Christmas shopping list: Hams, seafood, puddings and fruit mince pies put to the taste-test

Taste-tester Richard Cornish hams it up.
Taste-tester Richard Cornish hams it up. Photo: Simon Schluter

It has been months in the making. A hand-picked Christmas list of the best Australian fare fit for a festive table. This season we are celebrating with a hamper of hams, seafood, puddings and fruit mince pies all grown, caught or made in Australia. Put together with recommendations from the Good Food team, the goods in this definitive list of Christmas classics have been sourced, tasted, assessed and graded in order of what we consider to the be top in their field.

We started with a long list of products, ranging from goods from small family operators to those readily available from the supermarkets. Not only did the products have to be home-grown, they also had to be readily available to readers in Sydney and Melbourne. We then worked out our top three in each field, except ham where we opted for six to reflect the large number of brands and styles. What we found interesting was that often the best quality, from our perspective, was not always the most expensive, making for some value for money bargains on the Christmas table.

Peter Bouchier ham

Peter Bouchier Christmas Ham Photo: Supplied

Adamstown pudding
Adamstown pudding Photo: Richard Cornish

Ham

The good news is that if a ham is on the bone then it is home-grown. Quarantine laws only allow boneless meat to be imported into Australia, which means bone-in hams are always 100 per cent Australian. What we were looking for in our Christmas hams were ones that looked good, had unblemished skin, were well seasoned without being too salty and that finished with a nice smoky tang. We rejected the overly smoked hams and those that had been too heavily injected with water – a practice common in the smallgoods industry. A whole leg weighs about five kilograms to seven kilograms and will feed a family with enough left over for sandwiches until New Year's Day.

Peter Bouchier Christmas Ham

This is a top-shelf crowd pleaser that ticks a whole lot of boxes. It is a great-looking ham, big and plump with a golden hue. It is made with St Bernard's free-range pork by butcher Peter Bouchier in Melbourne. The meat is juicy, the beechwood smoke is subtle and the flavour of bay and juniper used in the brine shines through.

Harris Smokehouse smoked salmon.
Harris Smokehouse smoked salmon. Photo: Richard Cornish

$22.90 a kilogram; available in Peter Bouchier stores, David Jones food stores and online.

Newbury and Watson Ham

This is an excellent ham made by Adelaide butcher Richard Gunner. He works with a handful of small-scale farmers who raise traditional Berkshire, large black, Tamworth and Hampshire fee-range pigs. The legs are brined with honey and brown sugar and smoked over beechwood and redgum. If you like a full-flavoured ham with a nice punch of smoke, we can confidently recommend this one.

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$35.99 a kilogram; NSW stockists; Vic stockists

Gamze Whole Leg Ham

The Gamze family is proud that it doesn't use chemical preservatives in its hams, using plant-based compounds instead. They use pork from free-range pigs and smoke over Australian hardwoods to produce a deep bronze ham with full porky, smokey flavour, great texture and a clean finish.

$39 a kilogram; gamzesmokehouse.com.au

Balzanelli Ham on the Bone

The Balzanelli family have been making smallgoods in their butchery in Fyshwick, Canberra, for almost 40 years. This juicy ham on the bone is an award-winner at the Sydney Royal Fine Food Show and has been smoked over cherry wood to give it a light golden colour and very subtle smoke aroma.

$24 a kilogram; Call 1300 305 129 for stockists.

Bertocchi Ham On Bone Half

From this family-owned company comes a ham suitable for a smaller family as it has the thigh end of the ham removed, leaving the tastier muscles around the hock end. It has a nice punch of European hardwood smoke, carves well and is very good value for money.

$12 a kilogram; Various supermarkets and delicatessens.

Woolworths Full Leg Ham

For many, ham is  merely a pink platter for cranberry sauce, mustard and/or gravy and this ham will not offend anyone and will feed many at a good price point.

