Have Yourself A Tasty, Smooth-Sailing Little Christmas, Thanks To These Chef-Approved Tips

By Maggie Wicks
Photo / Babiche Martens

Want to host (or be hosted at) the perfect Christmas Day? We asked New Zealand’s leading restaurateurs, chefs and foodies what they do to get ready for a seamless, stress-free day.

It pays to be prepared

We prep as much as possible in advance, always, for everything. We rely on

We make meal plans and divide and conquer. Chand takes on some courses and I take on others, marinating meats, chopping and prepping ingredients, making sauces and relishes are all done ahead of time. If a dessert like a Basque cheesecake or trifle can be made ahead of time, then we do. On the day we cook meats, toss salads and cook any seasonal vegetables. Like in a restaurant where you prep ahead for dinner service, we do the same at home. Sid Sahrawat, Cassia, Sid at The French Café and KOL

Usually, I marinate the meat 24 hours before cooking on the barbecue. If I can, I also prep salads in advance, like a cold pasta and chorizo salad or a rocket, pear, blue cheese and walnut salad. Lesley Chandra, owner/executive chef, Sidart Ponsonby

I get ahead on the proteins, brining the chicken or deboning, stuffing and trussing, and marinating a leg of lamb for the rotisserie. Plus, making the dessert trifle. I’m lucky enough to make Christmas pudding a few months in advance at the restaurant. On the day, it’s more about the vegetable preparation and what’s available out of Dad’s garden. Glen File, chef, Onslow

I make my nana’s Christmas cake months ahead, then panacotta, ice cream and buckwheat salad the day before. On the day, I put on the turkey and pick my salad leaves early in the morning, then prep a focaccia in my ancient breadmaker — it is phenomenal. Helen Dorresteyn, Clevedon Village Farmers’ Market and Clevedon Buffalo Company

I always cook whole cuts; prepping and marinating the meats and fish is done the day before. I usually prepare a lime and miso-cured side of salmon that I simply roast on the day. On the day it’s all about fresh salads and big bowls of fruit. Nic Watt, Masu, Akarana Eatery, Inca

I love condiments, so get ahead on things like pickled cherries, stonefruit chutney and homemade aioli. I try to get ahead on dessert, so tiramisu and trifle are done the day prior, which means cleaning up is easy. I always go for a “fill your bowl” type of dessert, served with some fresh fruit. Casey McDonald, head chef, Craggy Range

We barbecue on Christmas Day so any meat will most likely be marinated, maybe a sauce or two made ahead. Pavlova the day before, passionfruit curd and some berries all prepped ready to throw together. I’ve had some absolute disasters by trying to do too many things at once on the day, I’d rather stay up all night to make sure everything is easy. The last thing you want is to set a lamb leg or beef brisket on fire — trust me, everyone will remind you of this every Christmas. Sam Clark, Central Fire Station

The easiest way to navigate a busy festive season is being organised and having a fridge and cupboard full of fresh produce. Have anything that can be used for a platter for a quick throw-together when entertaining. If it’s a planned event, I prep a dessert — usually a stunning trifle that is the centrepiece of the table which can be made the day before, or a summer berry and roasted peach pavlova. Callum Liddicoat, executive pastry chef, Park Hyatt Auckland

It’s a busy time of year for us wrapping up at the restaurant so we tend to gravitate towards a quick and easy kaimoana dish to bring along as our contribution. This year we are planning on cooking up some tuangi (cockles) with a bit of white wine, butter, and herbs from our māra kai accompanied by homemade focaccia to soak up the broth. Monique Fiso and Katie Monteith, Hiakai

Chestnut and cherry rolled pavlova. Photo / Babiche Martens
Chestnut and cherry rolled pavlova. Photo / Babiche Martens

Easy recipes to have up your sleeve

Christmas spritz

Grab a tall glass and add little pieces of strawberries, 3-4 mint leaves, and whatever citrus you have available. Then add a double shot of blanc or white vermouth and top up with soda. It’s going to be the drink of the summer. Andrea Marseglia, Bar Teresa

