Christmas comes to the Southern Hemisphere at the start of summer, and with the warmer weather comes the obligation to make some less-than-traditional food choices on Christmas Day. But in my family, it just wouldn’t be the same without the golden roasted turkey, maybe a honey-glazed leg of ham, or especially that irresistible roast pork and crackling.
Roasted pork loin with crackling is a family favourite in my home during the holidays, and really, it’s one of the easiest meals to make. There’s no basting at all during the cooking process (basting softens the crackle) and the results, if done right, are stunning.
In addition to my fail-proof crackling recipe, I have included three perfect cold entrées for your Christmas feast. We start with a delicious chicken liver pâté glazed with red current jelly, peppercorns and thyme. Then we prepare roasted baby beetroot tarts with rocket, followed by some Vietnamese rice paper rolls, which are always fun for the kids to make.
It might not be a Northern Hemisphere Christmas staple, but you’ll find the grilled snapper easy, quick and tasty – and it looks just like a summer Christmas dish should.
Finally, glazed chocolate tarts offer the perfect way to finish off a holiday meal. The tarts can be prepared the day before the big event and refrigerated, giving you more time to enjoy Christmas day with your family and friends.
Super crackling roast pork
My favourite pork cut for roasting is the boneless pork loin with the belly flap. It has the sweetest meat, a decent amount of delicate, moist fat and a perfect full cover of crackling. Remember to rest the pork for 15 minutes before serving, and allow at least 200g per person.
Preparation time: 10 minutes
When you’re ready to prepare your pork loin, pre-heat your oven to 220°C and set the roasting shelf to the middle position of the oven. Then remove the pork loin from the refrigerator, suspend it over a large bowl and pour boiling water over the skin of the pork. This will cause the rind to shrink and help expose the fat underneath.
Pat the pork loin dry with kitchen paper, then rub well with the olive oil and the salt. Return the loin back to the baking-paper-lined roasting tray and place it into the pre-heated oven.
Allow the pork to roast at a high temperature for at least 30 minutes. This will start the crackling process. Then turn the oven down to 180°C and roast until the core temperature reaches 77°C. The pork loin will be cooked to medium and will have moist, juicy meat.
After removing the pork from the oven, allow it to rest in a warm place for 15 minutes, then carve it into thick slices using a sharp bread knife.
Grab a big red by all means. But, especially if planning this for lunch or on the water, the wine for me would be the Tahbilk 2003 Museum Release Marsanne, lightly chilled, with enough mature oomph and delicious honeysuckle and marmalade flavours to beautifully complement the sweetness of the pork and the salty crackling.
At around $22, and from one of the oldest marsanne plantings in the world, it’s also a steal – www.tahbilk.com.au.
Chicken liver pâté with Chivas and peppercorns
This pâté serves as a great appetiser for your guests to enjoy prior to dinner, and it can be prepared ahead of time. Present with baby pickled cucumbers, caramelised onions and crunchy French toast.
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Pre-heat the oven to 145°C. Rinse and dry the chicken livers, then trim away any sinew and connective tissue. Set livers aside in a colander.
Heat a heavy-based frypan and add a third of the butter. When the butter starts to foam, add the eschalots and half of the picked thyme leaves. Cook until lightly golden, then pour into a bowl.
Heat half of the remaining butter in the same pan and add the diced bacon and the remainder of the picked thyme leaves. Cook together for two minutes, then add to the eschalots.
Heat the remaining butter in the pan and add the chicken livers. Gently cook the livers until they are lightly brown, but still pink in the centre. Be careful, as the livers could spit juices out as they cook.
Add the Chivas to the livers and carefully flambé. Allow the flames to die down and then place the livers into a food processor with the bacon, eschalots and the cream and season well.
Blend until fine and smooth, then carefully place into small ramekin bowls. Place the bowls into an oven tray and add hot water to the tray until it comes half way up the side of the bowls.
Cover with foil and bake in the oven for 30 minutes. Remove the ramekins from the water bath and place them in the refrigerator. Soak two sheets of gelatine in cold water until soft. Heat the red currant jelly in a small saucepan, then squeeze the moisture out of the gelatine and add to the saucepan as well.
Stir to dissolve and set aside. Divide the thyme sprigs and green peppercorns between the pâté dishes and spoon a little of the glaze over each. Place into the fridge and chill until set.
The whisky, peppercorns and spiced accompaniments might cause a bit of a problem, but I suggest trying something light, dry and fruity – something like the seriously good Charles Melton 2009 Rose of Virginia ($28) from the Barossa – www.charlesmeltonwines.com.au.
Vietnamese rice paper rolls with spicy sauce
These rice paper rolls are a great way to get your guests involved together at the table. The guests compare and share their own spring rolls and have great fun along the way. The sauce is sweet and spicy, and the kids will love it.
Preparation time: 15 minutes
To make the pickled carrot, combine the carrot slices with the garlic, chilli, fish sauce, lime juice, vinegar and sugar. Place covered in the refrigerator overnight.