$9 a kilogram; Woolworths supermarkets

Puddings

There is something about the quiet bubbling of a pudding in a pot, filling the home with the aroma of butter, fruit and spice on a hot Christmas day, that speaks volumes about Australian culture. Puddings are all about those three ingredients. The butter (or suet) needs to be fresh, the fruit must be plump and the spices must tie the pudding together but not take centre stage. Puddings are hard to get right in a commercial kitchen but these three taste close to home-made.

Adamstown Pudding Kitchen

This is best commercially made Christmas pudding we have tasted. The butter and sugar have melded in the cooking to create aromas of butterscotch. It has a light texture, but not to its detriment, and the currants and sultanas are plump and sweet. Cooked in a high-density plastic bag, it resembles the traditional cooked-in-a-cloth pudding. Made by a team of volunteers in Newcastle, proceeds from sales support charities, both local and overseas.

1kg pudding $38; adamstownpuddingkitchen.org.au

Silver Penny Puddings

Sold in a beautiful decorative tin, this pudding  is made with traditional suet and looks and tastes like an old-fashioned Christmas pudding.

900g pudding $47 ($52.20 a kilogram). silverpennypuddings.com

The Hotel Windsor

Every year the kitchen team at Hotel Windsor in Melbourne produces this quite-alcoholic pudding with the fruit soaked in French brandy and Cuban rum. The quality of the Australian fruit, however, really stands out.

500g pudding $30 ($60 a kilogram); thehotelwindsor.com.au

Christmas food, fruit mince pies  by Phillippa's.

Fruit mince pies by Phillippa's. Photo: Jerry Galea

Fruit mince pies

It is a tradition in many households to have a plate of fruit mince pies sitting on the table ready for guests dropping in over Christmas season. A good fruit mince pie should have a buttery shortcrust pastry and lots of sweet plump fruit sitting in syrup with a touch of spice, a hint of citrus and the aroma of brandy. A lot of stores carry mince pies baked overseas or made in Australia with as little as 25 per cent local product. The following pies contain at least 90 per cent local ingredients.

Phillippa's Fruit Mince Pies

You can smell the butter in the short pastry before you put these little star-topped tarts in your mouth. The orange peel is hand-made, the fruit full-flavoured and finished with a hit of brandy and the pastry delicious, making these rather excellent little Christmas morsels.

$17.50 for six; For stockists visit phillippas.com.au

Emmalines Fruit Mince Pies

Lovely little squat pies with rich but fine pastry filled with flavoursome fruit that has a long and lingering flavour of vine fruit and preserved orange peel.

$13.99 for six; Call 08 8389 5188 for stockists

Valley Produce Fruit Mince Tarts

These small tarts come in the foil tin they were baked in and have buttery short pastry encasing a filling of juicy fruit mince made with some apple and a slug of St Agnes brandy.

$10.99 for eight; valleyproducecompany.com.au

Smoked fish

Petuna Smoked Salmon

This is an excellent smoked salmon from northern Tasmania. The smoke is very subtle, which means the quality of the fish shines through. Delicate and delicious, this matches well with fine white wine.

100g for $10; For stockists see petuna.com.au

Harris Smokehouse Smoked Salmon

Some smoked salmon starts off as frozen fish. Not Adelaide Hills-based Harris Smokehouse. They cold-smoke fresh Atlantic salmon over French and American oak, the aroma of which enhances this luxuriously textured fish.

100g for $8.90; NSW stockists; For Vic stockists try independent retailers and delis.

Woodbridge Ocean Trout

Down on Tasmania's D'Entrecasteaux Channel is Woodbridge Smokehouse. Here ocean trout is cold-smoked for 24 hours over fruit-tree wood, harvested on the property. Ocean Trout has a slightly firmer, but beautifully textured flesh, compared with Atlantic salmon.

200g for $20; woodbridgesmokehouse.com.au

Tathra oysters. Image supplied.

