author of "Without Reservations: How to Make Bold, Creative, Flavorful Food at Home" ($35, Wiley).

"Both turkey and ham are very adaptable to almost any style, from American or Asian to Latin or Indian, so being creative with them is very easy," Altman says.

For approachable entrees that pack punches, look to Indian and Latin flavors, and don't be afraid to add a little heat.

"Latin and Indian cooking have seen a great surge in popularity in all levels of dining, from street foods to white-tablecloth restaurants," Altman says. "While it is sometimes comforting to have the same meal once a year, every year, even the most sentimental will appreciate a perked-up and exciting new holiday table."

Take a walk on the wild side. Use Indian curry as a flavor rub, or treat your taste buds to a cumin and ancho chili blend. It's an easy way to give a traditional dish a modern makeover.

Buck convention and think Caribbean. Look to coconut and saffron to spice up a seafood feast of shrimp, crab, scallops and fish in lieu of conventional Christmas fare.

Want to use what's on hand? For those with a penchant for a little heat, Tabasco pepper sauce and Dijon mustard add a quick kick to ham.

For a truly exotic experience, Altman recommends a dynamic Oaxacan-inspired cocoa and chili turkey rub.

"It showcases the dark, deep, savory side of chocolate we rarely get to taste," he says. "When blended with spices such as cumin and dried chilies, the chocolate adds a profound dimension of depth and richness."


1/2 cup olive oil

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1/4 cup ancho chili powder

2 tablespoons fresh toasted cumin seed, ground

1 tablespoon garlic powder

1 tablespoon ground black pepper

1 tablespoon cayenne pepper

Preheat oven to 325 F.

Remove gizzards and neck from a 14- to 16-pound turkey.

Rinse turkey with cold water. Pat dry.

Combine rub ingredients in a small bowl. Spread evenly over and inside the entire turkey.

Truss turkey. Place in roasting pan. Cover with foil.

Roast turkey for about 3 1/2 hours, to an internal temperature of 175 F, basting every 20 minutes.

Remove foil. Roast at 400 F, basting every 15 minutes, until skin is deep golden brown.

Remove from oven. Let rest for 15 to 20 minutes before carving.

(Recipe from Joey Altman for Diageo Chateau & Estate Wines.)


Servings: 2

4 jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined

4 scallops

4 snow crab claws

2 pieces of fish (any variety)

4 small broccoli florets, cooked al dente

3 cherry tomatoes, washed and quartered

1 "nest" Pappardelle pasta, cooked al dente

7 ounces coconut milk

8 ounces heavy cream

3 tablespoons coconut cream

1/2 teaspoon saffron

Salt and pepper, to taste

For the sauce, combine ingredients in a saucepan. Bring to a boil. Let simmer about 10 minutes, or until sauce develops a medium to rich yellow color.

Cook pasta in seasoned water with olive oil until al dente, and then drain.

Cook scallops, snow crab claws and fish in a saucepan for approximately 5 minutes.

Place a portion of pasta in the middle of a soup bowl. Arrange the seafood around pasta. Add broccoli and cherry tomatoes. Pour sauce over the pasta and seafood.

(Recipe from chef Dwain Springer, Peter Island Resort, British Virgin Islands.)


Servings: 14

1 pork leg half, shank portion (about 7 pounds with bone)

10 cloves garlic

1/2 cup freshly chopped parsley

1/2 cup dry breadcrumbs

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon original Tabasco pepper sauce (for the topping)

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons pan drippings

2 tablespoons flour

1/4 teaspoon original Tabasco pepper sauce (for the gravy)

2 cups water

Prepare crumb topping by combining parsley, breadcrumbs, mustard, Tabasco sauce, thyme and salt in medium bowl until well-blended. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 325 F. Place pork in large roasting pan. Insert garlic cloves into meat with small sharp knife, about 2 inches apart and 2 inches deep. Press crumb mixture onto outside of roast. Cook meat about 3 1/2 hours. Roast 32 to 35 minutes per pound, or until a meat thermometer inserted into thickest part (not touching the bone) registers 160 F. Cover meat loosely with foil when crumbs are golden brown. Remove to cutting board. Let stand 15 minutes before slicing.

To prepare pan gravy, drain off all but 2 tablespoons fat from the pan drippings. Sprinkle with flour and Tabasco sauce. Whisk over medium-high heat until smooth, scraping browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Gradually whisk in water until blended. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer for 5 minutes until thickened, stirring frequently.

(Recipe from Tabasco.)

Like it? Share it!

  • 0