Traditional Christmas Dinner – Part A

Robin BoyleAustralian, Entree, Fish & Seafood, From the Archives, Recipe, Traditions-Feasts

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This post, and the next two, are from an article we wrote for Club Marine magazine in 1993. (Use the Print button at the top of this page for a hardcopy or pdf of the recipe in this post.)

What is a traditional Australian Christmas dinner?

There is no strict formula for a traditional Australian Christmas dinner but there is no doubt that a common feature will be a special roast of some kind followed by Christmas pudding. Such a meal, on what is likely to be a warm to hot summer’s day, may appear somewhat incongruous but most families don’t appear to care and wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Apart from the pudding, there are many variations possible regarding the roast(s) and accompaniments and what to serve as a starter.

On one side of our family, George and Olive would aim to sit down to their Christmas dinner at about 1 o’clock. Probably a dozen different vegetables would have been gathered from the garden. These would be prepared by the kids: old potatoes to be peeled for baking, new potatoes to be skinned, peas and broad beans to be shelled, … A cut of farm-killed pork and probably a large stuffed chicken would be in the oven, neighbours would be dropping in, Olive would have made her puddings weeks ago, fresh farm cream would be sitting in a large jug in the fridge, the table would gradually be set…

As they aged, the parents’ hospitality was repaid by invitations to spend Christmas with their children and their families; the pudding, though, was still likely to be Olive’s recipe.

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On the other side of our family we are blessed with the presence of a professional chef. Although he is busy running Poffs*, his restaurant at Red Hill on the Mornington Peninsula, Sasha Esipoff still manages to take time off to cook a formal dinner for up to two dozen.

Presents would have been unwrapped around the Christmas tree in the morning. A light lunch of fresh garden salads and ham on the bone would have been taken in the warmth of the day followed by a walk or a game of tennis or beach cricket. Dinner would be served at about 8 in the evening with participants taking the trouble to dress up a bit for the occasion. As an entree, Sasha normally serves something light such as some steamed fresh asparagus, some smoked salmon or a seafood cocktail. Main course is always turkey with a delicious sauce made from the turkey pan juices and reduced beef stock. Dessert is flamed plum pudding with his superb brandy sauce.

So for a traditional Christmas dinner we propose: a seafood cocktail, roast turkey with vegetables and plum pudding with brandy sauce.

(*Poffs ceased trading as a restaurant in 2007, much to the disappointment of the Mornington Peninsula community.)

Sasha is known for his sauces and has kindly offered three excellent recipes. Olive provides us with the method for her Christmas pudding. Both provide hints for a successful, and thoroughly enjoyable, Christmas dinner. A key is to be well prepared, having as much done beforehand as possible: the pudding can be made weeks ahead, the cocktail sauce and most of the brandy sauce a day or two before, vegetables and ingredients for the turkey sauce should be ready and waiting. Allow plenty of time for the whole meal so that it is not spoiled if there is a delay. Get others to help at all stages: it’s a family affair after all. Finally, don’t get hung up about serving up a piping hot main course: the food will stay warm if served on hot plates from the oven and food should not be too hot anyway.

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Take the trouble to search out some good wines to have on Christmas Day. A sparkling wine of the champagne style is a must but avoid those cheap bottles of bubbly: as a general rule the cheaper the wine the greater the hangover. There are some excellent Australian sparkling wines on the market, especially those from Tasmania: look out for those made from pinot noir or chardonnay or both. Warm weather calls for lighter style wines. For white wines try a traminer, a sauvignon blanc, a riesling or an unwooded chardonnay. Pinot noir is a refreshing red wine to have with turkey. And with the pudding, try a quality Australian dessert wine, perhaps just a half-bottle.

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Seafood Cocktail

Seafood cocktail is one of those old-fashioned dishes which still appears on many menus and which is notoriously disappointing. However, under the right conditions it can be an easy but special entree that is light and refreshing.

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Sasha advises there are no fixed rules for making a seafood cocktail. Using bowls or plates, make a base from a few crisp salad leaves. Top with a selection of very fresh seafood (cooked or raw). Choose from prawns, crayfish, Moreton Bay bugs, poached scallops, crab meat, crab claws, yabbies, oysters and caviar. Decorate each dish with a slice of avocado, lemon or orange and serve with more lemon or with the following very easy sauce.

Cocktail sauce

  • 1 cup tomato sauce (ketchup)
  • 1/2 cup whipping cream
  • 2 tbsps Worcestershire sauce
  • 4 drops Tabasco sauce
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • ground black pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup brandy

Add all the above to a screw top jar and shake well to combine. Adjust for taste.

(And after Christmas, for a delicious summer salad, combine left-over cocktail sauce with bite sized pieces of chilled cucumber, celery and red or green capsicum.)

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Continued in Traditional Christmas Dinner – Part B