tackles the most vexing issues of festive cooking with his “12 Questions of Christmas”.
1. Is turkey with all the trimmings suited to an Aussie Christmas? No, but the traditions and rituals associated with feasts like this often fly in the face of logic. And the traditions and rituals are also, strangely, often so much more important than the meal.
2. What should I cook for Christmas dinner, then? Whatever you darn well want. Plunder ideas from other cultures – the suckling pig of a Pinoy Christmas, say, or my addictive Brussels sprouts with a Thai fish sauce caramel, or the fried food (especially potato cakes) of Hanukkah. I like the idea of roasting juicier and easier-to-cook chooks and serving them with salads themed to the flavourings you’ve used on the birds.
3. But what should be our new national Christmas dinner? As well as being tasty, it should be a political statement and have a positive environmental impact so I can feel both full and smugly full of myself. In Poland they eat carp for Christmas dinner, so maybe we should adopt that and eat all those problematic introduced species that thrive here like camel, goat, rabbits and carp. Sustainable and wild food – so on trend (but a wee bit hard to source).
4. So maybe local seafood would be a better choice and easier to source? Oysters, perhaps. Sydney rocks are good but I’d avoid Pacifics – they’re often a bit spent at this time of year. Prawns, certainly. With the hot weather and disrupted bin service, a neat trick is to bundle up the heads and shells in the freezer until you can dispose of them (see next question).
5. What are the three most important steps in planning? Make a list of what you need and what you need to do; delegate as much as you can; clean out the fridge and freezer of anything that you don’t recognise or haven’t opened in the past month. You’ll need the space.
6. Should I glaze the ham? It’s like asking “should I have a pedicure?” It’s not hard to do and it makes things better but can you really be bothered?
7. Who should do the washing up? Not you. Anyone else who hasn’t contributed in a significant way to Christmas lunch. Accept no excuses.
8. Eek, I’ve forgotten to buy a present for (insert title here). What should I get? Might I recommend a book? For the hardcore food lover get The Noma Guide to Fermentation; for the food lover who loves travel pick my friend Emma Warren’s The Catalan Kitchen. Perfect for everyone, however, is a subscription to the world’s best food magazine, delicious. You can order it online so you don’t even have to leave your kitchen to get it.
9. What should we drink? I’m a gin and soda guy these days. At only 65 calories, it’s the new Skinny Bitch (vodka, lime, soda) and since the booze isn’t hidden behind all that sugary tonic, you tend to make them weaker. For a party starter, however, I make jugs of chilled rosé, gin and soda spritz with the barest splash of rosewater for fragrance and fresh lychees bobbing in it to add a little sweetness. Then it’s nice buttery Aussie chardonnay with the turkey, crisp cold beer with the seafood and a sparkling shiraz with Boxing Day ham and eggs brunch.
10. Would it be a disaster if I put the fried onions under, rather than on top of, my Boxing Day sausage? No. Personally I like the onions under my charity snag wrapped in bread so they don’t fall off, taking the artfully applied sauce and mustard with them. And as we recently found out, it's a small price to pay to ensure that no little old ladies have to go to emergency with a broken hip after slipping on onions outside their favourite hardware store after buying a new flange nut for their angle-grinder.
11. I'll be off to the hardware store for my post- Christmas DIY needs, too. Is it okay if that charity sausage sizzle serves the snags in rolls? Not since the New South Wales state election when John Brogden and Bob Carr brawled over the whole sausage rolls versus pies debate have we been so divided, but here is the truth: a sausagesizzle sausage should be served in a slice of (preferably white) bread. White bread delivers a far more favourable meat-tobread ratio, is faster to assemble and even comes with those two top corners of bread that make a handy handle, keeping your fingers free of sauce. A roll is un-australian – unless you're of Scandinavian or American descent, or you're calling it a hot dog. In which case you really should be using a heavily processed, popping-skinned, frank-style dog rather than a meaty Aussie snag. The only other time I'd consider a roll acceptable is if you're 'double- dogging'.
Double-dogging, for those who don't know, is the art of removing the soft bread from inside the top and bottom of the roll so each hollowed-out half can accommodate a sausage, thus giving you double the meat action.
12. What’s the epiphany? It’s that moment when you realise that you’d much rather be eating a bag of hot chips with chicken salt than the fancy dégustation-style huge Christmas feast or risotto of leftover turkey that you're about to sit down to.