Entertaining

Australia's best chefs share their Christmas cooking tips

Organising an all-out Christmas feast and feeling the pressure? We talk top festive cooking tips with some of the country’s best chefs to help you nail that perfectly succulent turkey, roast potatoes to die for and more.

By Harriet Davidson

The turkey

When it comes to avoiding a dry turkey, our experts say it's all about brining. Isabelle Caulfield (Poly, Sydney) suggests brining your bird for three days in water mixed with five per cent of its volume in salt and four per cent in sugar, with extras like chilli, pepper and cloves, to lock in moisture before cooking the bird low and slow. Jaclyn Koludrovic (Icebergs Dining Room & Bar, Sydney) brines her turkey just a day in advance, using a ratio of six per cent salt and two per cent sugar, plus added aromatics, and Lil McCabe (Kingdom of Rice, Sydney) says to ensure the turkey is fully submerged so the brine seasons the meat from the inside out (which means you'll need a container big enough to house your bird). Pat the skin dry with paper towels before dressing with olive oil and push butter under the skin for maximum crispness, juiciness and flavour. Michael West (Love, Tilly Devine, Sydney) says his biggest tip is to bring the turkey to room temperature before roasting, so it cooks more evenly. And how to when should you baste? The chefs suggest every 15-20 minutes.

The roast potatoes

The secret to those perfectly crisp potatoes? According to the chefs, you need to par-boil them, then chill, which gives the starches time to set. Lil McCabe suggests using a "hard" potato, like Desiree, cut into wedges, while Jacqui Challinor (Nomad, Sydney) goes with steaming whole sebago potatoes then breaking them into pieces before letting them dry out in the fridge. Tossing potatoes in salt, Olsson's Fleur de Sel or Celtic sea salt, say, with olive oil is a popular way to go, although Palisa Anderson (Boon Cafe, Sydney) does hers in a mix of butter and duck fat. Joey Astorga (Paperbark, Sydney) recommends swapping traditional herbs such as thyme and rosemary for native Australian ingredients like lemon myrtle leaves pilfered from your local community garden (toss them in halfway through cooking). Temperature-wise, Michael West, Joey Astorga, Khanh Nguyen (Sunda, Melbourne) and Challinor all suggest banging your potatoes into a hot oven of 200-220°C for that perfect crunch and colour.

The roast vegetables

Jessi Singh (Don't Tell Aunty, Sydney) says the best way to roast vegetables is to par-boil them before tossing them with lots of olive oil, dried herbs, crushed garlic and sliced red onion, then baking for half an hour at 175°C. His favourites are cauliflower, sweet potato, kipflers, Brussels sprouts and butternut squash. For a twist, serve them with a dressing of Greek yoghurt, lime juice, maple syrup, olive oil and black lava salt.

The sauces

A good apple sauce is a must for the table, says Jemma Whiteman (Lankan Filling Station, Sydney). To make hers, she drizzles quarters of apple with honey, adds a knob of butter, then roasts them until the apple is very tender and the honey is caramelised. Then, she roughly mashes the apple with a fork to keep some texture. As an alternative to gravy, Michael West suggests a herb sauce: blend two bunches of parsley, a bunch of mint and a bunch of chives with Dijon mustard, white wine vinegar and a slug of olive oil to bring it together, then season with salt. For a twist on cranberry sauce, Joey Astorga does a Davidson's plum sauce with roasted fennel, Pedro Ximénez, red wine, merlot vinegar and thyme.

The gravy

For unbeatable gravy, Lil McCabe suggests putting the roasting tray from the turkey straight onto the stovetop and deglazing: once it's hot, add a splash or two of red wine and scrape the residue stuck to the tray. Add the same amount of veal jus and heat until reduced by half to create a rich, thick gravy. Jemma Whiteman's secret ingredient to use in place of the red wine is Stone's Green Ginger Wine. Khanh Nguyen, meanwhile, says homemade stock will make all the difference, and really boost the flavour of your gravy – he makes his from chicken wings and a mix of vegetables. For the non-traditionalists, Palisa Anderson eschews gravy entirely in flavour of her mum's special smoky chilli sauce: "it goes with everything."
Pull out all stops for your Christmas dessert.

The wine

For sommelier Nick Hildebrandt (Bentley Restaurant & Bar, Sydney), Christmas Day is all about Champagne and drinking your best, most treasured bottles. Champagne with your oysters, chardonnay with your crab or lobster, pinot with your turkey, and shiraz after lunch. And since it's usually hot, he likes his Champagne cold and reds chilled. If you have a big red, give it some air and throw it in a decanter a couple of hours before drinking it. Don't drink your best wines first as they will get drunk too quickly, but also make sure you drink them while you can still remember.

The pavlova

Jacqui Challinor's first tip for a show-stopping pavlova is to bring the eggs to room temperature before whisking. She also uses a vanilla-infused caster sugar in place of regular: "I throw all of my scraped vanilla pods into my sugar tub." Once it's cooked, leave the pavlova in the oven with the door ajar for at least 30 minutes to cool completely (this will help avoid a collapsed pav). Want to change it up this Christmas? Both Jaclyn Koludrovic and Palisa Anderson make a rolled pavlova for their families, with either a yuzu or passionfruit curd, while Lil McCabe suggests sprinkling yours with freeze-dried fruit powders. Koludrovic tops hers with passionfruit, mint and a hazelnut praline, while Isabelle Caulfield says, "it definitely needs to be burnt" as they do with the wood-fired version at Ester – try for the same effect by browning yours with a blowtorch.

The Christmas pudding

The perfect pudding? "Always with suet… but made in March!" Jaclyn Koludrovic says. Otherwise, she'd take the easy route and buy fruit loaf from the bakery (she loves Iggy's sourdough) and do it bread-and-butterpudding style. Make it two to three days in advance: slice the bread, pan-fry or barbecue it, and layer with Chantilly cream and brandy.

The custard

Michael West's trick to making simple custard is to bring sugar, milk and cream to the boil before pouring the mixture over whisked egg yolks – this will gently cook the yolks and thicken the custard. Palisa Anderson makes hers just before serving: "Country Valley full-fat milk and cream, caster sugar, vanilla pods grown by our next-door neighbour, duck egg yolks and a pinch of salt, then stir in some cold Gympie cultured butter for a silky finish. Decadent, but so delicious."
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  • undefined: Harriet Davidson