Christmas dinner just got more exciting – it turns out you don’t have to turn your back on delicious Thai food and revert back to familiar Western standards.
Christmas is just around the corner and, for the thousands of expats living in Thailand, there are tons of places to find a traditional western Yuletide feast – the turkey with all the trimmings, the roast spuds, the honey-glazed ham. But those who decided to move to Bangkok partly because of the vibrant Thai food, Christmas doesn’t need to be a time to pivot back to familiar fare. Indeed, it’s entirely possible to adapt the Christmas staples according to the ingredients and flavour profiles that dominate the Thai table.
Jason Bailey (below, left), chef-owner of Paste, is one of the standard-bearers for innovative, upscale Thai food, delivering bold new combinations that bring out the best in Thai food while remaining faithful to its core principles. He has accepted the challenge of delivering Christmas dinner, Thai-style.
“When we’re tweaking it, we’re not doing a fusion,” he insists. “We’re not adding in western sauces. That’s where it can go horribly wrong. The meat needs to be respected and you need to contain the moisture. Also, it’s Christmas Day and you need fat on Christmas Day. Fat is flavour.”
Bailey has planned three courses – enough to ensure the desired Boxing Day ‘food hangover’. Instead of a smoked salmon starter – perhaps enjoyed as a brunch with a glass of champagne – Bailey prepares a salmon salad (below, right), pan-fried with galangal, which is rarely used this way.
“We cut the salmon for consistent thickness,” he explains. “And the key is, when you pan fry it, put it skinside-down and put it in only once the pan is really hot, although you don’t want the salmon to go above 45 degrees internally – it will release its juices and dry out.
“Where people mess up is they turn it too soon. You want to do that right at the end, just to kiss the other side and firm it up.”
Plated up, the salmon has that exquisitely crispy skin while the galangal gives it an unexpected tang – a perfect starter. Bailey’s commitment to remaining anchored in Thai food extends beyond mere concept – he’s also a firm believer in local produce.
“It’s good salmon, sustainably farmed,” he says. “Some people want to import things from halfway around the world but there’s just no need. There are a lot of things you don’t need to import if you just put a bit of thought into it. Remember that if something’s imported, it may also have been gassed to slow-ripen it.”
For the second course, Bailey offers a spin on the Christmas ham, serving up a gourmet pork hock, which can be found throughout Bangkok as a street stall favourite known as khao kha moo.
“I’ve shaved it off to serve it like a glazed ham,” Bailey says. “For a masterstock, I’ve used light and dark soys, some pork stock, cinnamon, star anise and yellow rock sugar. There’s also some Chinese wine, cloves and dried tangerine peel.”
This one takes some extra preparation – the hock has been slow-cooked for three hours the day before, then pressed into shape, before being refrigerated for six hours or, even better, overnight.
“On the day you want to eat it, sit it in the masterstock, braise it for 20 minutes – just shallow fry it, a bit like bacon,” Bailey says. “The glaze should be caramel – serve it with pickled yellow bamboo shoots and pomelo. It should taste sweet, citrus and salty.”
Then, finally, the main course. Christmas just isn’t the same without a big fat game bird to take centre stage. And, in keeping with the Thai theme, Bailey has replaced turkey with goose (main image).
“Goose is everything for Christmas and it’s traditionally a Chinese staple,” he says. “I’ve pricked the skin and rubbed it with sea salt – sea salt is the king.
“And the kind you get from Samut Songkhram, it’s more briney – it’s quite unique. It sounds stupid but good salt shouldn’t actually taste too salty – it should really just sharpen or intensify the other flavours.
“To really set the goose off, you want to use a northern pepper – it’s called makhwaen; technically it’s a berry, not even the same family as pepper. It’s a bit like Szechuan pepper – citrusy and although it numbs the mouth, it makes it more sensitised at the same time. That’s why the Yannan and the Szechuan love it – it sharpens the palate to all other flavours.”
Again, it’s all about planning ahead. The goose needs to be left for eight hours, allowing the skin to draw in the flavours. It’s then stuffed with lime and steamed for about two hours; longer for bigger geese.
