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Five Christmas recipes from our favourite chefs.

16 December 2021

Planning a Christmas feast? Top chefs Reynold Poernomo, O Tama Carey, Julia Busuttil Nishimura, Dan Puskas and Analiese Gregory reflect on their favourite festive food memories and share the recipes they’ll be dishing up this Christmas.

Explore


Five Christmas recipes from our favourite chefs.

16 December 2021

Planning a Christmas feast? Top chefs Reynold Poernomo, O Tama Carey, Julia Busuttil Nishimura, Dan Puskas and Analiese Gregory reflect on their favourite festive food memories and share the recipes they’ll be dishing up this Christmas.

Reynold Poernomo’s dessert

Pull out all the stops this festive season with a show-stopping menu to share with friends and family inspired by the traditions of our favourite foodies. Image: Nikki To.

  • Analiese Gregory

    Analiese Gregory – chef, author of How Wild Things Are and host of TV’s A Girl’s Guide to Hunting, Fishing and Wild Cooking.

    Analiese Gregory – chef, author of How Wild Things Are and host of TV’s A Girl’s Guide to Hunting, Fishing and Wild Cooking.

    Analiese Gregory

    Analiese Gregory likes to take her time with Christmas cooking: “I’ve got nowhere I need to be.” Image: Adam Gibson.

    When chef Analiese Gregory was growing up in New Zealand, Christmas smelt like gingerbread and spiced biscuits. Because of her mum’s Dutch heritage, their home was charged with the heady, earthy fragrance of speculaas. The family enjoyed the European tradition of baked goods flavoured with cinnamon, nutmeg and other sprinkles of spice, and fashioned into festive shapes.

    Her mother’s enthusiasm for Christmas did have a limit, though.

    “My mum’s kind of a vegetarian: if she did a ham, it would be really grudging, because she didn’t want to and put no effort into it,” says Analiese with a laugh.

    Occasionally the family would spend Christmas with their Chinese relatives. “We’d always take food and it would always be fancy food,” she says. “It would be roast duck or whole crayfish.”

    Today, crayfish is part of her holiday menu, but it’s fresh-caught by a diver friend who presents it as a gift. With Analiese now based in Tasmania’s Huon Valley, her Christmas cooking is inspired by the local landscape: clafoutis is baked with fruit from nearby orchards, and crayfish is turned into a cold cocktail and served with fizzy pét-nat wines: an update on her mum’s festive tradition of serving cold roast chicken with champagne. Analiese makes cheesy gougères, a dish first introduced to her by Tassie friends Sue Dyson and Roger McShane, before it became a fixture at her previous restaurants (Bar Brosé, Franklin). At Christmas, she’ll serve tablespoon-sized versions of the snack that appears in her How Wild Things Are cookbook. The chef cooks a generous amount of appetisers to keep guests happy, because it’ll take hours to prepare the ham.

    “On Christmas, I tend to cook really slowly and I don’t want to be rushed by anyone,” she says.

    This year, she’ll spend all day gently smoking a ham outdoors, which she brined and raised herself (the farm animal was affectionately named Pig One by her neighbours). She’s raised pigs to cook before: on her show, A Girl's Guide to Hunting, Fishing and Wild Cooking, she shares oven-roasted pork shoulder with friends, sourced from her own home.

    There’ll also be stone-fruit salads, too, which showcase surrounding orchards. Analiese still pits each cherry one by one, with a paring knife.

    “I go for the super-inefficient method,” she says. Cooking to a slow tempo on Christmas suits her fine. “It doesn’t really bother me. Because I’ve got nowhere I need to be.”

    Roger’s gougères (makes 30).

    Roger’s gougères (makes 30).

    Analiese Gregory’s gougères recipe

    Analiese was first introduced to these cheesy gougères by Tassie friends Sue Dyson and Roger McShane. They became a fixture on the menu at her previous restaurants and feature in her cookbook How Wild Things Are. Image: Adam Gibson.

    Ingredients
    220ml water
    110g butter
    1 teaspoon salt
    115g plain (all-purpose) flour, sifted
    180g egg, beaten
    70g Pyengana cheddar (or Comté), finely grated, plus extra for sprinkling on top

    Method
    Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F).

    In a large pot, bring the water, butter and salt to a slow simmer over a low heat. Add the flour. Using a spatula, cook on a low heat for 2–3 minutes, or until the mixture pulls away from the sides of the pan and forms a ball.

    Transfer to a stand mixer with the paddle attachment and mix slowly for about 2 minutes, letting the mixture cool down slightly so as not to cook the egg. Add the egg a little at a time until fully incorporated, then the cheese. Cover with plastic wrap to keep a skin from forming and leave to cool.

