Chuck Hughes' guide to hosting a Quebec-style réveillon feast

Plus, two mignonette recipes from the celebrity chef.

Plus, two mignonette recipes from the celebrity chef

Pig's feet stew, pickled beets, and log cake. These culinary treats may not be a part of everyone's Christmas Eve celebrations, but they're traditional components of réveillon — a French Canadian celebration that normally takes place the evening before Christmas Day. (The French word "réveil" means "to wake up"; the parties would start after midnight mass, and often last until dawn.)

Chuck Hughes, cookbook author and co-owner of Montreal restaurants Garde Manger and Le Bremner, grew up with the festive tradition, shucking oysters into the wee hours with his extended family. We caught up with the celebrity chef, in Toronto to promote his 2018 holiday collaboration with Pusateri's Fine Foods, to find out more about the unique holiday celebration, and his tips for hosting a modern réveillon feast. 

(Courtesy of Chuck Hughes)

His family traditions

Chuck Hughes: It's a big party, there's a lot of booze, and you're celebrating Christmas at midnight, kind of like everybody else does with New Year's Eve. For my family, it used to be a pretty big deal when I was a kid — the whole thing was you'd go to church at 11pm or midnight, and then after that you'd come over to the house and party and eat.

My grandfather — who's no longer with us — was from New Brunswick, so every Christmas, after church, everybody would get in the kitchen and there would be an oyster party and my uncles would be shucking. Everybody would be drinking and partying, having a good time. Then you'd typically have a Santa Claus come over (one of the uncles or a friend), and you'd have distribution of some gifts.

The classic menu items to serve

Chuck Hughes: The one thing that's still done in my family, my mom doesn't do it so much but my aunt does a really good version, it's called "ragoût de pattes de cochon." So it's a pig's foot ragout, and that's really traditional for réveillon, and that's one of my favourites — it's phenomenal, and something I look forward to.

You take the pig's feet and make your stock, let it boil, pick all the meat out of the pig's feet and you have that nice gelatinous broth. You take ground pork and you make pork meatballs, and make a brown sauce with the pork stock. Then, you take the meat from the pig's feet and kind of shred it in the in the gravy, and add the meatballs to the sauce. It's like a saucy meatball dish. That's definitely something that is really heavy but really traditional.

Another traditional thing is pickled beets; that's always on the table. You eat the pickled beets with the ragout. And for dessert, you'll have "bûche de Noël" — it's basically a cake, but rolled into a log shape. Traditional Quebecers will also drink an alcohol called Caribou; I don't drink, but it's something that's kind of been around forever.

Other Christmas table must-haves

Chuck Hughes: Normally at Christmas we have a couple of traditions. One is we'll do oysters; I'll get a couple of cases and we'll shuck for the holidays. Another one is my mom always buys a whole Stilton blue cheese, it stays on the counter for a week and we just eat that. And my mom still does the traditional tourtière and Turkey and all that, and that's still a really big part of what we do.

How to host a more modern feast

Chuck Hughes: I think even my grandmother at one point was like, "Ah, it's too much trouble." For me, I would keep the food lighter than traditional; you know, to eat like that at midnight is crazy. So, if I were to do réveillon, I think I would skip the church, go heavy on the oysters and seafood, get some Canadian caviar from New Brunswick, and do more of a canapé party and have some light stuff.

I think that the tradition of oysters at Christmas is still alive and well. We still do that a lot, it's something my family really enjoys eating, and you don't really have a chance to do it much.

I'll eat turkey, although it's not something that I really crave, but I do love turkey drumsticks — so I would cook a lot of those, either salty-sweet or with a brown sugar maple syrup, and smoked.

On adding new traditions

Chuck Hughes: The other thing is my girlfriend's Jewish, so we add that into the mix. Hanukkah and Christmas aren't always at the same time — this year it's not at all at the same time, so it'll be a bit different — but when they do come together, we'll do a lot of chicken liver mousse, little mini latkes, and the traditional dessert for Hanukkah which is sufganiyot, which is like a doughnut filled with jam.

Chuck Hughes' Oysters & Mignonette recipe

Chuck's go-to for any party, including réveillon, is oysters and mignonette. Here are two mignonette recipes he likes to use, to be served with, ideally, oysters from Prince Edward Island or New Brunswick.

(Courtesy of Chuck Hughes)

White Balsamic Mignonette

  • ¼ cup of My Italian Winemaker's White Balsamic Vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons of finely chopped cucumber
  • ¼ teaspoon of cracked pepper

Stir all ingredients together well and serve. Makes roughly ⅓ cup, for about 12 oysters.

Apple Cider Mignonette

  • ¼ cup of My Apple Farmer's Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon of finely chopped apple
  • 1 tablespoon of finely chopped shallot
  • ¼ teaspoon of cracked pepper

Stir all ingredients together well and serve. Makes roughly ⅓ cup, for about 12 oysters.

This interview has been edited and condensed. 

Truc Nguyen is a Toronto-based writer, editor and stylist. Follow her at @trucnguyen.


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