Christmas is coming and the goose is getting fat…….well not really. This year is going to be one of my all time favourite Christmases – extremely low key with just my little family of five. We fly out on Boxing Day for a family adventure overseas, so we are staying put in Sydney for the big day.
On the food front, I am keeping it super simple. I am planning to slow roast a shoulder of pork on the bone, and then crisp it up at the end so that we get crackling too. There'll be an apple mayo to go with it, my red cabbage salad, a really beautiful soft, melty French brie, some fresh artisan bread, good quality pickled cucumbers and everyone can make their own pulled pork Christmas sandwiches. Yum!
For dessert, I have one of my mum’s famous Christmas puddings that has been sitting in my fridge for a few years now – apparently the older they are the better they taste. To go with that, I will make our family’s traditional brandy cream – I have to confess, this is really the only time I really enjoy eating cream, it tastes delicious!
I might even make up another dessert for the kids – something along the lines of a trifle/Eton mess: think homemade meringue, flour-less orange cake, fresh mangos and raspberries, mascarpone and jelly.
Hopefully, Sydney will put on a spectacular day and after Christmas stockings have been explored by the kids, we will meander down to Bondi beach and go for a Christmas swim and hunt down a coffee while the pork is slow roasting in the oven.
I love a Christmas day like this – completely casual with no pressure to baste the turkey or roast any veggies. And with any luck, you might even get leftovers.
Christmas day menu
Slow roasted pulled pork sandwiches – constructed or de-constructed, whatever floats your boat, with the following accompaniments:
• Slow roasted pork shoulder (recipe below)
• Crusty artisan bread (or bread rolls)
• French brie (splurge on a really good one, and ensure the brie is taken out of the fridge between 3 and 5 hours before you intend to eat. if it’s really hot, reduce the time out of the fridge. The aim is for it to be really gooey and oozy).
• Pickles (I bought mine from the Bondi markets from some local dudes called Westmont Picklery – they are really good).
• Red cabbage salad (from our cookbook – see page 146). You want something very simple, clean and fresh to cut through the richness of the pork.
• Apple and wholegrain mustard aoili (recipe below)
Slow Roasted Pork Shoulder
1 piece good quality pork shoulder with bone in (3 - 4kg will feed 8 - 10 people with leftovers. Ask your butcher to provide the right size for your audience and make sure you ask him/her to score the meat).
2 generous tablespoons fennel seeds
1 generous tablespoon sea salt flakes
1 bunch sage – ½ finely chopped and the other half kept whole
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 lemons sliced
2 bulbs fresh fennel sliced thickly on the vertical
1 red onion sliced thickly
Pepper to season
3 - 4 cups water
Pre-heat oven to 150 degrees.
Combine the fennel seeds and salt in a mortar and pestle and pound to release the aromas. Add the chopped sage and olive oil and mix/pound to combine.
To your roasting pan, add the lemons, fennel and onions.
Rub the underside of the pork all over with the fennel seed olive oil mixture and crack some black pepper over the meat too. Also rub the sides of the meat but avoid the skin.
In a roasting tin or baking tray, line the tray with foil (for tenting) and a sheet of baking paper. On top of the baking paper, add the lemons, fennel and onions with sprigs of the sage leaves. Sit the meat on top of the of the lemons, fennel and onions. Pat dry skin of the meat.
Carefully add the water around the meat and then tent it.
Cook the pork for 8 or more hours. Check it at the 5 hour mark to see if you need to top up with more liquid. If I am serving the meat for lunch, I would put the pork in the oven the night before – any time around 8pm on about 100-110 degrees. When I wake up in the morning, I would take a peek, probably add more liquid and turn the heat up to 150 degrees. Keep checking the meat every 2 hours to see if the liquid needs topping up, as you don’t want it to dry out. When topping up with liquid, boil the kettle and pour from the hot jug. If the top of the meat is starting to look brown then turn the oven down to 70-100 degrees until you’re ready to crisp up the skin.