    Line a baking tray with baking paper and either spoon out or pipe the mixture in small rounds, leaving 4cm in between each gougère to allow for spreading. Sprinkle the tops with the extra grated cheese. For gougères about 5cm, they normally take 15 minutes to cook, but you can judge for yourself by checking their rise and colour: they should be golden and highly risen. They’re best eaten right away, fresh from the oven, but they do reheat quite well too.

    This is an edited extract from How Wild Things Are by Analiese Gregory, published by Hardie Grant Books, RRP $45.

  • Daniel Puskas

    Daniel Puskas – chef, Sixpenny.

    Daniel Puskas – chef, Sixpenny.

    Chef Dan Puskas at Sixpenny restaurant in Sydney

    For Gourmet Traveller’s chef of the year Dan Puskas, Christmas is less about the food and more “about family and being together”. Image: Supplied.

    Daniel Puskas runs Sydney’s much-awarded Sixpenny restaurant. He recently added Gourmet Traveller’s Chef of the Year title to his (long) list of career achievements, so you’d think his Christmas childhood memories would be dominated by what was on the family table. But that’s not exactly the case.

    “I don’t think it was about the food when I was a kid, I think it was about the presents: about cricket bats and skateboards,” he says.

    Daniel does remember “pigging out” on boiled prawns slathered in cocktail sauce, though.

    It’s surprising that this relic from 1970s cocktail parties would be a hit with his kid tastebuds, but he says it’s a no-brainer. The sauce is essentially tomato sauce and mayonnaise – an umami jackpot that any child would savour. Plus, this prawn dish was such a versatile Christmas food. “Put in a bit of iceberg lettuce and white bread and you can make yourself a sandwich,” he says.

    There’s another retro wonder from those Christmas feasts that he still appreciates: his mother’s broccoli salad, heavily coated in mayonnaise and sprinkled with bacon and raisins.

    “That was pretty random, but we all loved that one, that was my favourite,” he says. His mum still brings it to Christmas events, which have become a pot-luck affair. Someone will be assigned dessert, while another family member commits to bringing salad. “I’m allocated the ham,” Daniel says.

    He buys a smoked ham (usually from LP’s Quality Meats), which just needs to be glazed as it’s finished in the oven. You could sweeten it with honey or maple syrup, or glisten it with a vinegar-sharp contrast. “It’s a real simple thing to do for Christmas,” he says. “You can’t really have a glazing disaster.”

    For him, Christmas isn’t ruled by the menu. “It’s more about family and being together,” he says. “You want things that are easy to do, so you can spend time chatting and having that glass of champagne.” So it’s about fresh fruit, seafood and a glazed ham that’s low on required maintenance. Or a pavlova you load with passionfruit, mango, double cream and sprigs of mint. And maybe an old-school prawn with cocktail sauce, even if it seems dated. “It brings back memories of when you were younger,” he says. “It makes you appreciate Christmas a little bit more.”

    Amaro Nonino and apricot glazed ham.

    Amaro Nonino and apricot glazed ham.

    A glazed Christmas ham

    Dan Puskas says “you can’t really have a glazing disaster” with a Christmas ham. Image: iStock.

    Ingredients
    600g apricots (approx 9 medium-sized apricots), diced
    400g caster sugar
    300ml water
    Peel and juice from 1 lemon
    6 cloves
    2 sticks of cinnamon
    250ml Amaro Nonino
    1 smoked ham
    Cloves to stud the ham
    Olive oil
    Pink salt

    Method
    Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F) fan-forced.

    Combine the diced apricots, sugar, water, lemon peel, cloves and cinnamon into a heavy-based pot and cook until it has a jam-like consistency. If you have a thermometer, take the mixture to 105°C, then remove the pot from the heat and add the Amaro Nonino to change the consistency from a jam to a glaze. Season with lemon juice for a little freshness (you might not need to add it all).

    Cooking a ham is not at all difficult, as it’s already cured and baked or, in some cases, smoked like the ham I like to use from LP’s Quality Meats. I like to prepare the ham by first removing the skin and then scoring the fat evenly every 2cm. Then, turn the ham 90 degrees and score it again so you get a nice crisscross pattern in the fat. I use a glove to rub a small amount of olive oil all over the ham, and then stud the fat with the cloves, placing one clove in the centre of each square.

    Once your ham is prepared, brush it with the glaze and season with a little salt. Remember, the ham is already cured and well-seasoned so there’s no need to add too much salt. Place it in the oven for 30 minutes.

