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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Christmas dinner without an oven: nightmare

“Roasted” chicken and vegetables served with a glass of gravy.
“Roasted” chicken and vegetables served with a glass of gravy. Charlotte Pert

Christmas dinner without an oven: nightmare

Christmas really isn’t the same without a traditional Christmas dinner of roast meat and vegetables, Yorkshire pudding and gravy. Pork and rice, while delicious, just doesn’t cut it. Unfortunately, many Cambodian kitchens lack ovens, which most would agree are fairly useful for, you know, roasting stuff.

However, it is theoretically possible to cook an entire Christmas spread using a standard issue two-burner stovetop. The idea is that by trapping the heat in a lidded saucepan you can “roast” the food.

In the interests of improving the authenticity of our readers’ Christmas celebrations – and because we like mucking about in the kitchen – 7Days decided to put this to the test.

To start with, we cut our chicken into quarters and chucked the pieces in an oiled frying pan then, while they were sizzling away, we chopped up some carrots and onions. Once the chicken was nicely brown, we layered it, the vegetables and some whole heads of garlic in a large saucepan and whacked a lid on top.

Dishing up the experiment.
Dishing up the experiment. Charlotte Pert

Next we sliced up some potatoes and parboiled them in salted water then threw them in the saucepan with the other veggies and chicken. The onions and chicken seemed to be burning a bit at this point, so we sloshed a little of the water from the potatoes in with the rest.

There’s really no way we could think of to cook a real Yorkshire pudding on a stovetop. The usual method is to pour batter made of milk, water, eggs and flour into a muffin tin and then bake them in an oven.

We thought of frying the batter in a frying pan, but then you would just have pancakes, so we decided to try deep frying them instead. We tentatively plopped a few spoonfuls of batter into some boiling oil and the results were … interesting.

The dribbles cooked instantly into little tendrils, and we ended up with “puddings” that looked more like tiny tentacled Cthulhu-esque squid-creatures – the stuff culinary nightmares are made of.

By this time the chicken and vegetables were cooked through so we took them out and used the residue and juices to form the basis of a gravy made with a little flour, water and chicken stock.

A good roast’s skin should be crispy and its flesh moist and juicy, the vegetables should be crunchy on the outside and smooshy on the inside, the Yorkshire pudding light and fluffy and the gravy smooth.

Our Christmas dinner was none of these things. The effectiveness of the stove-top method is reliant on having a thick-based saucepan – otherwise the base gets too hot and burns the food – and ours probably wasn’t heavy enough. When we sloshed the extra water in the saucepan, the contents became too moist which meant it all steamed rather than roasted.

However, despite all expectations it was still quite edible. The flavours of the onion, garlic, vegetables and chicken all mingled nicely in the saucepan. And while none of it ended up being crispy or crunchy it was all definitely cooked.

If you’re keen on having a proper Christmas dinner at home – and opposed to buying a rotisserie chicken at any one of the numerous street stalls around Phnom Penh – definitely give the stovetop method a shot. Maybe try and find a better way to make Yorkshire puddings though. Otherwise, those things will haunt your dreams.

$10 to feed four people.

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