Tathra oysters. Photo: Supplied

Oysters

A good plump oyster is the perfect match for a cool-climate chardonnay or a chilled glass of blanc de blanc bubbles. The best way to buy your oysters is unopened. Stored in a cool place, the oysters remain alive in their shells for a good week. If you're not a dab hand with a shucking knife, buy oysters opened as close to when you're going to eat them as possible to ensure their freshness. Some oysters are opened by processors and sent to retail leaving a few days between shucking and sale, so find a seafood retailer who will open to order. Look for plump-bodied oysters with a good sheen and a fresh, tangy aroma of the sea.

In Australia, we commercially grow native Sydney rock and Pacific oysters, originally from Japan. (We also grow limited numbers of native Angasi oysters.) Sydney rocks are at their peak from September to March and are now fattening up as the water warms and they feed on the burst of micro flora growing around them.

While Pacifics are considered to be at their best in autumn and winter, they are available year-round and still make good eating in December. As the water warms up they head towards spawning and become very creamy. After spawning they lose condition later in summer. There is no real down season for Australian oysters. The only time to avoid them is after rains as nutrients are flushed down the estuaries. At this time there is a risk of contamination by harmful bacteria. Health authorities in each state, however, close down the fishery until the oysters are deemed safe to eat.

Sydney Rock Oysters

Some of the best oysters in the world are grown in the estuaries of the south of New South Wales. Many of the inlets are fed by creeks and rivers surrounded by forest and national park. One of the bes brands is Wapengo Rocks Oysters and they deliver hessian sacks of unopened oysters to your door. Certified organic, they are plump, beautifully briny and cost from $18 (minimum 10 dozen) a dozen plus delivery. For equally excellent oysters from an estuary nearby, try Tarthra Oysters. They deliver smaller quantities by post and can be ordered online.

Tasmanian Pacific Oysters

There are superb oysters being harvested along the east coast of Tasmania, especially at St Helens, where large swathes of the coast surrounding nearby Georges Bay are cloaked in native forest. The large oysters from St Helens are long, deep and sweet. Expect to pay around $20 a dozen. Pre-order at fish retailers.

South Australian Pacific Oysters

South Australia is fairly dry and there is not a lot of freshwater run-off, meaning oysters grown off the Eyre Peninsula are clean-tasting and quite briny. The oysters being harvested from Coffin Bay are still in very good condition, a good size and good value at $18 a dozen. Pre-order at fish retailers.

Mooloolaba Eastern king prawns for Good Food Chritmas taste test 2018.

Mooloolaba Eastern King Prawns. Photo: Richard Cornish

Prawns

Prawns are wild caught around the coast of Australia and farmed in Queensland. Prawns fresh from the net are incredibly tasty but as scarce as hens' teeth and unreliable due to the unpredictable conditions at sea. Your best bet are prawns frozen on board the prawn trawlers as they are still super fresh and easy to get your hands on. Canny shoppers pre-order a three-kilogram box of frozen prawns for Christmas. You will pay more for larger prawns. Look for full-bodied prawns that are intact and without discolouration of the head.

Fresh prawns

The Victorian prawn fishery season opens in December each year. There is a small window to get fresh prawns from Gippsland from the Lakes Entrance Fisherman's Co-op that distributes to both Melbourne and Sydney fish markets. They are some of the best in the world. The other fishery that distributes fresh prawns is Coffs Harbour. You can put an order in with your fishmonger but it is pot luck. Market prices.

Frozen prawns

Look out for Eastern King Prawns from east coast fisheries such as Mooloolaba on the Sunshine Coast. They are flash frozen raw on the boat. Buy a three-kilogram box and slowly thaw the prawns on tray in a sealed container in the fridge overnight. Cook in a large pot of boiling salted water for several minutes or until they change colour. Serve warm with cold beer. There are not as many large prawns around this year so expect to be paying around $50 a kilogram for the big ones.

Farmed prawns

About a fifth of Australian prawn production comes from farmed prawns. Mainly black tiger prawns and banana prawns, these are good value, come from well-managed farms in the north of Australia and are almost exclusively sold in supermarkets. $23-$35 a kilogram depending on size.