    Remove the ham from the oven and glaze it again, making sure you also turn the oven tray to get an even cook. Place it back into the oven and cook for another 20 to 35 minutes. At this point, remove the ham and check the colour. If you would like more colour, glaze the ham again and increase the temperature to 200°C (400°F) before placing it back inside for 15 minutes.

    Remove the ham from the oven and glaze one last time before serving. Carve thin slices and serve with your favourite salads. If there is any glaze left, you could also serve a little on the side.

  • O Tama Carey

    O Tama Carey – chef, Lankan Filling Station and author of Lanka Food.

    O Tama Carey – chef, Lankan Filling Station and author of Lanka Food.

    O Tama Carey is the chef at Lankan Filling Station in Sydney

    O Tama Carey’s much-anticipated cookbook Lanka Food is out in March 2022. Image: Nikki To.

    “Traditionally Sri Lankan houses didn’t have ovens, so the whole family would get together to do the Christmas cake,” says O Tama Carey, who owns Sydney’s Lankan Filling Station. She remembers her mother telling her about this Burgher tradition, where people would hand-whisk the eggs, chop the ingredients and prepare the cakes in tins. All the households would take their cakes to the local bakery to be cooked. The finished versions would be cut and wrapped in cellophane.

    “You could recognise everyone’s cake by the way they wrapped it,” the chef says.

    “Gossipy aunties” would unpeel the wrappers and end up judging which were good and which cakes were failures. O Tama’s mum loved to tell this story. “It’s obviously a big part of the Burgher culture, that Christmas celebration of the cake.”

    Sri Lankan Christmas cake is spiced and fudgy, from the finely chopped dried fruit throughout it. There’s preserved ginger, cashew nuts and a hit of booze. At her restaurant, it’s soaked in a mixture of arak and brandy, and flavoured with rose essence. Hungry Christmas appetites aside, the cake can last a surprisingly long time. 

    “I found some in the cupboard from last year that’s still perfectly fine,” she says. The rich mix of booze, sugar and preserved fruits means it has a long shelf life.

    The recipe has also lasted a while, too – it’s from her grandmother’s sister. “I’ve got her original handwritten recipe. I’ve tweaked it a little.” It’s one she shares in Lanka Food, her much-anticipated cookbook out in March 2022.

    Another Burgher Christmas tradition is the breudher. “It’s almost like panettone,” she says of the dessert also known as Dutch new year’s cake. “Breudher is so hard to come by and every year I say I’m going to make some, but I haven’t yet.”

    Instead, her Christmas mornings feature an adapted version: panettone, Dutch edam cheese and pol sambol, a fishy-coconut-flavoured Sri Lankan condiment.

    Her Christmas menu also includes cherry tomato and watermelon salad, first served at her Italian restaurant Berta around a decade ago. “It goes equally well with more traditional Christmas flavours such as a ham or a roast as it does with a more seafood-driven menu,” she says. The basil garnishing the red tomatoes and watermelons looks festive, too. “It’s screaming Christmas,” she says. Even “gossipy aunties” would approve.

    Cherry tomato, watermelon and black olive salad (serves 4 to 6 as a side).

    Cherry tomato, watermelon and black olive salad (serves 4 to 6 as a side).

    O Tama Carey is the chef at Lankan Filling Station in Sydney

    O Tama Carey says her cherry tomato and watermelon salad goes just as well with Christmas ham as it does with a seafood-driven festive menu. Image: Benito Martin.

    Ingredients
    60g pitted kalamata olives
    350g cherry grape tomatoes
    2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
    1 small pinch caster sugar
    350g small watermelon balls, prepared with a Parisian scoop, reserving any juices
    60ml extra-virgin olive oil
    Squeeze of lemon
    ½ cup of picked basil leaves
    River salt and freshly ground black pepper

    Method
    Cut your olives into quarters from top to bottom and lay them on a small baking tray in an oven on pilot overnight to dry out. Remove from the tray and set aside.

    Cut the cherry tomatoes in half, place them in a mixing bowl and add a pinch of sugar and salt and the balsamic vinegar. Give it a good yet gentle stir and let them sit for one hour.

    Add the melon balls and any juice to the bowl with the tomato, along with the olive oil, lemon juice and dried olives. Combine well and taste for seasoning adding pepper and more salt if needed.

    Spoon your salad onto a plate or shallow bowl — it should be quite saucy — and strew the basil leaves over the top, tearing any of the bigger leaves.

    Note: Any type of cherry or small tomato you can get your hand on will work, just be sure to go for the ripest. For the basil, I would use a combination if possible. I particularly like the flavours of bush, purple and Thai basil together. You can substitute with mint or chervil too. The main idea of this dish is to have your tomato and melon balls of a similar size to fool the eye and for maximum delight in the mouth.

