Why Neil Perry Is Breaking with Christmas Tradition

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Dec 21, 2016

by NEIL PERRY, Qantas Creative Director – Food, Beverage & Service

Roast turkey and boozy pudding was a tradition on Christmas Day, but Neil Perry is changing it up with fresh seafood and seasonal produce.

When I was growing up, there was no question about what to have for Christmas lunch. Australia’s population was about 10 million and although the wave of postwar immigration had brought many Europeans to our shores, the impact of other cultures on our palates was relatively slow to take hold.

Back then, Christmas lunch revolved around a roast turkey and a leg of ham – I have great memories of Dad carving slices off the bone – and the boozy pudding containing silver sixpence or threepence coins for good luck.

It was wonderful but the food on the table was always at odds with the scene outside the window. When you consider those Christmas traditions came from the Northern Hemisphere, where most of my ancestors originated, it makes complete sense. But it seems a little daft to be sitting down to a big hot meal like that in the middle of the Australian summer, even if traditions are traditions.

In December, we have access to some of the best ingredients: abundant seafood; the last of the locally grown asparagus; and tomatoes, cucumbers, chillies, squash and zucchinis that are ripe and full of flavour. And then there are all those delicious stone fruits: cherries, mangoes, plums, peaches, nectarines and apricots.

So what to eat? I think Christmas is the perfect day for barbecued seafood served with grilled asparagus, a tomato salad and crusty bread, followed by a big bowl of fruit drizzled with the sweet wine sabayon – or a fruit trifle – for dessert. 

We live in a beautiful country built on immigration so we have many cultures and traditions that we can draw from: Korean, Japanese, Indian, Moroccan, Lebanese, Thai, Chinese, Italian...

Be inspired by Korean flavours and marinate your meat and seafood before grilling it. (A great marinade is soy sauce, sesame oil, sesame seeds, garlic, spring onions and a touch of sugar.) Then add kimchi and gochujang sauce and wrap it all in a lettuce leaf. What a brilliant way to eat Christmas lunch. For something spicier, include a Thai som tum salad of green papaya, chillies, fish sauce and lime.

This year, I’m thinking our Christmas will have a Mexican flavour, starting with margaritas and corn chips with guacamole and salsa. Then I might cook crisp pork carnitas, barbecued turkey with a peanut and matcha salsa, and a cabbage and cucumber salad, probably adding a bit more heat with a chipotle adobo salsa. We’ll wrap all that in warm tortillas. To finish, we might have a classic caramel flan with lots of summer fruits – and a couple of shots of Patrón tequila, of course. 

However you decide to enjoy Christmas lunch – and whatever traditions you choose to draw from – remember to use lots of seasonal produce. 

Have a wonderful Christmas. 

SEE ALSO: Five Best Ways to Get Festive This Christmas