Paul McGrath, the Group Executive Chef at the Grounds of Alexandria, reveals the five keys to the perfect meal this Christmas… and provides a Christmas Day recipe.
Keep it simple
If you’re not a natural masterchef, stick to the KISS principle. “Choose recipes that are within your abilities,” Paul says. “Don’t try to cook or produce a dish from one of France’s master chefs when you know you don’t have the years of experience to pull it off. Your guests will be far more impressed with something wholesome and delicious that you’ve created, you’ll enjoy the experience far more too.”
Throw another prawn on the barbie
Seafood is as big a part of an Australian Christmas as backyard cricket, crap cracker jokes, and your embarrassing uncle indulging in one (or six) too many tinnies, so get some prawns, fish and oysters on the menu. “Do something with seafood that requires minimal cooking, if any!” Paul says. “A trip to the fish markets for really fresh seafood is perfect simply served on crushed ice with fresh lemons on the side — it makes for a really impressive dish. If you want, you can get a little creative and whip up a few simple condiments, such as a cucumber and chardonnay vinegar for your oysters, or a lemon and dill aioli (simply chopped dill, lemon zest, mayonnaise) to serve on the side of the prawns. It’s perfect for an Australian Christmas!”
The Three Ps
Plan, prepare and perform — and that’s especially important when your guests (and their pressies) drag your attention away from the kitchen. “Plan your menu so as little finishing is required as possible on the day,” Paul says. “Once your guests are over you’re likely to be distracted, and rightly so, it is the season for catching up and spending time with them after all. Do what you can the day before — the more you can get prepped and ready the day before the more you can relax and enjoy the day.”
But don’t plan on an empty stomach
Dreaming up a feast with a grumbling stomach is a recipe for too much food on Christmas Day. “Never plan a menu when you’re hungry,” Paul insists. “It’s pretty well known you should never grocery shop when you’re hungry and the same goes for planning a menu. Think about each course or element and consider how it all works together as a whole.”
Consider your guests
Uncle Bob — all 130 kilos of him — is going to want something different for dinner than Auntie Jean and their three kids under 10. “Try to take into account the demographic of your audience,” Paul explains. “If you’re entertaining ladies they tend to prefer lighter, cleaner and healthier dishes where as the boys will prefer more meat based dishes with carbs on the side. You’ll know your friends and family well (don’t forget to ask for their dietary requirements), so try to consider each of them when you’re planning a menu. And most importantly, do it all with a beer in your hand and a smile on your face!”
Christmas Recipe by Paul McGrath
Seared Swordfish, Burnt Onions, King Brown Mushrooms, Leeks and Dashi Broth
● 800g swordfish, middle cut, cut into 4 portions
● 4 king brown mushrooms lightly grilled and seasoned with salt and lemon juice
● 1 bunch baby leeks blanched
● 1 bunch baby turnips blanched with greens left on
● 1 bunch broccolini florets separated and blanched
● Toasted sesame seeds
● Dried toasted nori seaweed strips
● Purple basil to garnish
● Purple basil to garnish
● Shiso leaves to garnish
For the stock,
● 800ml water
● 1 tbsp dashi powder
● Star anise x 3 pods
● 200ml Light soy
● Spring onions split and roasted in oven until blackened
● 20gm ginger
● 2 cloves garlic
● 3 x 5cm sticks of Kombu
● 30g dried shiitake mushrooms
● 40g bonito flakes
1. Place the all of the stock ingredients in a pot and allow to soak for 30 minutes.
2. Bring the mix to the boil and then remove the layer that’s formed on top, once
boiling remove from the heat and allow to infuse for 15 minutes.
3. Strain the liquid through a sieve and discard all of the solids. Set liquid aside.
4. Cook the broccolini in boiling water for around two minutes or until tender and then
5. Heat a non-stick pan with a little oil and once hot, place in the swordfish and sear
quickly on both sides for roughly 1-2 minutes, depending on the thickness, until
seared but still medium to rare.
6. To serve, place the broccolini, mushrooms, turnips, baby leeks and seaweed in a
bowl and top with the seared swordfish. Pour in the heated broth and garnish with
purple basil and shiso leaves.