Food News

Chefs' tips for a tears-free Christmas

Between a trip to the fish markets and entertaining the in-laws, Christmas can get stressful. So we’ve asked some of our favourite hospitality heavyweights to share their secret weapons for a no-tears Christmas. Many happy returns.

By Maggie Scardifield
Peach and bourbon-glazed ham
Alistair Wise
Sweet Envy, Hobart
Bake a ham and all the work is already done. For a glaze, loosen apricot jam with a little ginger ale to a latherable consistency and add some fennel seed. Glaze and bake the ham in a moderate oven or barbecue until it's hot. Warning: measure the space you're going to cook it in (rookie mistake) or invest in a hacksaw. As for the drinks, slam some sloe gin in a glass, and top with prosecco and a twist of orange for the right balance of hipster awareness with absolute nonchalance.
Amy Chanta
Chat Thai, Sydney
The answer is nahm jim prik sod, a spicy chilli relish that's code for "party" in our household. We like to cook a whole fish stuffed with lemongrass on the barbie, and then whip out the nahm jim. To make it, grind up coriander root, red and green chillies and garlic with a mortar and pestle, then add equal parts fish sauce and lime juice, and season with salt and sugar. Bingo! Your meats and seafood are made magical.
Peter Gunn
Ides, Melbourne
My signature centrepiece is a butterflied boneless whole chicken that's been marinated overnight in olive oil, rosemary and garlic, then charred heavily on the barbecue. When it's ready to serve, squeezea whole lot of lemon juic over the top, season it with salt flakes and black pepper and serve it with tongs and scissors for everyone to dig in. It looks good and gnarly and apart from the chicken preparation, which a butcher can do, there's nearly no prep involved.
Emma McCaskill and Scott Huggins
McCaskill is formerly of The Pot, Huggins is the head chef at Penfolds Magill Estate, Adelaide
Christmas Eve cooking can also be a celebration. Skip coffee and start with bubbles, and if anyone requests croquembouche, it's okay to say no. Also, never underestimate the power of a brine. Brine your turkey, brine your chicken and brine your quail, then heat up the Weber and charcoal-grill Spencer Gulf prawns with seaweed butter.
Sarah Doyle
Bodega, Sydney
Everyone has something they do best, so don't try something new. I'm in charge of decorating and setting the table. Everyone is dead broke at Christmas so I always try and use what I've got - taking the decorations from the tree or pinching branches from the neighbourhood, for example. One year I collected vintage embroidered placemats throughout the year, and different glassware. Mixing and matching looks great, plus you won't forget which glass is yours. Speaking of drinks, we usually have wine and sparkling, but last year my partner, Elvis [Abrahanowicz], busted out a new tradition and it's now a favourite. Take one of those large Mason jugs (usually reserved for punch or lemonade) and fill it with Aperol Spritz. Cocktails on tap equals good times.
David Lovett
Bounty, Brunswick Heads
Leave it to the real professionals. Although I cook every day, no one cooks a Christmas roast quite like my mum. So stand back with a beer and leave it to the one who's been doing it for the past few decades. My foolproof recipe is a hollowed-out panettone filled with gelato and topped with chocolate sauce.
Catherine Adams
Starta Bread Kitchen, Wellington
One of my favourite desserts for a Christmas gathering, apart from [my] trifle, is a big bowl of stone fruit poached in prosecco and vanilla, with lots of fresh berries thrown in as the syrup cools down. Serve it with a big jug of mascarpone sabayon and some crisp biscuits. It's such a colourful celebration of summer and freshness, and it can be done a day or two ahead. Perfect.
Sarin Rojanametin
Ex-Nora, Melbourne
Don't overdo it. You can impress your friends or your loved ones through simplicity and little things done well. My favourite dish is a perfect roast chicken with a side of fresh or roasted vegetables. First, brine the bird at six per cent salt solution overnight. To slow-roast it, cook it for 1½ hours at 100C, then half an hour at 200C, and finally 15 minutes at 225C. I'd also do a super-delicious Thai dipping sauce of toasted rice and chilli, and a refreshing side of green papaya salad served with warm sticky rice.
Daniel Puskas
Sixpenny, Sydney
Prawns, lots of prawns. Pick up cooked ones from the fish market. Make a cocktail sauce with ketchup, mayo, hot English mustard and a little Tabasco. The key is having soft white rolls, the ones with heaps of flour on top. Make sandwiches with the bread, prawns and cocktail sauce and, if you want to get real fancy, throw a little iceberg in, too.
Duncan Welgemoed
Africola, Adelaide
Gravy is what holds families together on Christmas Day. After roasting any large joint of meat, I drain the juices and fats into a blender with a little raw garlic, a squeeze of lemon and lots of salt and pepper. Spoon that gold dust all over the meats before serving it. Bonza.
Ben Russell
Aria, Brisbane
First, be on time and mostly sober (for your mum). Second, all mums like making potato salad; let them. Unless you're from a vegetarian family, the ham will always be the star, so buy a good one and get it organised the day before (roasted on the day with a mustard glaze is surprisingly easy and always impressive). Last year I made a simple salad of barbecued peaches with rocket, mozzarella, balsamic and olive oil. It was a huge hit.
Jock Zonfrillo
Orana, Adelaide
There are always bottles of decent Port and decent brandy or Cognac that have been gifted to your olds at some point and pushed to the back of the cupboard. Get in there, dust them off, and follow this complex recipe for the only social lubricant required for a day of binge eating and drinking: half Port, half brandy or Cognac. Apply liberally around 11am and proceed with joyous seasonal spirit.
Morgan McGlone
Belle's Hot Chicken, Melbourne and Sydney
