Experts' Christmas: Season's eatings

Neil Perry's seafood antipasto.
Neil Perry's seafood antipasto. Photo: Eddie Jim


Chef and restaurateur Neil Perry is looking forward to taking it easy at Christmas after a hectic year running his multi-city restaurant empire, including Rockpool on George, Rockpool Bar & Grill, Spice Temple and the recently opened Rosetta at the Crown complex in Melbourne.

''As a chef, you're just so knackered by December 25 that all you want to have is an easy lunch,'' he says. ''Christmas is like a punctuation mark in the year for a chef.''

Luke Mangan's individual ice-cream plum puddings.
Luke Mangan's individual ice-cream plum puddings. Photo: Steven Siewert

Perry's parents used to alternate the turkey and ham Christmas with a seafood barbecue, and it's the latter tradition that's stuck for him. Eating with the seasons is more important for Perry than traditions developed in a different climate.

On the menu at Rosetta, his new Italian restaurant, is a seafood antipasto that's ideal for Christmas Day. ''There's cuttlefish, scampi, prawns, octopus and mussels, simply poached and drizzled with lemon oil and garlic. It's the kind of dish that's on the menu in every single restaurant in a place like Santa Margherita. But it's perfect for summer in Australia.''

Seafood antipasto

1 whole (about 330g) octopus, fresh or frozen (thawed), cleaned, with tentacles

Darren Purchese's mango, meringue and ice-cream dessert.
Darren Purchese's mango, meringue and ice-cream dessert. Photo: Mal Fairclough

330g squid, cleaned, with tentacles

450g medium green prawns, shell on

600g mussels or clams (or both), mussels debearded, scrubbed

80ml white wine

2 celery stalks, with leaves, finely chopped

Lemon oil to taste

1 tbsp finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

2 garlic cloves, crushed

1. If using fresh octopus, beat it with a meat hammer to tenderise, then rinse well under cold running water, using a clean sponge, to remove any excess saltiness. If frozen, you don't need to do this, as freezing has the effect of tenderising it.

2. Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil (but do not salt it, as this will toughen the octopus), add the octopus. Cover with a lid, reduce heat to low, simmer gently for 20-30 minutes, or until tender. Drain well and cut into bite-size pieces.

3. Meanwhile, bring another saucepan of water to the boil. Add the squid bodies and tentacles. Simmer over a low heat for 10 minutes, remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add the prawns to the same water, simmer for 2 minutes, or until they have changed colour and are just cooked. Remove, then peel ¾ of the prawns, reserving a handful for garnish. Cut squid bodies into strips. Set aside.

4. Place the mussels and/or clams and white wine in a large pan over a high heat. Cover and cook, shaking the pan occasionally, until the shells have opened. Remove from the heat, strain, reserving the cooking liquid. Discard any that haven't opened, remove the meat from the rest and discard the shells.

5. Place the prawns, octopus, squid, mussels/clams and celery in a shallow serving dish. Whisk 50ml of the reserved and strained cooking liquid from the mussels with enough lemon oil to taste. Drizzle dressing over the seafood, season to taste. Scatter with the parsley and garlic. Serve immediately.

Serves 4


Based in the Barossa, Saskia Beer is a renowned artisan producer of poultry, pork and charcuterie, as well as a range of premium stocks and glazes. She grew up raising game birds, helping  at her parents' pheasant farm.
Christmas traditions in the Beer family – Saskia is the daughter of Maggie and Colin Beer – are non-negotiable, she says.

"We have French champagne in the morning, and presents at home with my kids. Then we all head over to mum and dad's for lunch.

"Mum always cooks a goose, although we're usually too full to eat it, as we've also had chook, rolled ballotine of turkey for the kids, and dad likes a ham."

Beer has been raising turkeys for the Christmas market since 2002, feeding them a specific corn-based vegetarian diet to maximise their true flavour. The big challenge with game birds is that it's difficult to keep fat on them, Beer says.

"We don't grow them out to enormous sizes, usually keeping them to about six or seven kilograms, a nice-size bird that would feed 12 very hungry people [more if you have other meats on the table]."

New this year are Beer's cooked and stuffed turkeys. See

Slow roasted Barossa turkey with pickled quinces

A 5kg-6kg free-range Barossa turkey

200g chicken livers

150g butter

50ml olive oil

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

2 onions, diced

2 stalks celery, diced

100g middle bacon, diced

500g breadcrumbs (home-made are best)

2 cloves garlic, chopped

30g fresh sage, finely chopped, plus extra leaves for garnish

20g parsley, finely chopped, plus extra

10g fresh thyme, finely chopped, plus extra

10g rosemary, finely chopped

Olive oil

500ml chicken stock

100g pickled quinces, Maggie Beer or Saskia Beer (available at Thomas Dux stores) or any home-made pickle

1. Drain any liquid from the cavity of the bird and pat dry. Preheat the oven to 170C. Place turkey in a large baking tray.

