The lead-up to Christmas can be as busy for a cook as the big day itself, but the emphasis is usually on bite-sized bits. I like to keep cocktail food light and fresh but full of intense flavours.
Prawn crackers with salmon roe, nashi and roasted chilli
These crisp, decadent canapes are layered with intense flavours and textures but are super light and refreshing. Assemble them just before serving, as soggy prawn crackers will ruin the fun.
1 pkt prawn crackers
1 small jar salmon roe (50g-100g)
100g quality thick mayonnaise
1 tsp roasted chilli powder
Thai-style chilli jam
2 nashi pears (or crisp apples), finely diced
Baby mustard cress
1. Cook crackers as specified on the packet. If necessary, drain well.
2. Lay the crackers on a platter. In the middle of each cracker place about a quarter of a teaspoon of mayo and on top of this layer half a teaspoon of chilli jam, followed by a teaspoon of salmon roe, a teaspoon of nashi dice, some snipped mustard cress, torn nori pieces and a sprinkling of chilli powder.
Tip: Use rehydrated wakame (seaweed, from Asian grocers) to secure the crackers on a plate.
Makes 15-25. Drink with champagne
Thai beef with quail egg
This is a variation on a classic Thai salad that relies on a traditional balance of flavours complemented by the richness of quail eggs, fresh herbs and the contrasting texture of toasted rice. Served on spoons, it is ideal for a stand-up event, but it could easily be served as a salad.
6 quail eggs
1 tbsp heaped uncooked glutinous white rice (see note)
2 red shallots, sliced finely
20g palm sugar, finely grated
1 spring onion, sliced finely into rounds
1/4 bunch of coriander leaves, picked and finely chopped
1/4 bunch Thai basil leaves, chiffonade rolled or stacked and sliced thinly
1/4 bunch of mint, also chiffonade
200g sirloin, wagyu if you like1 tbsp of kecap manis (thick Indonesian soy sauce)
1/2 cucumber, julienned
1 tsp celery seeds, ground with 1 tsp of flaked salt
50ml lime juice
20ml fish sauce
2 birds eye chillies, sliced finely
1 tbsp sweet chilli sauce
1/4 tsp roasted chilli powder
12 Chinese-style spoons to serve on
Note: Glutinous rice is the specific varietal type that becomes sticky when cooked and can be readily obtained from your Asian grocer.
1. Cook quail eggs in boiling water for 2½ minutes, lift out and refresh under cold water and peel. Slice in half.
2. Toast the rice in a pan until light brown and then smash into a powder in a mortar and pestle.
3. Combine shallots and palm sugar, press together with your fingers until the sugar breaks down, and let sit.
4. Combine spring onion and herbs.
5. Sear the sirloin steak for three minutes each side in a hot pan or on a griddle. Once cooked, smear kecap manis over each side of the steak and let rest. Once rested, slice steak into 12 pieces.
6. For the dressing, combine all ingredients, taste and adjust if necessary.
7. Line up spoons. Place a little of the sugar and shallots in the base of each spoon, top with herbs and a slice of the beef, some cucumber, half a quail egg and a pinch of the celery salt. Spoon over a teaspoon of the dressing and sprinkle with toasted rice.
Serves 12 as an appetiser. Drink with ice-cold beer
Spring rolls with crab, sweetcorn, tofu and wood ear fungus
Spring rolls can be a little fiddly at first, but once you get the hang of them they're pretty straightforward. A great asset for more spontaneous events, they can be frozen raw and then deep-fried from frozen - they'll just take a little longer.
2 tbsp canola oil
1 clove of garlic, chopped
1 420g can of corn kernels, drained
1/2 tsp five spice
Freshly ground black pepper
100ml coconut cream
1 punnet of enoki mushrooms
1 punnet of wood-ear fungus
130ml rice wine vinegar
40g goji berries
2 cobs of fresh corn, cooked and kernels stripped
125g firm tofu, finely diced (3-5mm)
300g cooked crab-meat
25 spring roll wrappers (about 20cmx20cm)
1 egg, beaten
Vegetable oil for deep frying
200g Chinese-style plum sauce
Prawn floss (optional, from specialty Asian shops or you can whizz dried shrimp in a spice grinder)
Coriander for garnish
1. In a medium frying pan over a medium heat add one tablespoon of the canola oil, then garlic and cook until fragrant, add the tinned corn and five spice, salt and pepper, stir then add coconut cream and bubble for a minute or two. Transfer to a food processor to make a smooth paste. Cool.
2. Trim woody ends of enoki and discard, slice each wood-ear fungus into three or four pieces. Saute mushrooms in the remaining oil in a clean frying pan over medium heat for two minutes.
3. In a small saucepan add 50 millilitres of rice wine vinegar and the goji berries, bring to the boil for one minute.
4. Line up your ingredients: corn puree, corn kernels, tofu, mushrooms, goji berries and crab meat.
Separate a wrapper and place on a clean benchtop or board in front of you, brush three edges of the wrapper with beaten egg, omitting side closest to you. Three centimetres in from the un-brushed edge spread one heaped teaspoon of corn puree leaving three centimetres free at each end, follow with about a teaspoon each of the other ingredients. Fold the un-brushed edge over the filling and roll tightly, compressing theingredients as you go. Halfway through rolling the wrapper, fold in the left and right edges and keep rolling, brushing the end with more egg before you seal the roll.
5. Empty plum sauce into a bowl and add the remaining rice wine vinegar and mix. Garnish with the prawn floss if using.
6. Heat oil in fryer to 180C. Fry spring rolls until light golden and crisp, about three minutes.
7. Serve spring rolls whole or cut on a bias, with plum sauce and garnished with coriander.
Makes about 25 rolls Drink with Pinot grigio
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