    Lanka Food by O Tama Carey is published by Hardie Grant Books and will be available nationally from March 2022.

  • Julia Busuttil Nishimura

    Julia Busuttil Nishimura – author of A Year of Simple Family Food and Ostro.

    Julia Busuttil Nishimura – author of A Year of Simple Family Food and Ostro.

    Julia Busuttil Nishimura

    For Julia Busuttil Nishimura, Christmas Eve was filled with Maltese treats followed by midnight mass with her siblings. Image: James Braund.

    Kids don’t usually look forward to church, but cookbook author Julia Busuttil Nishimura thought it was a thrill when she was younger – well, at Christmas time, anyway.

    Christmas Eve itself was filled with Maltese treats, like qagħaq tal-għasel (honey rings) and torta tat-tamal (walnut and date tarts). After a pre-church nap, she’d attend midnight mass with her siblings and it was a buzz to be awake beyond their usual curfews.

    “We were up late and it definitely meant Christmas morning was very close,” she says. “Generally, church was really boring, but midnight mass was fun.”

    There were lit candles, nativity scenes, treats (like imbuljuta tal-qastan, a spiced cacao and chestnut drink they’d enjoy after mass) and the promise of presents and a big Christmas feast.

    “I remember waking up to the smell of the cooking onions,” she says. There were other aromas, too: brandy and butter as her mother prepared French onion soup, roast pork caramelising in the oven, and snapper her mum stuffed with crumbs, tomatoes, capers, olives and herbs before roasting it.

    “The stuffed snapper is very Maltese,” the author of A Year of Simple Family Food says. “It's something my grandmother would do.”

    While she no longer stays up for midnight mass, Julia has kept some traditions: like garlicky Maltese fish soup, aljotta, on Christmas Eve. She’s added new ones, too, like preparing sashimi for Christmas – a nod to husband Nori’s Japanese roots. The slow-roasting porchetta evokes the street-food stands and sandwich shops she visited in Italy. The home cook likes things simple: it’s okay if dessert is just gelato.

    The pre-Christmas buzz lives on in her children, Yuki and Haruki. While they don’t hold midnight mass hours, they get up as early as 4.30am in anticipation of the day.

    “It’s so contagious, you can’t help but feel jolly,” Julia says. On Christmas mornings, she’ll offer Swedish cinnamon buns with cold milk as they unwrap presents. Their faces, when they realise that Santa has ‘eaten’ the cookies they left out, are “gold” to her. “It is really special.”

    Stuffed snapper (serves 6).

    Stuffed snapper (serves 6).

    Whole stuffed snapper from Julia Busuttil Nishimura

    Julia Busuttil Nishimura says her stuffed snapper from A Year of Simple Family Food is the type of dish her Maltese grandmother would make. Image: Armelle Habib.

    Ingredients
    1 x 1.5kg snapper or 2 x 750g snapper, cleaned, scaled and gutted
    3 large waxy potatoes, finely sliced
    1 fennel bulb, finely sliced, fronds roughly chopped and reserved for the stuffing
    1 French shallot, sliced
    3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
    Sea salt
    Lemon wedges, to serve

    Tomato and herb stuffing
    2 tomatoes, roughly chopped
    Large handful of mint leaves, roughly chopped
    Large handful of parsley leaves, roughly chopped
    150g fresh breadcrumbs
    1 tablespoon salted capers, rinsed and patted dry
    Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
    3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
    Sea salt

    Method

    Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F).

    Dry the snapper thoroughly inside and out using a paper towel. If using one large snapper, make sharp cuts in the top of the flesh on one side of the fish to help it cook a little faster.

    To make the stuffing, combine the tomato, herbs, breadcrumbs, capers, lemon zest and olive oil in a large bowl with the reserved fennel fronds. Season to taste.

    Arrange the potato, fennel and shallot in a large roasting tin and drizzle over1½ tablespoons of the olive oil. Place the fish on top and then, using yourhands, fill the cavity with the stuffing. Drizzle the fish with the remaining 1½ tablespoons of olive oil and season well. 

    Cover the tray tightly with foil and bake for 20 minutes. Increase thetemperature to 200°C (400°F), remove the foil and bake for 10 more minutes or until the fish is just cooked and the potato is golden. A large snapper mayneed a little longer so keep checking every 5 minutes after the 30-minutemark. Serve with plenty of lemon wedges.  

    This is an edited extract from A Year of Simple Family Food by Julia Busuttil Nishimura, published by Pan Macmillian, RRP $39.95.

