Ask Peter: Christmas, Kopapa style
I’ll be in New Zealand for Christmas this year — my first back home in a few years — and I’m really looking forward to the swimming, sunscreen, and the fact I won’t need to eat turkey and roast meat because it’s cold outside — and that’s nice and comforting.
I’m looking forward to salads galore, fish, probably some barbecued lamb and then berries and cream and whatever instead of a hot pudding with brandy butter. Don’t get me wrong — I like all of these things, especially when it is cold outside, but it’ll be refreshing to be able to cook a quicker and easier meal, without having to worry about heating plates and making gravy.
However, in London, at my restaurants Kopapa and The Providores, things will be quite different. We aren’t open in either place on Christmas Day, but office parties and friends out celebrating are a big part of the restaurant business from late November onwards, as they are here in Auckland at The Sugar Club and Bellota.
When we compose any limited choice menu, we have to take into consideration the fact that the table will likely include vegetarians, vegans, pescatarians, gluten-free folk and all sorts of other things. There will likely be non-Christians in the group, which means they’re possibly not interested in celebrating a Christian festival and all that it comes with — turkey, stuffing, crackers, etc. So we create a menu with limited choice, but enough choice, and we’re always prepared to adapt as needs be.
At Kopapa we’ve made a mulled cider — as we wanted to change out the expected mulled wine.
We make it just the same, with a lovely mix of cinnamon, cloves, allspice, freshly sliced ginger and honey mixed into cider and warmed gently. A good slug of brandy goes into it just as we serve it and people often ask for another. For our bread basket, for that Christmas touch, we’ve pureed chestnuts then folded them into butter with a little sea salt.
As it’s winter and quite different veges are in season here compared with New Zealand, we’re serving a cream of jerusalem artichoke soup with crispy buckwheat and chilli oil.
This allows us to give a traditional soup some real punch, especially as we add some Sichuan pepper to the oil. Our head chef, Jon Villar, a lovely man from the Philippines, has created a Cornish crab siu mai with nashi pear salad and laksa broth — a really interesting dish and probably not one expected on the usual Christmas menu. We’ve a terrine of smoked partridge with manchego cheese and mustard fruits and sweet and sour chestnuts — which are fabulously tasty. There’s also a take on the Kiwi classic — sweetcorn pikelets with goat’s curd and roast cauliflower. My business partner, Wellingtonian Adam Wills, requested that we use sweetcorn fritters in some way and this is what Jon and I came up with.
For main courses we’re rolling a saddle of lamb with black figs (they’ll be dried but delicious) and olives and serving it with a beetroot jus and mint pesto — and from the tasting we did a few months back, this is likely to be quite popular.
Jon decided that a “salmon wellington” would be a great twist on beef wellington, so we’re wrapping organic Scottish salmon loin in puff pastry and serving it with New Zealand’s own Monteith’s cider in a cream sauce. Chicken (to avoid the cliched turkey) is served with a bread and butter savoury pudding mixed with pureed spinach, and we’re feeding our vegetarian guests a brisk pastry pie of pumpkin, freekeh and ricotta with coconut and capsicum puree. The flavours are bold and strong and the colours vibrant — just what we all crave.
Desserts are always a huge part of the menu as many of the group secretly treat themselves to choices they’d normally not eat.
Sugar and cream! Cheese is in the menu of course, but also a twist on sticky toffee pudding — much lighter to eat than Christmas pudding and, let’s be honest, how many portions can you eat in one month? We make ours with plump and rich fresh medjool dates and serve it with fresh clementines (think mandarins) and orange blossom clotted cream. There’s also a light, but celebratory pistachio and rosewater parfait with citrus salad and marshmallows, and a cheesecake that Jon felt we should load with booze, and I had to agree! It contains Baileys and Kahlua and has an Oreo biscuit crumb. It will likely be quite popular with the parties.
But my favourite dessert is one that I told Jon to create. I asked him, “What do Filipinos eat at Christmas?” and he replied, “Biko.” So biko it is. It is traditionally made from sticky rice, coconut milk and brown sugar, and Jon has added a few twists. We will be serving it with sangria poached quince and figs.
I hope you all have a terrific Christmas, and experiment a little with your Christmas Day lunch. Because it’ll be another year until the next one and you should never let an opportunity pass to have fun in the kitchen.
In our Ask Peter series, executive chef Peter Gordon answers your curly culinary questions. If you're stumped over something food-related, send your question to firstname.lastname@example.org and keep checking in for answers. You can read more on Peter on his website, have a read of his Ask Peter articles or check out his recipes here.