To make the spicy sauce, combine the Hoisin sauce, peanut butter, vinegar, garlic and sugar. Add enough water until the sauce is slightly thick.
Lay all the salad ingredients onto large platters and present it to the table. Place a bowl of boiling water at the table, next to the rice paper rolls, along with the spicy sauce and a stack of side plates.
To assemble the rolls, place a single rice paper sheet into the hot water bowl and immerse for 10 seconds. Place the softened sheet onto a plate and add a piece of lettuce to the centre.
Top with some carrot, bean shoots, rice noodles and several herb leaves. Spoon on a little of the spicy sauce and carefully roll up. With a little practice and patience, you will get much better at making them, and you will find that using smaller amounts of the filling works the best.
With all those bright, spicy Vietnamese flavours, you need an equally light, bright and refreshingly cleansing wine. Those crisp, crunchy, tropical- and citrus-flavoured sauvignon blanc/semillon blends from Margaret River fit the bill. Try the Cape Mentelle 2009 Sauvignon Semillon ($26) – www.capementelle.com.au.
Roasted baby beetroot, onion and walnut tartlets with rocket
This is a great vegetarian entrée for your holiday guests. You can serve this hot or cold, as one large tart or several small individual ones. The delicious crispy pastry takes just 45 seconds to make using a food processor.
Preparation time: 20 minutes
Using a bowl, sift the plain flour, nutmeg and salt together three times. Place the mix into a food processor and add the butter cubes. Blend quickly until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs, then add the cold water. Process for several seconds, ensuring everything is well combined, then remove from the processor and form a ball.
Flatten the ball, wrap with cling film and allow it to rest in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. Roll out the pastry until it is 3mm thick and place it into 12cm-diameter fluted loose-bottom flan tins. Bake in a pre-heated oven set at 170°C for 10 minutes.
Pre-heat the oven to 175°C. Place the onion slices and baby beetroot halves onto a bakingpaper-lined oven tray. Drizzle with olive oil, season and roast in the oven until golden.
Place a fully-roasted onion slice and several beetroot halves onto the pastry. Add the walnut pieces and cover with a mixture of the cream, egg, parsley and seasoning. Bake until set and present with a little dressed rocket.
Roast beetroot and pinot noir were made for each other. Not too big and not too old, or there’s the danger the wine will blow the tartlets away. Perhaps something firm and medium-bodied, like the T’Gallant 2008 Tribute Pinot Noir ($40) from the Mornington Peninsula – www.tgallant.com.au.
Grilled snapper fillet with roasted baby Roma tomatoes, pine nuts and parsley
This is an easy, quick and tasty solution for a holiday meal on a hot day. To save on time, roast a stack of the baby Roma tomatoes ahead of time and store covered in the refrigerator.
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Heat a heavy-based grill pan and add the olive oil. Cut score marks into the skin sides of the fillets, season well, and place into the hot grill pan. Hold the fillets down flat for 30 seconds, using a pallet knife to make sure the skin cooks flat and crispy.
When golden and crisp, turn the fillets over and cook for another minute. Place the cooked snapper onto serving plates and top each fillet with the roasted baby Roma tomatoes, a scattering of toasted pine nuts and the torn parsley. Finish with a drizzle of olive oil and present with lemon wedges.
The flavours here suggest the warm Mediterranean, so why not try something different such as the Pizzini 2010 Arneis ($26), an aromatic, textured and dry-finishing Italian varietal from Victoria’s King Valley – www.pizzini.com.au.
Glazed chocolate mint tarts
This is a fantastic holiday treat; a thin, crispy chocolate biscuit shell, filled with mint -flavoured fondant (a thick sugar paste) and covered with ganache.
Preparation time: 20 minutes
Pre-heat the oven to 180°C. In a food processor, combine the flour, cocoa, sugar, salt and butter and blend for 45 seconds. Add the eggs and blend until the mixture combines together.
Remove from the food processor and knead until smooth. You may need to add a little extra flour. Wrap with plastic film and chill for 20 minutes. Roll the pastry out to 3mm thick and cut into rounds using an 80mm pastry cutter. Carefully place each piece into a standard muffin tin and chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
Place the trays into the oven and bake until just cooked (about 12 minutes). Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
The mint fondant
Place the fondant into a small bowl and suspend above a saucepan of boiling water. Stir until soft and smooth, then add in the drops of mint extract. Spoon in or pipe a tablespoon of the mix into the tartlets quickly while still hot and allow the mix to spread flat.
The chocolate ganache
Beat and soften the butter and set aside. Chop the chocolate into fine pieces and place into a bowl. Bring the cream to a boil and pour over the chocolate. Allow to stand for one minute, then slowly mix until smooth. Fold in the butter until fully combined.
Pour over the fondant and gently tap on a tea-towel to level out and remove any air bubbles. Chill for three hours before serving.
We could argue for ages about what wines go best with chocolate. Few do, so let’s simply go the whole hog with one of Rutherglen’s great muscats or tokays such as the Campbells Classic Rutherglen Muscat NV in a 500ml bottle for $45 –www.campbellswines.com.au.