28 December 2010

A Caribbean Yuletide

December brought us a mixed blessing (is there any other sort?) this year. Although we missed out on a Christmas charter because the boat owner did not choose to truncate his holiday dates, on the other hand we had the rare pleasure of sharing the holiday with just each other. For frantically busy crew (we did 27 weeks of charter last season), even a small breather like this is a gift in itself.

We worked steadily up to the afternoon of Christmas Eve, then cast off the mooring lines at base and treated ourselves to a little time off from sunset of Christmas Eve to the morning of Boxing Day. The wind-sculpted cliff faces of the south side of Norman Island led us to secluded and beautiful little Money Bay.

Christmas anchorage

The Captain amused himself with putting up fairy lights in the cockpit and helping me deck out the salon with shiny ornaments, and I amused myself with the other rare pleasure of cooking for... just two. Well, just two people and the magnum of Champagne from our boat show spoils. We tossed some fresh pomegranate seeds into the non-vintage bubbly—so festive: tiny ruby baubles fizzing up with the bubbles.

Holiday Cheer magnum
Holiday Bubbly 1

We had a trio of salmon for dinner on Christmas Eve. First, a plate with sashimi nouvelle-Japonaise style—with a mixture of chilli infused sesame oil, ponzu and rice wine vinegar heated to almost boiling and poured quickly over the translucent rosy slices. Then a tiny timbale of salmon tartare—fine dice of raw salmon and raw fennel tossed with salt-cured capers, a little Dijon mustard, a drop of hazelnut oil, a squitter of lemon. The contrast between the unctuous salmon dice and the crisp fennel was very pleasing to us. We followed that with one of The Captain's favourites of my menu on charter—lightly grilled salmon fillet served on a jewelled wild rice mix, accompanied by fennel confit and a sauce more-or-less-Maltaise (I had to use a Valencia orange, as blood oranges are no longer to be had, alas).

Christmas lunch was as pictured. This time, we had a trio of hamachi. We began with a little tower of hamachi ceviche and avocado flavoured with mirin, fresh ginger and ponzu; then I smeared part of the hamachi fillet on both sides with the shiro-miso (white miso paste) and seared it in a very hot pan. The mild nutty sweetness of the fine film of miso was just right to enhance the deliciously buttery texture and subtle flavour of the seared hamachi. I sprinkled on some sesame seeds to provide texture and to boost the nuttiness; and perched a flame-scorched piece of savoury nori for its intense flavour of the sea. To finish, we ate the remainder of the hamachi as simple sashimi with avocado slices, and some more ponzu and pickled ginger by way of accompaniment. The firm al dente bite of the raw fish contrasts nicely with the creamy avocado slices; and the crisp pickled ginger was just the right thing to 'cut' the unctuous combination.

hamachi trio : stack

hamachi trio : seared fillet

hamachi trio : fillet + sashimi

If I were on charter, I would have served this with a shot glass of ruby grapefruit and Campari salad by way of palate-cleanser, and some form of starch as ballast. Just for us though, it was pure indulgent pleasure to enjoy the various flavours and textures of the fish on its own.

Supper later that evening was mere grazing at a big wodge of Pont L'Évêque—the pungent feet-y exterior so different from the mellow silkiness within; and squares of rich, moist triple-ginger Christmas pudding served hot and doused with black rum sauce. We went to bed sipping at glasses glowing red with spiced mulled wine whose fragrance while simmering had filled the boat with festive perfume: cinnamon stick and cloves and nutmeg, parings of lemon and orange peel, fresh ginger, crushed cardamom and allspice berries.

The Captain's cheese 2The Captain's cheese 1Yuletide mulled wine 1


We also had the pleasure of greeting friends for the holidays—the hard-working and creative Tara and Sasha, of the Sail True blog ( a wonderful insiders' account of life as dedicated charter crew) as they shared the anchorage with us for the afternoon while on-charter with their boat owner.

We loved our Caribbean Yuletide celebration—its memories will sustain us for months to come.

Christmas Eve sunset

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about this blog

Occasional vignettes from the life of a charter chef who loves simply messing about on boats.

"I still think that one of the pleasantest of all emotions is to know that I, I with my brains and my hands, have nourished my beloved few, have concocted a stew or a story, a rarity or a plain dish, to sustain them truly against the hungers of the world."
MFK Fisher

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