Pickled cherries

Cherries, 200ml red wine vinegar, 100ml water, cinnamon quill, star anise and 150g brown sugar. Boil it and pour over some pitted cherries and leave to cool, before putting them in the refrigerator. They should last 2-3 weeks in the fridge. Casey McDonald

Barbecue chicken

Douse chicken extremely liberally with a mix of 150ml lemon juice, 100ml olive oil and 2 garlic cloves, finely grated. This takes almost any grilled or fried meat to the next level. Sam Clark


1kg tuangi/NZ cockles; 1 onion, thinly sliced; 5 cloves garlic, finely chopped; 1 green chilli, deseeded and finely chopped; ½ cup white wine; 4 Tbsp butter; 1 large handful of herbs from the garden (we use a mixture of lemon thyme, oregano, horopito and chives, but any fresh herbs will do).

Heat a large saucepan until it is very hot. While the saucepan is heating, combine the tuangi, onions, garlic, chilli, white wine, butter and herbs in a bowl and toss together. Put the ingredients into the pot and immediately place a lid on top so that you capture the heat and steam. With the lid still on, gently (and carefully) give the pot a shake to mix the ingredients inside and prevent anything from sticking and burning to the bottom. Remove the lid after two minutes. The tuangi shells should have opened up. Pour the tuangi and all the cooking juices into a bowl and serve immediately with fresh bread. Monique Fiso and Katie Monteith

Photo / Babiche Martens
Photo / Babiche Martens

Nothing beats old traditions

Our Christmas breakfast tradition is Champagne. We have it with panettone topped with mascarpone, berries and drizzled with Noble Bourbon barrel-aged maple syrup. Rebecca Caughey

Our family is big on Christmas ornaments, we add a few special ones each year to the tree. We also like hosting an “orphans Christmas” for all our friends who have no one else to celebrate with, they often end up at ours for a big day of feasting. Sid Sahrawat

Prawn cocktail sandwiches start our day. White bread, lots of Tabasco and iceberg lettuce, and lemon juice to squeeze through as well. Casey McDonald

On Christmas Eve my extended whānau get together for a potluck dinner. At midnight, we say a karakia and say what we’re grateful for. After that, we hand out secret Santa presents. I will try to carry on a Van de Elzen tradition of going to midnight mass on the 24th, followed by hot worstenbroodjes (sausage rolls) while the kids rip into the presents. Michael Van De Elzen, Good From Scratch Cookery School

Good guests always...

Offers to take a dish to share or add to the table. If the host refuses, walk in with a nice bottle of wine, offer to help if you see the host frazzled and offer to help clear and tidy up if they let you help. Sid Sahrawat

Has patience! It can be a stressful day for some. Let people do their thing. But help with the cleaning up. Let your hosts know how wonderful everything is and make them a drink. Glen File

Brings good wine and flowers or chocolates. Offer to help with drinks and serving, as this is when the pressure comes on the cook. Helen Dorrestey

The next day: What to do with the leftovers

Give a box to every guest to take home. If you have leftover meat, recycle it into a pie, sandwich, add to stir fry or a curry. Pudding is best kept for a midnight craving. Sid Sahrawat

Eat trifle for breakfast. Then it’s simple sandwiches with all the trimmings, and just grazing all day in our household. Glen File

Have a simple tart — 2 flaky pastry sheets on a tray, score the crust with a knife, top with a good relish then veges, meat, cheese, brush the crusts with egg yolk and bake at 180C for 20 minutes. Or if it’s fine, pack a picnic and go to the beach. Helen Dorresteyn

Make fancy toasted sandwiches. Having some nice bread and a cheese sauce made in the fridge to put a dollop in the middle makes for a great toastie. Think chopped ham, pickles, mustard and some cooked vege with cheese sauce oozing out the sides. Casey McDonald

Eat wraps a lot, and always have some wholegrain wraps in the cupboard. I’m also a big fan of two-day-old pavlova, especially with extra berries. Sam Clark

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