The nature of the feast
I like Christmas. It’s a combination of having children in the house and being fortunate enough to enjoy my family’s company. I like the little ritual it brings. I like the feeling of abundance that comes from a full table: bowls of cherries and walnuts with nutcrackers, a good wheel
of cheese, slabs of butter and breads.
There’s always an asparagus salad with an egg-based dressing – chopped egg and mayonnaise. I’m not too straight on the details; my aunty usually makes that.
I make a potato salad, usually with steamed or boiled kipflers, dressed with olive oil, anchovies, parsley and a bit of garlic. A duck terrine usually finds its way to the table, which is lovely.
The past few years I’ve been asked to do the turkey. I confit the legs a few days beforehand, and take the fillets off the carcass, which I stuff with chestnuts and bread and cook gently to stop it drying out. Turkey is pretty crappy otherwise. The other thing I cook once a year is crayfish, and I do it for Christmas. The way I cook it I use more butter than I would at any other time of the year. I roast it quite gently. As it roasts, the butter melts and keeps the flesh incredibly moist and tender. The subtlety of the herbs is there but doesn’t dominate.
As to ham: I usually remove the skin, score the fat, stud with cloves and glaze with brown sugar and orange juice. It’s simple, but with ham that’s the way to go. Once you get a cooked ham home, there’s not much you can do that will change the quality, so it’s important you get a good ham from a butcher you trust.
The other nice thing about Christmas is leftovers. The king of these is the ham sandwich, and what make that work are the condiments. I like a gentleman’s relish, which is similar to HP Sauce but bolder. I make a batch a couple of times a year and keep it in bottles. Used like a mustard, it’s present but doesn’t dominate.
The great thing about getting a batch of gentleman’s relish ready for the Boxing Day sandwich is that you can bottle extra before Christmas and give out some as gifts.
Roasted crayfish with herb butter
Serves 2 as a main course
– 100g soft butter
– 1 tbsp picked tarragon leaves
– 2 tbsp picked parsley leaves
– 1 heaped tbsp picked chervil leaves
– good pinch salt
Finely chop the herbs and mix them into the soft butter with salt to taste. Cover and refrigerate until needed.
– 1 large, live crayfish
Preheat your oven to 220ºC.
The crayfish needs to be split in half lengthways. You can ask your fishmonger to do this, or you can follow the instructions and have a crack yourself.
Put the crayfish in the freezer for half an hour to put it to sleep. Then place it, belly side up, on a cutting board with the head closest to you.
Using a heavy cleaver or chef’s knife, and starting at the centre of the lobster where the tail meets the body, cut it in half lengthwise through the body and head. Rotate lobster so that the tail is closest to you; repeat, cutting lengthways through the tail.
Scoop out the stomach from the inside of the shell and pull out and discard the intestinal vein, which runs from the stomach down through the tail.
Place the two halves, flesh side up, on a heavy roasting tray. Season with salt and dot the flesh with two-thirds of the herb butter.
Place the crayfish in the oven for five minutes at 220ºC, then lower the temperature to 180ºC and continue cooking for another five minutes, until the flesh is just cooked through.
Remove the crayfish from the oven and top with the remaining herb butter. Leave to rest at room temperature for 10 minutes before eating.
– 1 cup pitted prunes
– 125ml tomato sauce
– 250ml cider vinegar
– 60ml water
– 50ml Worcestershire sauce
– 65g brown sugar
– 4 spring onions
– 2 anchovy fillets
– 3 cloves garlic
– 1 tsp dry mustard
– 1 tsp ground allspice
– 1 tsp black pepper
– pinch chilli powder
To make the gentleman’s relish, simply simmer all the ingredients for 40 minutes, blend until smooth in a food processor and pass through a fine sieve. Refrigerate until needed.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Dec 20, 2014 as "The nature of the feast". Subscribe here.