“You then need to fry it in clean oil for about four minutes, with the whole thing submersed, preferably in peanut oil,” Bailey says. “Then drizzle it in fish sauce, white sugar, castor sugar, lime juice and orange.”
Turning Thai food into a Christmas feast might be a disaster waiting to happen for less skilled cooks but Bailey insists that, with a few well-judged substitutions, the adaptation isn’t as tricky as it sounds.
“For example, we use palm sugar instead of honey – it’s not as sweet and is more earthy,” he says. “And then we add a citrus element – lime or tamarind. In the pork hock we use the hoisin as a salt element. And I use cinnamon because it’s awesome – who doesn’t like cinnamon?
“You’ve got to form a base in your mind so you don’t bastardise it,” he says.
“A lot of Christmas food, sugar leads the charge but Thai food has more harmony between sweet, salty and sour. But we still want to produce that feeling of what Christmas is all about – that’s fat, sugar and, to a degree, excess. It should recall that but, at the same time, we’re living in Asia.”
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Christmas and New Year Promotions
Atelier & Tapas Y Vino, Grand Millennium Sukhumvit
On Christmas Day, Atelier & Tapas Y Vino will prepare a tasty brunch buffet including whole duck galantine with pistachio, black truffle and black olive oil with a brandy shrimp avocado cocktail.
Holiday Inn Bangkok (Ploenchit Rd)
Enjoy the Thai buffet with many festive dishes such as grilled chicken, som tam, spicy chicken salad and fish maw soup. Available from 6pm-10.30pm on December 24-25 and 31 for B999.
Novotel Bangkok Platinum Pratunam
Enjoy the traditional Christmas lunch buffet for B449 with roast turkey with chestnut stuffing and cranberry sauce. There’s also a New Year’s Eve buffet for B2014 with a bumper selection of the finest cuts of meat.
Eastin Grand Sathorn Hotel Bangkok
The Glass House New Year’s Eve Dinner Buffet is available from 7pm to 11pm for B2014, including free-flow soft drinks or B2557 including free-flow soft drinks and selected wines.
Royal Orchid Sheraton Hotel & Towers
The Italian set dinner at Giorgio is only B2000 on Christmas Eve. On the same night, Feast offers a vast array of special Christmas Eve International and BBQ buffet dinner at B2300.
Central Plaza Ladprao Bangkok
Celebrate this festive season with the finest delicacies and wines while enjoying the traditional Christmas Eve buffet (B1350 or B1650 with free-flow wine and sparkling wine) at Chatuchak Café from 6.30pm.
Enjoy the traditional festive buffet dinner at Espresso for B2199 on Christmas Eve and B1869 on Christmas Day. Later, enjoy true Italian fare and refreshing cocktails at Terrazza – open at 8pm with great music.
Novotel Bangkok on Siam Square
Celebrate a delectable array of international food at The Square. Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve Dinner are offered for only B1600 while Christmas Day Brunch and New Year’s Day Brunch are B1300.
The Festive Programme will be spread over four days from 6pm-11pm. On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, enjoy your buffet dinner at Red Oven for B2300 or go to Park Society for a five-course set menu dinner (B4800).
Banyan Tree Bangkok
On December 24-25, there’s a five-course set dinner (B4700) in Vertigo’s award-winning signature style, while an all-you-can-eat dim sum lunch (B1355) is offered at Bai Yun.
Crowne Plaza Bangkok Lumpini Park
Christmas Eve Dinner (B1199) and Christmas Day Lunch Buffet (B999) are offered at Panorama restaurant – feast on the oyster bar, seafood selection, saltbush lamb, and turkey to name a few.
The Sukhothai Bangkok
Begin this Christmas Eve with a festive buffet dinner (B2900) at Colonnade or five-course dinner (B3900) at La Scala.
Sofitel Bangkok Sukhumvit
Make your Christmas special at Voilà. Get together with family and friends and savour the delicious Christmas Eve dinner buffet. L’Appart’s Christmas Eve dinner (B3500) will include a five-course set menu.