Chef Tarryn Coetzee of Radisson Blu Hotel Waterfront. Picture by Gavin Withers

Cooking Christmas dinner can be a total nightmare, we know. But if you know what you are doing it can be one of the best moments.

Chef Tarryn Coetzee of Radisson Blu Hotel Waterfront shares with us tips on how to prepare a Christmas feast like a pro under no pressure.

She says every family has different traditions around Christmas time. But one central theme is a feast, be it for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day itself or even a Boxing Day braai. 

Consider your full menu

You may have already decided on what roast you will be cooking, but what will you be serving with it? Are you making a starter? And surely it isn’t Christmas without dessert?

For Coetzee, it would be something like a duck terrine with cranberries and pomegranate to start. For the main course, she would serve up turkey (glazed with cinnamon and orange) and roast potatoes (always roast potatoes!) and other roasted or sauteed vegetables on the side. Dessert would be her mother’s famous trifle because “it just isn’t Christmas without it”.

With turkey, Coetzee says don’t forget the gravy! Use your onions, carrots and all the juices from the base of your roasting tray. Pop it all into a pot with white wine, then heat through, blend and strain.

Go non-traditional

There is no rule forcing you to stick to the classics. You can serve anything you want at your Christmas table. Coetzee suggests a sharing sirloin with gravy, a Cape Malay curry, or even cold meat and cheese platters (especially great if you’re planning a lunch on a hot Christmas day).

Serve any of these with a classic green salad, a coleslaw with dried cranberries tossed through, or a Caesar salad with anchovies. For dessert, Coetzee suggests a malva pudding or Earl Grey crème brûlée. Cold desserts like tiramisu or an ice-cream or parfait also go down very well when the weather is warm.

Cake pops.

Be crafty with your leftovers

Serve up any cold leftover meats with cheese, breads and pickles for the days following Christmas when you might have friends and family popping by. Gammon, tongue and beef work especially well for this.

If you have more turkey than you know what to do with, you can make one of Coetzee’s personal favourite leftover recipes. Just chop up the leftover meat and add it to fried onion, garlic and celery in a pan, add cream and parmesan, and toss it all through some cooked pasta.

Leftover fruit cake can be turned into a fun activity, making bread pudding or cake pops (rolling the cake into balls and dipping in chocolate).

Think ahead for perfect planning

You can cut vegetables and make stuffing before the big day. Cold desserts can be in the fridge and ready to go the day before. And remember that your turkey needs to be out of the freezer and slowly defrosting well in advance (the time will depend on the size of the bird).

Of course, it’s great to have all those extra pairs of hands on the day of the feast itself.

Mimosa with cherry.

Wash it all down

Whether it’s local wine, craft beer, mulled wine, cider, or a homemade cocktail or mocktail creation, think about what you’ll be serving your guests to drink.

Coetzee recommends a welcome cocktail (which can be as simple as a glass of bubbles served with a cherry) and carefully considered wine pairings with your food. Her advice: If you’re serving white meat, opt for a Chenin Blanc or Chardonnay. With red meat, try a bold Shiraz.