No one likes having to navigate through the craziness of last-minute shopping, so buy as much as you can two or three days before the big day. Pre-order your ham and prepare as much as you can on Christmas Eve, too. My family's favourite is a super-easy island-style ceviche, a simple Niuean dish from my grandmother. It's simple: lime juice, red onion, green capsicum, coconut juice, salt and white pepper, with cut-up salmon or white fish. You can add cooked prawns, too, and it's even better when you make it early on Christmas Day.
Peter Gilmore
Quay, Sydney
A good start to any Christmas lunch is alcohol, and my go-to drink is a white peach Bellini, frappé-style. Take some white peach juice, good prosecco and crushed ice, whiz them together in a blender and pour the mix into Champagne glasses. As for the food? Find a good restaurant and go there for lunch.
Celia and Georgia Churcher
Ex-Yield, Sydney
Make your Christmas salads the main event. Most of the prep can be done the day before, leaving you time to raid the family cellar for delicious booze. Our mum's been doing silverbeet salad at Christmas for as long as we can remember: silverbeet, shallots, water chestnuts, bacon (yep, it's Christmas after all), mung beans and eggs with a tangy, smoky dressing. Apparently, she got the recipe from The Pirates' House in Savannah, Georgia, which has been "welcoming visitors to Savannah with a bounty of delicious food and drink and rousing good times" since 1753. Sounds a little bit like our Christmas.
Thi Le
Anchovy, Melbourne
Make everyone bring something. Mum just puts the barbecue on and delegates - someone to bring the salad, someone to bring the sausages and so on. I like doing the same thing: Isaan-style sausages with an assortment of Asian herbs, a few heads of iceberg or coral lettuce and a handful of scud chillies. Everyone builds their own lettuce cup and everyone is happy.
Lennox Hastie
Firedoor, Sydney
Don't stress and slave in the kitchen. Chuck the turkey and the trimmings, grab your drink and head outside to grill something simple like pipis tossed with garlic shoots, olive oil, lemon and chilli. The pipis even tell you when they're cooked by popping open.
Paul Baker
Botanic Gardens Restaurant, Adelaide
Use your local providores. Organise an amazing glazed ham from your butcher, and pick up some fresh bread and antipasto while you're at it. If it's hot, all you need are fresh oysters, prawns and calamari marinated in lemon, parsley, chilli and olive oil done on the barbecue, along with a few salads. For sweets, hollow out a pandoro and fill it with a good rum and raisin ice-cream. This can be done days before and then all you need to do is dust it with icing sugar before you serve it. You can use the middle of the pandoro for a cheeky bread and butter pudding on Christmas Eve.
Giorgio de Maria
Ex-Rootstock, Sydney
For as long as I can remember, every Christmas my family has made agnolotti, the Piedmontese dumplings. It's something my father learnt from his father and passed on to my brother and me (a bit of a man affair). For the dough, combine an egg with 100gm flour and mix (with love) for a long time. Let it nest under a wet cloth for 30 minutes before filling the agnolotti. My mother would prepare the filling the day before (our classic is 20 per cent minced ham, 80 per cent minced roast beef and spinach). You could have them al sugo di arrosto - boiled, then tossed in a pan with sauce from the roast beef - or al burro e salvia: simply dressed with butter, Parmigiano and sage. There's a third way, a classic from Mondovì, where my mum is from: agnolotti drunken-style in a young dolcetto or barbera.
Rodney Dunn
The Agrarian Kitchen, Lachlan
** It's all about meringues. You can make them a few days ahead and keep them in an airtight container. Make a granita with summer fruits like berries or mangoes and macerate some more of the fresh fruit in sugar and gin. On the day, whip cream with vanilla and a touch of sugar. Spoon the cream on the meringues, then finish with the granita and fruit. I love the cream and ice combination, and it can all be done ahead of time.
Shaun Quade
Lûmé, Melbourne
Fresh seafood is key to a stress-free Christmas for me. Cooked prawns, salted fish, good cultured butter and a couple of loaves of dark, dense rye bread. For a sweet hit in between prawns, toast slices of rye bread and, while they're still warm, spread them with crème fraîche, honey and melted bitter chocolate, then dust them with cinnamon and sea salt.
O Tama Carey
Lankan Filling Station, Sydney
** It's all too easy to get caught up in the nonsense and over-cater and over-extend, so write many lists and delegate. One of my favourite Christmas Day lunch dishes is to simply boil a large pile of crabs and serve them with many condiments. The condiments can be made in advance, the crabs cleaned the day before and then all you have to do on the actual day is boil a pot of water. (You do need baked potatoes, too, though.)
Dan Hunter
Brae, Birregurra
Start drinking early and get limbered up! Eat mid-afternoon and don't try and do the typical three types of meat and lots of different hot vegetable sides (in the end, they're never hot). A baked ham done well is always a great centrepiece. I started cooking Tony Tan's pineapple- and rum-glazed ham about three or four years ago - it's spectacular - and now my siblings are baking it when Christmas lunch falls at one of their places. Post-dessert, have heaps of different berries lying around, panforte, good filter coffee to keep it easy, and lots of good rye whiskey, bourbon, and more Champagne. Also, for later on, when you're all hungry again, be sure to have some nice bread on hand for a ham sandwich.
Dave Verheul
Embla, Melbourne
My family are all keen cooks, so every Christmas that we're all together we'll each cook a dish for a progressive dég sort of thing. We take all day - it's super mellow, spreads the work evenly and is loads of fun. This year I'm on the main course so I'm going to smoke some rainbow trout over wild rosehip wood and serve it with a fresh salad of artichoke and parsley.
  • Author: Maggie Scardifield