Guest Blog: The Food Waffles’ Christmas Salad

Christina McElhinney is a racing producer for Racing TV who has previously written for The Wine Tipster’s blog. Her own blog, The Food Waffle, is a place where the musings of an amateur home gardener and resourceful cook join and result in delicious recipes and accessible tips. Here, The Wine Tipster adds wine pairings to Christina’s Christmas Salad. Enjoy!

Christmas Salad: Maple Syrup & Whiskey Bacon and Warm Chestnuts with Blue Cheese Dressing

Obviously, Christmas is great. There’s food everywhere, plenty of wine around, generally speaking everyone’s in a good mood until the first row over sprouts kicks off and there are probably several million repeats of The Vicar Of Dibley that are virtually mandatory to watch whilst constantly shoving chocolate in your mouth because at Christmas, calories don’t actually exist.

Except unfortunately they do. And for all it’s great, Christmas can be a bit of an ambush on your body and while the first few days of carefree – or even deliberately headstrong – indulgence, I know I end up waving the white flag and needing something a bit lighter. Sort of like hitting the turkey wall – you suddenly realise that you’re not far off being unable to get off the sofa not because you don’t want to but because you would need at least three people and a JCB to help you actually do it.

But any day over the Christmas period that doesn’t involve the sort of ingredients and flavours you associate with the holidays feels like a criminal waste. So this year I decided I’d prep a recipe that not only uses things that are always so abundant in the days around the 25th but also embraces that they are flavours that are so often associated with the time of year, whilst also shoehorning in something green, light and actually presenting some degree nutritional benefit.

Salad at Christmas…it sounds almost wrong. Almost as if you’d have to psych yourself up for it. But for me, I always find that once you muster the willpower to pick up the fruit rather than the chocolate bar, you’re instantly rewarded by realising how truly delicious the healthy option usually is, and I’m hoping this Christmas this recipe will offer that same benefit whilst also embracing the flavours of the festive season.

So which flavours? For me, chestnuts are the taste of Christmas. I love them for their earthy sweetness, and there are almost always some of the pre-cooked ones in a packet hidden away in the pantry. Something that I always have in the house in abundance in December – to cover and protect that crucial turkey and wrap those pigs in their required blankets – is top-quality, free range smoked streaky bacon. Stilton is always a staple of the cheese board, there’s always a bottle of whiskey (or two) around and Christmas spices are never complete without cinnamon.

This may be a salad…but it IS still Christmas, so you still have to make it special. Which is where soaking that beautiful free range bacon in a mix of maple syrup and whiskey comes in. Trust me, it’s delicious. When cooked, it will look very dark, but that’s the natural sugars intensifying the flavour of the one of the key stars of this salad – the others being the lightly spiced, warmed chestnuts and a blue cheese dressing.

You can do a fast(er) version of this – marinating the bacon for just a few hours will still impart some flavour of the blend – but if you feel like being organised enough, letting the bacon take on that flavour overnight is even better.

INGREDIENTS

  • 5/6 rashers of top-quality, free range smoked streaky bacon
  • Salad leaves – I like a mix of baby spinach, rocket and chicory but any would work
  • 100g chestnuts, very lightly chopped and drizzled with a little olive oil and a dusting of ground nutmeg and cinnamon, a grating of black pepper and a pinch of brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons of maple syrup and 1 tablespoon of whiskey or bourbon, mixed together

Dressing:

  • 100g Stilton or preferred blue cheese
  • 150ml buttermilk
  • Salt and pepper to taste

METHOD

  • Lay the bacon out on baking parchment on a tray and brush over the maple syrup and whiskey mix – pour any left over on to the tray (use the parchment to stop it running off at the edges) and leave for a few hours at least.
  • When ready to cook, put another layer of parchment on the bacon, put another baking tray on top and weigh down lightly. Cook slowly on low temperature like 180 degrees (fan oven) until the bacon is dark and bordering on crispy.
  • Wash and mix the salad leaves and arrange on plates or a platter for sharing.
  • Crumble the Stilton into a bowl, add the buttermilk and whisk gently – you want to keep a little texture so that now and then you get a bite of salad with a real punch of blue cheese flavour. Season to taste with salt and black pepper.
  • When the bacon is cooked, set aside and add the lightly chopped chestnuts and a small wedge of butter to a frying pan and warm through.
  • Once cooled slightly, slice the bacon diagonally and scatter the shards, along with the warm chestnuts, across the salad leaves. Drizzle the salad with a little high-quality olive oil. Pour the dressing into a serving bowl and serve alongside.

As well as being smug that you’re having a salad at Christmas, with this recipe you get to enjoy so many festive flavours and despite their contrasting qualities they work together so well. Smokiness with sweetness and that earthy hint of whiskey with the almost caramelised bacon, fresh, crunchy cool salad leaves against sweet and almost melting chestnuts with a hint of festive spice, and then the sharp zing of blue cheese and buttermilk in the dressing… combined they tick off so many flavour profiles and yet despite being a lighter meal, there are many elements here which bring the richness you need at Christmas so you don’t feel that you’re missing out on an opportunity to embrace all the indulgence.

Wine Pairing

To go with this fabulous Christmassy salad, The Wine Tipster is pairing a Pinot Gris Grand Cru Spiegel 2018 Domaine Schlumberger, Alsace, France £17.99 save £2 in mixed case Majestic or Yealands Reserve Grüner Veltliner 2019, Awatere Valley, Marlborough, New Zealand £12.99 down to £9.99 in Waitrose both of which have the palate weight, vibrant flavours and punch to marry up to its fabulous array of tantalising flavours and textures. Both of these wines have their own delicate spiciness, clean acidity, palate weight and a touch of just-right ripeness to complement this magnificent dish, bringing out the smoky, sweet and salty highlights which make this dish such a winning combination.

Thank you again to Christina McElhinney of The Food Waffle for sharing such a great recipe for the festive season, share pictures of your attempts with her on Twitter and Instagram, and don’t forget to tag The Wine Tipster on Twitter and Instagram too. Cheers!

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