Chinese new year may belong to my grandmother, she of the legendary pineapple tarts. And my Koh family aunties, a stalwart group of women who make mooncakes rather than buy them each year, may own the Mooncake Festival. But Christmas — that will always, always be my Auntie Jane’s holiday.
In Singapore, where Christmas is typically celebrated by people of all races and religions — largely as a secular festival, one squarely centered on getting together to eat and exchange gifts — my family, representing a jumble of religions in itself, would do the same. It didn’t matter whether you were Buddhist, Protestant, Catholic or Jewish — we were united on Christmas Day in our quest to eat well, share gifts and sing along to cheeseball Christmas carols.
The venue for these celebrations was usually my Auntie Jane’s — she always had a beautiful tree, a wonderfully decorated home complete with holiday cards she had received fashioned into a 2-D Christmas tree plastered onto a wall and a large buffet table topped with turkey and ham, fried rice and noodles.
The one dish we truly looked forward to, however, was a potato gratin she whipped together just once a year — filled with sliced chipolata, a skinny British sausage that’s packed with seasonings, mushrooms, onions and potatoes, this gratin was a meal in itself. (And it’s usually a hit with even the pickiest of child eaters.)
Despite my fondness for it, this gratin was yet another family dish that I’d taken for granted and never attempted to make. But when my Let’s Lunch group, a monthly Twitter-fueled virtual lunch-date, decided on sharing a holiday dish from your family or culture this month, I decided it was high time I gave my Auntie Jane’s recipe a shot…
This recipe is pretty simple — well, it sounds that way when my Auntie Alice, who somehow happens to be the keeper of this recipe, explains it. You just slice up a bunch of ingredients, stir-fry them together, put them in a casserole dish and bake.
Not being able to find chipolata in my Brooklyn stores, however, I had to settle for some organic herbed turkey and chicken sausage, which didn’t look quite the same. And a little fiasco in my kitchen surrounding a misguided attempt to make Kewpie mayonnaise (a Japanese mayonnaise that’s flavored with rice vinegar) rather than get off my behind and trek to an Asian grocery rendered me without the ingredient that Auntie Jane squirts decoratively over her gratin. (It turns out regular mayonnaise isn’t quite the same substitute — mine didn’t brown and puff up the way Auntie Jane’s Kewpie lattice-weave does. Covering a failed mayo squirting with panko and parmesan, however, works quite well, I discovered.)
How did it taste? Not bad. Not the same — which would have been great — but not bad. Next year, though, it might be worth trekking back home for a Singapore Christmas so I can get the real thing.
In the meantime, happy holidays!
Don’t forget to check out the Let’s Lunchers’ festive family offerings below! And if you’d like to join Let’s Lunch, go to Twitter and post a message with the hashtag #Letslunch — or, post a comment below.
Charissa‘s Coconut Date Balls at Zest Bakery
Eleanor‘s Easy Festive Stir-Fry at Wok Star
Ellise‘s Lime-Chipotle Carrots at Cowgirl Chef
Emma‘s Mom’s Hot Crab Dip at Dreaming of Pots And Pans
Felicia‘s Chinese Butterfly Cookies at Burnt-Out Baker
Grace‘s Fruitcake at HapaMama
Joe‘s Maine Homestead Holiday Dishes at Joe Yonan
Linda‘s Baked Salad at Free Range Cookies
Linda‘s Trinidadian Baked Pastelles at Spicebox Travels
Lisa‘s Potato Latkes at Monday Morning Cooking Club
Lucy‘s “Not My Mama’s” Black-Eyed Peas & Greens at A Cook And Her Books
Maria‘s Grandma Dorothy’s Deviled Eggs at Maria’s Good Things
Patrick‘s Baby Pecan Pies at Patrick G. Lee
Rebecca‘s Grandmother Martha’s Potato Kugel at Grongar Blog
Renee‘s Cranberry Christmas Salsa at My Kitchen And I
Steff‘s Sweet Potato Casserole with Pecan Crumble at The Kitchen Trials
Victor‘s Roasted Parsnips, Carrots & Delicata Squash Tossed With Sauteed Mustard Greens at The Taste of Oregon
Auntie Jane’s Potato Gratin
5 or 6 large potatoes, cut into cubes
1 large white onion, finely chopped
1 can button mushrooms, drained or 12 oz. sliced fresh mushrooms
1 12 oz. package each of pork and chicken chipolata (or any kind of cooked well-seasoned sausage)
Various dried herbs: Marjoram, Oregano, Thyme, Rosemary
Butter and olive oil for frying
1.5 cups panko
3 tablespoons melted butter
1/2 cup grated parmesan
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Boil potatoes briefly until slightly soft. Drain immediately and place in a layer at the bottom of a buttered 9 by 13 casserole dish. Cut sausages on the diagonal into thin slices.
Heat a tablespoon or two of olive oil or butter (or combination of both) in a pan and fry onion until it’s soft and fragrant. Add sprinklings of various spices — or, instead of using a bunch of different spices, my aunties just sprinkle on McCormick’s Mixed Herbs. If using fresh mushrooms, add them at this point and stir-fry these together until the mushrooms have softened. Then add sausages and stir-fry well, mixing everything up, for a few minutes. If you’re using canned mushrooms, add them at this point.
Layer the sausage mixture on the potatoes. If using Kewpie mayonnaise, gently squirt it over the sausages in a decorative pattern — a lattice weave, perhaps. As my Auntie Alice says, “Make any design you like.”
If not using mayonnaise, mix topping ingredients in a medium bowl and sprinkle over the sausage mix.
Bake for 15 minutes or until Kewpie topping is puffy and golden brown or, if using panko topping, until panko has browned slightly.
Then, as Auntie Alice says, “Have fun and enjoy!”