How To Have A Seamless Christmas, According To Aotearoa's Top Chefs

From what to plan ahead to how to be a gracious guest, these expert tips will fill the season with ease

Follow these expert tips for fuss-free festivities. Photo / Babiche Martens

When it comes to having a seamless Christmas Day, who better to ask for advice than our favourite chefs and restaurateurs?

Three easy 'wow' dishes to try

Crayfish tails, split in half, brushed with miso-enriched butter and ginger, grilled until opaque, served with toast to mop up the juices. — Peter Gordon, Homeland

Ika Mata. Add coconut cream, chilli, coriander, onions and tomatoes to seasoned diced fish and plenty of citrus juice. It’s such a light and refreshing dish to complement the heavier traditional Christmas flavours. — Shannon Vandy and Fraser McCarthy, Lillius

Last year we cooked a whole rolled pork belly on our Heston barbecue and it was spectacular. — Sid Sahrawat, Cassia, Sid at The French Cafe

What to make on Christmas Eve and morning

Seafood spaghetti is my favourite. Traditionally we eat this dish on the 24th and it’s such a treat because it takes me back to when I was a child, as this is all I have been eating every single year for the past 43 years. Not doing it would be sacrilege. — Giapo Grazioli, Giapo

Everyone forgets breakfast on Christmas Day. We make crepes in the morning with fresh cream whipped with vanilla, fresh assorted berries and orange segments soaked in maple syrup. It sets up a festive mood and then if lunch is late, it doesn’t matter. — Sid Sahrawat, Cassia, Sid at The French Cafe

Josh Emett. Photo / Michael Craig

A mouth-watering menu from Josh and Helen Emett

11am: Champagne and canapes. We love pancetta-wrapped prawns, pissaladiere, smoked salmon blinis with a horseradish cream and stuffed olives.

About 3pm: Lunch is served. Roast duck, ham, roast potatoes, red cabbage slaw, chipolatas, charred broccolini and almonds. We slice all the slaw ingredients the night before and dress right before we serve. For the roast potatoes, par-cook in advance; the roast ham is made the week of Christmas and the duck is dried in the fridge and ready to roast.

About 7pm: Just desserts — usually Eton Mess and Christmas pudding!

What to plan ahead

Get a list going early so everyone knows what they are contributing. Make the stuffing ahead of time and freeze. The day before, peel the garlic, top and tail the beans, have the salad washed in bags ready to go. Make any dressing. — Angela Casley, Viva recipe editor

I like to have easy platter ingredients prepared — a side of smoked salmon and fresh endive, and blue cheese and walnut salads — ready to go. Have the platter or grazing table set up, so when your guests arrive you are only cooking your barbecued chicken and you still have time to host, chat and enjoy. — Nic Watt, Masu, Akarana Eatery, Inca

READ: The Cookbooks Everyone Should Own, According To 21 Top Chefs

Delegating jobs to family members helps take the load off the main cook on the day. I rope in kids to be in charge of setting the table and picking herbs, appoint a bartender, get my wife, Chand, to oversee warming up dishes so I can focus on what dishes need last-minute attention. — Sid Sahrawat, Cassia, Sid at The French Cafe

We design our Christmas menu with a selection of cold dishes (terrines, charcuterie, cheeses, raw or marinated seafood) we can do the day before, then a few hot dishes cooked on the day. Peel veges and cook sauces and stuffing the day before to relieve the pressure of cooking everything on the day! — Shannon Vandy and Fraser McCarthy, Lillius

Turkey stuffed and trussed, the ham scored and glazed in marmalade and mustard, potatoes par-boiled ready to be crisped up on the day. The more prep you can have done the day before means more time to spend with loved ones. — James Kenny, Alberts, Palmer

Clare and Joost Van de Berg. Photo / Babiche Martens

Five tasty traditions

In Italy, Christmas is all about tradition! The family menu is repeated every year and passed down through generations. My family starts the “long lunch” with a tortellini in brodo with meat broth, followed by the lasagna alla bolognese, mixed meats bollito, the boiled meat used in the preparation of the broth, accompanied with salsa verde, cotechino (a large boiled pork sausage), with potato puree. Last on the table will be the panettone or pandoro that is usually supplied by the family guests. — Stefania Ugolini, Pasta & Cuore

December 5 is Sinterklaas (Saint Nicholas Day), an important date for us. It’s when Sinterklaas travels from his home in Spain to the Netherlands, bringing presents and special treats for the children. Families celebrate by singing songs and eating sweets like marzipan, chocolate initials, pepernoten (ginger biscuits) and hot chocolate with whipped cream. — Clare and Joost van den Berg, Daphnes Bar Taverna

Shannon’s dad grows the best lamb down in King Country. Spit-roasting is a stunning way of cooking a whole animal if you have the time and patience. We’re looking forward to passing this tradition on to our son Jack, who will be celebrating his first Christmas. — Shannon Vandy and Fraser McCarthy, Lillius

One of my favourite memories is spending Christmas on our family boat. Mum would stash coins wrapped in foil in the cake — back then it was a big deal to find 50 cents in your slice. — Nic Watt, Masu, Akarana Eatery, Inca

We’d have incredibly long food marathons at my grandmother’s house in Italy. They would last three days. The amount of food we prepare and eat is unprecedented. It takes the whole family and it’s very theatrical… The little ones grate tonnes of parmesan, someone is at the fryer, someone in charge of the primi, and I remember my mum would always want to be in charge of the sweets at the end. She would prepare cakes days in advance. If you don’t show up on the 26th because you feel a bit full because of all the eating in the past two days, everyone is surprised and worried for you. “Perche non vieni a mangiare?” Why you are not coming to eat today? — Giapo Grazioli, Giapo

Photo / Babiche Martens

How to be a gracious guest

Ask the host if you can bring a dish, offer to help (even if it is holding the baby), and besides taking a bottle of your favourite drop, take a present that doesn’t need attention, e.g. a pot plant. Flowers need a vase immediately or wilt on a hot day so make it easier for the host. Maybe bring a candle that can be lit to add to the ambience instead. — Sid Sahrawat, Cassia, Sid at The French Cafe

What to do with Boxing Day leftovers

I’m a fan of frittata or omelette. A stir-fry using rice noodles is also good — they’re less heavy than pasta. And if it’s a cold day, soup is a great user-upper of bits and pieces. — Peter Gordon, Homeland

You can’t beat a good ham sandwich with lots of grain mustard and mayo. I also love making a simple quiche Lorraine with the leftover ham. — Josh Emett, The Oyster Inn, Onslow

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