Entertaining

How to properly shop for groceries this Christmas

Organising what produce to buy giving you the cold sweats? Unsure what to order, how to store it and where to even begin? We go straight to the experts to find out.

By Maggie Scardifield
Prawns at Sydney Seafood Market

Fruit & Vegetables

John Velluti, Velluti's, NSW

"At Christmas, it's all about cherries, peaches, nectarines, berries and mangoes (in that order). That's what everyone wants, so that's what you need to sort immediately. You can order fruit and veg ahead. Your local fruit shop is where you'll see the differences. They're the ones who, as well as strawberries, raspberries and blueberries, will have blackberries, loganberries, mulberries and wonderful little redcurrants.

The giveaways when selecting good mangoes are colour and perfume, and that pretty much applies to all summer produce. If it's hot, wrap leaves and herbs in wet newspaper, and cut the bottoms and place them in a cup of water, as you would flowers. Other greens and carrots stay fresher in plastic bags in the fridge. For roast potatoes, I like sebago, kipfler and royal blues, and I tend to do a mix of the three (just make sure you cut them a similar shape).

Your local Saturday produce market can also be a goldmine. Talk to the producers in the weeks leading up and, for ease, place an order to collect before the big day. And I don't know about you, but you want to get in and get out, then get off the road and have a drink."

Seafood

John Susman, Fishtales, NSW

"Build a relationship with your fishmonger. Even if it's the counter-hand at your local supermarket, show them more love than you would your hairdresser. And pre-order everything you can in early December.

Practise shucking oysters. It's a social skill akin to being able to take the cork out of a bottle of Champagne, and it'll give you better value and better quality. Buy them unopened, a week out from Christmas, and you'll get a surround-sound cinema-style experience rather than the AM transistor radio of pre-shucked oysters. Store rock oysters in a damp bag in the laundry (at 12 to 14 degrees) or Pacific oysters in the fridge crisper covered with a damp cloth. On the day take them out half an hour before the family arrives and bury them under ice.Caviar is very on trend – it's beautiful on blini with crème fraîche, or to add a bit of zing to an oyster. Local products like Yarra Valley and Huon are world-class. Or, if you want to really kick the doors down, try a whole poached salmon or roasted snapper – they're so easy to cook, and even easier to serve. I often cook them on the stovetop. I'll bring a court-bouillon to the boil in a baking tray, drop the cleaned whole fish in, bring it back to the boil, cover it tightly with foil and turn it off. By the time you've shucked the oysters and prepped the crème fraîche for the caviar, your fish is good to go.

Sydney Fish Market.
Sydney Fish Market.

Shellfish is at its peak price the week of Christmas, so don't take a punt at four o'clock on the 24th. To secure quality and price, consider buying frozen product several weeks out. Often fishmongers will be madly thawing frozen prawns in tepid water at Christmas, so what you buy on the day is sometimes not nearly as good as if you'd bought frozen and thawed it overnight in the fridge. Give them a rinse in icy, salty water and a dusting of rock salt.

Smell everything. Prawns should smell clean and sweet, with a light scent of the sea. And you always want the head, feelers and legs to be firmly attached to the body. If you're seeking exotica go to the big markets. Many operate 36 hours straight in the lead-up to Christmas, so go out for dinner, then go seafood shopping at 1am.

Buying right will keep you rolling through the holidays: the prawn heads can be turned into a chilled soup, leftover salmon used in sambos for watching the Sydney to Hobart, and the rest of the (unshucked) oysters will be in beautiful condition for the last session of the cricket with a glass of bubbles

Meat & Poultry

Anthony Puharich, Victor Churchill, NSW

The most important thing at Christmas is to start early. Talk to your butcher and order as soon as possible. If you don't have a butcher you know on a first-name basis, just make sure you shop somewhere owner-operated. By doing that, you'll get the best advice and you can always ask about provenance. And every butcher has their own little specialty. Ask them what it is. It might be something they've been doing for generations.

No matter what size ham you want, order one with a bone. It'll cook more evenly, taste better, and will be Australian. The best thing about ham is leftovers. Buy a ham bag and keep the leg in the coldest part of the fridge, usually just above the crisper.

If you don't want turkey or goose, then duck, prime rib or a lamb crown roast sit well in the centre of the table. If you opt for a ready-made glaze or stuffing, your local butcher will do all those things, and plenty will do tastings throughout December.