A merry McConnell Christmas: Chef brothers share recipes for a festive family feast

Mascarpone cream, roast cherries with Christmas spices and chocolate sauce.
Mascarpone cream, roast cherries with Christmas spices and chocolate sauce. Photo: Kristoffer Paulsen

Australia's most famous trio of chef brothers, Andrew, Sean and Matt McConnell, rarely get to cook together, but when they do, magic happens.

"Being able to do this Christmas feast was super special for us," says Andrew McConnell. The brothers drew straws on who was going to tackle the turkey course. They claim not to like the festive bird, but the recipe Sean McConnell created for Good Food is likely to woo the most hardened turkey sceptics, not least his brothers.

Sean, Andrew and Matt McConnell at Cutler and Co.
Sean, Andrew and Matt McConnell at Cutler and Co. Photo: Kristoffer Paulsen

Sean says he'll be working in his restaurant, Monster, in Canberra on Christmas Day, while Matt (Bar Lourinha) and Andrew, from Cutler & Co and Supernormal (among others), will join 24 adults and 12 kids at a giant nosh-up at their parents' house in Kew, Melbourne. 

"Mum and Dad have got a pretty decent-sized living room and we set up a kids' table outside in the courtyard depending on the weather. Matt and Andrew usually bring seafood and ham, everyone else brings a few salads, and Aunty Carmel brings her world famous creme caramel," says Sean.

"While everyone is faffing about with food, Dad is on booze duty and raids the cellar for a few special bottles he's been hanging onto for a few years. He does a great job at keeping everyone hydrated on Christmas Day."

Chilled spiced tomato and spanner crab recipe by Matt McConnell for Good Food Christmas menu.

Photo: Kristoffer Paulsen

Chilled spiced tomato and spanner crab

This is a great way to use very ripe red tomatoes for a clean and refreshing chilled soup. I love the slightly sweet and spicy flavour of Aleppo pepper (a type of chilli), which pairs beautifully with both the crab and tomato. Matt McConnell

INGREDIENTS

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1.5kg very ripe large red tomatoes

1 tsp salt

1 tsp sugar

2 tsp roasted and ground cumin

1 tsp chilli sauce (I like Cholula, but any "salsa picante" will do the job)

cracked black pepper

300g cooked spanner crab meat

1 lemon, zest only

20 purple basil or salad burnet leaves

extra virgin olive oil

Aleppo pepper to taste

METHOD

1. Grate the whole unpeeled tomatoes by placing them on box grater with the eye facing down and press hard. You will make a juicy red pulp, discard the skins. Season with the salt, sugar, cumin and chilli sauce. Add some black pepper and test the seasoning. Blend with a stick blender until medium smooth. Place in the fridge and allow to cool.

2. To serve, place chilled tomato in soup bowls and scatter the crab over the top. Grate a little lemon zest on top of each bowl and garnish with the herbs, a few drops of olive oil and a little Aleppo pepper.

Serves 6

Bang bang turkey recipe by Sean McConnell for Good Food Christmas feature.

Photo: Kristoffer Paulsen

Bang bang turkey

In 1999, I worked and lived with Andrew at M on the Bund in Shanghai. Once a month, Andrew would take the kitchen brigade out for a late-night meal. On one occasion, the chefs chose a Sichuan restaurant, where I first encountered bang bang chicken, the traditional Sichuan dish named for the sound the street vendors made while banging the chicken with wooden batons to shred the meat. I've subbed out the chicken for turkey to give this traditional dish a Christmas spin. If your knife skills aren't up to scratch, ask your butcher to remove the legs and thighs from the turkey as marylands and leave the breasts attached to the crown. Sean McConnell

INGREDIENTS

1 small turkey (2-2.5kg)

1kg duck fat

2 tbsp sesame oil

For the spiced salt

4 tbsp Sichuan peppercorns

2 tbsp coriander seeds

4 whole star anise

4 tbsp sea salt

For the salad

2 Lebanese cucumbers

1 tbsp sea salt

1 bunch coriander leaves, picked and washed

½ bunch spring onions, sliced

100g bean sprouts

2 tbsp black sesame seeds

2 tbsp white sesame seeds

1 tbsp Sichuan peppercorns, roasted and ground

Strange flavour dressing

60g castor sugar

60g Chinese sesame paste*

60ml light soy sauce

60ml black vinegar

50ml Lao Gan Ma chilli oil**

1 tsp sesame oil

METHOD

1. To prepare the spiced salt, dry roast the and spices over low heat until fragrant. Transfer to a mortar and pestle and grind to a fine powder. Combine the ground spices with the sea salt and set aside.

2. To prepare the turkey, remove the legs and thighs (marylands) and leave the breasts attached to the crown. Place the turkey legs in a shallow dish. Coat generously with two-thirds of the spiced salt. Rub the remaining spiced salt over the turkey breast skin. Cover both and refrigerate overnight.

3. The next day, preheat the oven to 120C. Remove the legs  from the fridge and gently rinse off the salt cure. Pat dry and place in an ovenproof dish or saucepan that fits the two legs. Gently warm the duck fat and then pour over the turkey legs until they  are completely submerged. Place the legs in the oven and cook for three to 3½ hours or until the leg meat is falling from the bone. When ready, remove from the oven and allow to cool to room temperature. Remove the legs from the duck fat and set aside.