  • Reynold Poernomo

    Reynold Poernomo – co-founder of KOI Dessert Bars and author of The Dessert Game.

    Reynold Poernomo – co-founder of KOI Dessert Bars and author of The Dessert Game.

    Reynold Poernomo with mother, Ike.

    Reynold Poernomo (pictured with his mother, Ike) says his festive food memories are a combination of dishes from his Indonesian heritage and the desserts he is now famous for. Image: Nikki To.

    Reynold Poernomo counts having hot chocolate around Christmas time as “one of my favourite things”, he says.

    The pastry chef remembers being five years old – too young to join his brothers on snowboards and skis during a Snowy Mountains trip – and savouring his first-ever hot chocolate.

    It’s the earliest food memory and the first dessert he can remember. It was also a big contrast to life in Indonesia, where he had migrated from.

    “Indonesia is pretty hot,” he says. “We don’t have hot chocolate.”

    Having a marshmallow sink into the hot liquid, and savouring the soft, pillowy sponge as it half-melts – that’s the highlight of the hot-chocolate experience for him.

    The power of sweets has played a big role in Reynold’s life, from his early experiments with macarons as a teenager. It earned him the nickname ‘Australia’s Dessert King’ and led to his KOI Dessert Bar and KOI Dessert Kitchen in Sydney as well as a recently launched cookbook,The Dessert Game.

    But the desserts he is now famous for weren’t always a big part of family Christmas feasts. He’s related to many talented home cooks, and they’d often serve Indonesian dishes for the holidays. Ayam woku (a spicy, sour yellow chicken dish flavoured with Thai basil) and terung balado (deep-fried eggplant he’d mop up with chilli sauce) were big favourites. “Back then, it was pretty nice to have Indo food for Christmas,” he says.

    Over time, his mother skilled up on crème brûlée, macarons and other desserts, which ramped up his own curiosity. He remembers eating pavlova for the first time at her restaurant and his own tragic attempts to replicate it. “It would collapse every time I made it.” Now, he’s mastered it and has a whole cookbook section dedicated to the dessert. If you don’t nail pavlova straight away, don’t worry.

    “You can just turn it into an Eton mess if it fails,” he says.

    It’s something he’s done for Christmas. He’s also brought Basque cheesecake to holiday tables (his cookbook recipe is inspired by a life-changing version he had at Copenhagen’s Hart Bageri) and crème brûlée – he even turns up with a blowtorch to blast the tops.

    Friends and family can be a tough judging panel at the Christmas table. “But when you bring over something really good, you can tell because they keep coming back to it and it’s gone in minutes.”

    Burnt-honey Basque cheesecake (serves 4).

    Burnt-honey Basque cheesecake (serves 4).

    Reynold Poernomo’s burnt honey basque cheesecake

    Reynold’s burnt honey basque cheesecake features in his new cookbook The Dessert Game. Image: Nikki To.

    Ingredients
    430g cream cheese, softened
    100g white (granulated) sugar
    3 eggs
    15g plain (all-purpose) flour
    270ml thickened (whipping) cream
    15ml lemon juice
    Seeds of 1 vanilla bean

    Burnt-honey glaze
    150g honey
    50ml water

    Method

    Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F). Line an 18cm springform cake tin with baking paper (I just get a big piece and punch it in to fit the tin).

    Put the cream cheese and sugar in a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix on medium speed for 5 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, and mix until well combined. Add the flour and mix for a further 3 minutes.

    Slowly add the cream, lemon juice and vanilla seeds, and mix until smooth and creamy, scraping down the side of the bowl to ensure there are no lumps.

    Pour the cheesecake mixture into the tin. Bake for 25–27 minutes – the centre should still be wobbly. Allow the cheesecake to cool to room temperature, then place in the fridge.

    Put the honey in a small saucepan and cook over medium heat until the edges begin to caramelise and burn a little. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the honey has turned a deep amber, then slowly whisk in the water. (Be careful not to add the water too quickly as it will bubble and spit.) Bring the mixture to a simmer, then turn off the heat and set aside to cool to 35–40°C (95–104°F).

    Evenly brush the cooled honey glaze over the dark surface of the cheesecake. Remove the cheesecake from the tin and serve chilled.

    Note: If the honey glaze is rock hard once it’s cooled, dilute it with some water. It should have the consistency of liquid glucose – if it’s too firm to brush over the cheesecake, heat it in the microwave for 8–10 seconds to loosen.

    This is an edited extract from The Dessert Game by Reynold Poernomo, published by Murdoch Books, RRP $36.99.

By Lee Tran Lam