Provided the meat has been cooking for at least 8 hours, you can take it out of the oven an hour before serving and keep it wrapped in foil.
30 mins prior to eating, unwrap the meat. Turn the oven up to 250 degrees. You want your oven really hot. Pat dry the skin and add about 2 tablespoons of sea salt and rub this on the skin with a little drizzle of olive oil. Pop the meat back into the oven to crisp the skin. If the pan has little or no liquid, add some boiling or hot water – you don’t want to burn the pan or dry out the meat.
After 15 mins check the meat to see if the skin has crisped. If it has to your liking, take it out of the oven. Should you wish for your crackle to be really crispy, remove the skin from the meat and put it in a separate tray or transfer the meat to a board or platter and put the skin back into the pan. Pop back into the hot oven for a further 10-20mins – keep and eye on it – you will know when it’s ready.
The pork should pull very easily from the bone. You can either make sandwiches using all the accompaniments or eat it deconstructed. Just remember to have a little bit of everything in one mouthful as the flavours all work so well together and is not to be missed!
Apple wholegrain mustard aioli
This is based on my homemade recipe in our cookbook on page 104.
One egg (room temperature – this is essential)
250mls of grapeseed oil
A squeeze half a lemon
A good pinch of sea salt
1 small apple peeled, simmered in a pan with a little water and made into a smooth apple puree – be sure to allow it to cool completely before adding it to the mayonnaise.
1 generous teaspoon wholegrain mustard
To make the mayo, put all the ingredients aside from the apple and mustard, into a plastic measuring jug and use a stick blender to blend (I have only ever made this using a stick blender). Yes, it’s that easy! Don’t be fooled into using your good olive oil to make this, as it won’t taste good. You must use a bland oil and grapeseed is perfect. And you also need to ensure your egg is at room temperature - otherwise it won't work. Once the mayo is made, fold in a few teaspoons of the apple puree and wholegrain mustard. Taste and season if required – it may need more apple, more wholegrain mustard, salt and pepper, up to you.
The Holberton’s famously delicious brandy cream
One egg (at room temperature)
½ cup raw caster sugar
300mls whipping (or thickened) cream
3-4 tablespoons brandy (more if you wish)
Separate egg and beat egg white until stiff. Add sugar and beat until nice and glossy. Add egg yolk and beat to combine.
Whip your cream until soft peaks form and fold whipped cream into your egg and sugar mixture. Once combined, fold through the brandy. Serve with Christmas pudding or fresh berries and mangos.
Christmas pudding tips
We are lucky enough to always have a “family” pudding – my grandmother use to make this and now my mum makes it. If you don’t have a “family” pud, then go and buy a good quality one.
Growing up, the first thing we did on Christmas morning (even before presents) was to begin steaming the pudding. My mother (who is an awesome cook) imparted the wisdom that the longer it steams, the better it tastes. So please do try it - it really does taste melt in your mouth once it's been steamed for many hours. The one we used for this shoot steamed for about 5 hours on a low simmer.
We prefer to wrap our puddings in cloth for steaming, rather than plastic. Unwrap the pudding (take all the plastic out), then line the cloth with a square of baking paper. If it didn't come in cloth, just use a tea towel. Wrap it all up tightly, then put it in the steamer.
So you have the water in the pot, steamer basket on top, pudding in the basket and lid on top. Once the water comes to the boil, turn it down to a really low heat and steam until your guests are ready to eat it. Remember to keep topping up the water in the pot.
Part of the theater of our family Christmas day lunches is when the pudding is ready to be served. Everyone sits at the table whilst mum is in the kitchen heating about ½ cup of brandy or rum on the stove until shimmering – lighting it in the pot and then carefully pouring the flaming liquid all over the pudding. The lights go out and there is a “hip hip hooray” of joy as she comes into the room with said pudding alight in all it’s flaming glory!
As a quantity guide, a 2kg pudding will feed 8 guests with plenty of leftovers. Serve with brandy cream and good quality vanilla ice-cream if you wish.