4. While the legs are cooling, cook the turkey crown. Preheat the oven to 220C. Brush the cure from the crown, pat dry and pour over the sesame oil. Place on a wire rack over an oven tray and place in the centre of the oven. After 20 minutes, reduce the oven temperature to 170C and cook for a further 20 minutes or until the thickest part of the turkey breast registers 70C on a thermometer.

5. When the crown is ready, remove from the oven, cover with foil and allow to rest to room temperature. While the turkey crown is resting, shred the meat from the turkey legs and set aside. Remove the breasts from the crown and carve the breast meat into slices 2.5 centimetres thick.  Brush the carved turkey breast with a little of the strange flavour dressing.

6. For the dressing, simply mix all the ingredients together in a small bowl or jug and set aside.

7. For the salad, peel the cucumbers, de-seed and cut into batons five millimetres  thick and 10 centimetres long. Toss the cucumber batons with the sea salt and set aside for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, rinse off the salt and pat dry. Combine the cucumber and the remaining salad ingredients with the turkey leg meat, pour over the dressing and gently toss the salad.

8. Lay the carved turkey breast on a platter, arrange the salad on top and serve.

Serves 8-10

*Chinese sesame paste is a thick paste made from roasted sesame seeds, similar to tahini. It is available in Asian grocers.

*Lao Gan Ma (or Godmother) chilli oil is available in Asian groceries.

Heirloom beetroots, creme fraiche and roe recipe by Matt McConnell for Good Food Christmas menu.

Photo: Kristoffer Paulsen

Heirloom beetroots, creme fraiche and roe

Heirloom beetroots are readily available at farmers' markets and good produce stores at this time of year. This dish is a great starter on its own or accompaniment to fish or meat. Matt McConnell

INGREDIENTS

3 bunches baby golden beetroot

1 tbsp salt

½ cup champagne vinegar

150ml creme fraiche

50g salmon caviar

½ cup dill leaves

olive oil

METHOD

1. Put the beetroots in a large pot, cover with cold water and season with salt and bring to the boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook until the beetroots have softened. Drain off the water and allow them to cool.

2. When the beetroots are cool enough to handle, peel them by using the back of a knife and trim the tops off. If large, slice into nice bite-size pieces, and marinate with the champagne vinegar for an hour before serving.

3. Smooth the creme fraiche over the base of a serving plate. Arrange the beetroots on top with a little of the excess vinegar. Spoon a nice dollop of roe over the beetroots and garnish with dill leaves and olive oil.

Serves 6

Mascarpone cream, roast cherries with Christmas spices and chocolate sauce recipe by Andrew McConnell for Good Food.

Photo: Kristoffer Paulsen

Mascarpone cream, roast cherries with Christmas spices and candied almonds

The arrival of cherries every summer is always timed perfectly with Christmas. The combination of spices and cherries remind me of Christmas and usually make it to the table in some guise. These spiced roast cherries are great as a standalone dish served with some double cream or vanilla ice-cream, or as an accompaniment to a traditional Christmas pudding. The spice mix works particularly well with pickled beetroot or cherries. A pinch is also great added to a glaze for Christmas ham. Andrew McConnell

Mascarpone cream

INGREDIENTS

225ml cream

100ml milk

1 vanilla bean

75g sugar

1 leaf gold-strength gelatine

150g mascarpone

METHOD

1. Take the mascarpone from the fridge, cover and set aside to come to room temperature.

2. Meanwhile bring the cream, milk, vanilla bean and sugar to a simmer. Soak the gelatine leaf in cold water to bloom, squeeze out the excess water, then add  to the hot cream. Whisk well and leave the hot cream to cool to room temperature. When cool, strain and gently fold into the mascarpone. Pour into a single container or six individual bowls.

Chocolate sauce

INGREDIENTS

120g chocolate

60ml cream

METHOD

1. Bring the cream to a simmer and remove from the heat.

2. Add the chocolate to the cream in a medium heatproof bowl and leave to soften. After a few minutes, gently stir the chocolate cream and transfer to a piping bag. Leave at room temperature until ready to serve.

Christmas spice mix

INGREDIENTS

1½ star anise

1½ cinnamon quills

½ tsp ground allspice

½ tsp black pepper

1 tsp whole cloves

1½ tsp ground nutmeg

1½ tsp ground ginger

METHOD

1. Place all the ingredients in a spice blender and grind to a fine powder. Store in an airtight container.

Spiced roast cherries

INGREDIENTS

400g cherries

2 tbsp raw sugar

1 tsp spice mix (see recipe above)

METHOD

1. Preheat oven to 180C. Line a small baking tray with baking paper. Halve and stone the cherries and arrange, cut side up, on the tray. Sprinkle the raw sugar and spice mix over the cherries and  roast for 10 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 150C and cook for a further 10 minutes. Set aside to cool to room temperature.

2. To serve, spoon each set mascarpone cream on to a serving bowl. Arrange the roasted cherries on and around the cream, along with any juice that may have formed. Sprinkle a few candied almonds over the dish and pipe the chocolate sauce on and around the cherries.

Candied almonds

INGREDIENTS

100g skinless almonds

1 tsp grapeseed oil

1 tbsp icing sugar

METHOD

1. Preheat oven to 180C. Line a roasting tray with baking paper.

2. Roast the almonds for three minutes, remove from the oven and transfer to a small stainless steel bowl. Drizzle the oil over the almonds, add a pinch of salt, toss well, coating evenly. Sprinkle the icing sugar over the nuts to coat. Return the nuts to the oven and cook for three more minutes. Remove from the oven. When cool, roughly chop the almonds.

Serves 6