Have you begun preparations for your Noche Buena yet?
You’d be surprised at how early some households begin planning for the centerpiece of holiday meals. After all, Christmas eve dinner is a major production number in almost every household, and it is especially so when that household is composed of two acclaimed chefs and their extended family.
Such is the case of the Laudicos. Every year, Chef Lau hosts Christmas Eve dinner for his family in his own home, and that means a minimum of four courses for at least a dozen people, which translates into a ton of cooking. Pulling it off is no mean feat, not even for this seasoned restaurateur and caterer. Aside from relying on his ever-dependable La Germania range, he draws from his years of experience in cooking for large groups of people to be able to create masterpiece meals year after year.
The secret? It’s all in the preparation.
The power of prep
“I spend the entire day cooking for Christmas dinner,” shares Chef Lau, “but you don’t have to do everything on the day itself.”
In fact, a lot of your success rests on doing the exact opposite. Planning ahead and preparing your tools and ingredients beforehand often spells the difference between a disastrous dinner and a well-executed Noche Buena.
Chef Lau always includes his diners’ likes and dislikes when he prepares meals, and for the holidays, he even includes them in the planning, which can be done even a couple of weeks in advance.
“Before I make the menu, I ask my family and guests if there’s something in particular they would like. They always have special requests, and every year it’s something different. From those requests, you can begin to shape the menu.”
Then comes the fun part – shopping.
“The secret to any good dish is to start with the very best ingredients that you can find. If you start with good ingredients, there’s a good chance that the dish will come out good. If you start with bad ingredients, then nothing you can do to them, no amount of cooking, will make them be good,” the chef explains. “So you have to know where to get your ingredients, and you can shop for them well ahead of time. For fresh greens and seafood, it’s always best to buy them on the day you’re cooking them, but the other things, like meat, you can probably get a couple of days before, well-frozen.”
Frozen meat require a prep step of their own—defrosting. Laudico stresses that this is an essential step in your holiday meal-making.
“It’s important that you defrost your meat properly. Cold, partially frozen meat will take longer to cook and may be undercooked on the inside, or it could be dry and tasteless.”
Plan for the time it will take for the meat to slowly thaw out in your refrigerator. For big roasts, that might take as much as 48 hours. For smaller items like whole chickens, 24 hours should be more than enough.
Choosing your tools
Of course, choosing what to work with in the kitchen is important, too. A reliable cooking range or oven that will withstand the rigors of everyday cooking as well as the occasional increased demand of preparing large amounts of food for celebrations is of outmost importance.
You also have to choose the kind of energy you want to cook with—gas or electricity—and pick a range based on that.
Most condominiums no longer allow gas ovens among tenants, citing safety reasons. But even if their condo building allows for gas cooking ranges, Chef Lau chose to go with an electric oven in his home.
“It’s so responsive,” he says, “the temperature is so easy to control and maintain throughout the cooking process.”
Some cooking processes are reliant on being able to maintain a low, even temperature, or a searing hot one. Chef Lau’s range of choice offers a magnificent temperature range, reaching temperatures high enough for broiling his favorite holiday roasts and low enough to serve as a dehydrator to make dried fruit leathers. What’s even more impressive is that an electric oven can maintain that temperature for extended periods of time, ensuring that whatever you’re cooking is not subjected to drastic temperature changes while it cooks.
“Of course, every oven is unique, too, so you have to become familiar with how your oven works by using it as often as you can. That familiarity gets you the best results,” said Lau.
So there you have it. The secrets to a masterpiece of a meal for Noche Buena – preparation, time management, and the right partner in the kitchen. From one family’s hearth to your own: happy cooking, everyone!