2. Trim the chicken livers of any excess sinew and make sure any trace of gall bladder is removed. Slice thinly.

3. In a pan, gently heat about 20 grams of the butter with a little olive oil. Season the livers lightly with salt and pepper. Saute very quickly, just to seal them slightly, not cook them totally. Put them aside to cool.

4. Gently cook chopped onion in 100 grams butter until translucent and slightly caramelised, add the diced celery and bacon and cook for a minute or two.

5. Add breadcrumbs, garlic and finely chopped herbs. Mix all the ingredients together and stuff into the cavity of the turkey. (You may want to add a little pickled quince to the stuffing, or reserve them all to serve with the turkey.)

6. Brush the turkey with some olive oil. Smear any remaining butter over the skin and season well with salt and pepper. (I like to brush a little of the juice of the pickled quince over to give a burnished appearance to the bird.) Pour the chicken stock into the baking tray to provide moisture and create a jus.

7. Place turkey in the oven and roast. After the first 30 minutes of cooking, baste every 10 minutes or so to keep the bird moist. Cook the turkey until the internal temperature is about 56-58C (test using a meat thermometer placed in the thigh). Depending on the size of the bird, this can take anywhere between 1½ to 2 hours - sometimes more. (I usually cook my turkey in advance and warm it gently when required if on a strict catering timeline.)

8. When the turkey has reached 56-58C, remove it from the oven and rest breast-side down for at least 60 minutes - you can rest it for the same time again that it was cooking - covered with a tea towel or foil. Residual heat will finish the cooking process.

9. The remaining juices in the roasting dish will form the basis of your sauce. Taste for seasoning; if the juices are highly seasoned, do not reduce them too much but rather thicken them with a little flour and butter. If they are not too salty, you can thicken them using a normal reduction technique.

10. Finely slice the pickled quinces. Carve the turkey and serve the stuffing under the meat. Garnish with preserved quinces and picked leaves of parsley, sage and thyme.

Serves 10


Chef Luke Mangan has been eating ice-cream plum puddings since he was a lad. 

"Mum always made one," he says. "It just seemed mad to us to eat a hot traditional pudding."

This is a variation of his mother's recipe. Over the years he has refined it by adding more alcohol and dried fruits, and here serves it with a dousing of melted chocolate.

Ice-cream plum puddings

These can be made up to a week ahead.

1L good-quality vanilla ice-cream

35g well-toasted slivered almonds

50g chopped red and green maraschino cherries (or glace)

40g sultanas

35g chopped dried mango

2 tbsp mixed peel

½ tsp ground cinnamon

½ tsp ground nutmeg

½ tsp ground ginger

1 tbsp Irish cream liqueur

1 tbsp Cointreau

100g dark chocolate, melted

1. Place the ice-cream into a large bowl and chop coarsely.

2. Add the almonds, fruit, spices and liqueurs and mix gently until combined.

3. Spoon the mixture into six moulds (¾ cup/180ml capacity) and level the tops. Cover and freeze overnight or until firm.

4. Dip the base of the moulds in warm water for a few seconds and run a butter knife around the edges.

5. Invert the moulds on to serving plates and spoon melted chocolate over. Decorate, if desired, and serve immediately.

Serves 6


Mango, meringue and ice-cream dessert

Master pastry chef and owner of the innovative Burch & Purchese Sweet Studio in South Yarra, Darren Purchese has made a name for himself creating unique desserts. His recipes, recently published in his book Sweet Studio (Murdoch Books), are not for the faint-hearted, but for Christmas he keeps things simple.

For Purchese and his wife, chef Cath Claringbold, Christmas Day breakfast consists of sliced ham on Baker D. Chirico seeded toast, with great butter and mustard.

''I always have a Buck's Fizz - it's a nod to my mum and my British heritage. It's pretty naff but always reminds me of home,'' he says.

''For us, Christmas Day is all about seafood and we do Moreton Bay bugs on the barbecue, with loads of salads.''

For pudding, Purchese does his own take on the famous Aussie pavlova, using items that he makes and sells at Sweet Studio. ''We get the passionfruit meringue clouds, add passionfruit curd, some puffed quinoa crumb and layer it with fresh mango and vanilla ice-cream,'' he says.

To make it at home, either buy or make a pavlova, then gently crush it up. Layer this in individual glasses or bowls with passionfruit curd (you can buy Burch & Purchese curd at, puffed quinoa crumbs (also on the website) and fresh, sliced mango and ice-cream.