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Canberra Chefs Do Christmas: Alex Piris’ Spanish Seafood Paella and Casablanca Salad

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It’s been a strange and challenging year for Canberra’s beloved hospitality scene.

After a marathon 12 months of smoke, bushfire, hail and COVID-restrictions, we’re wishing Canberra hospos a very merry Christmas, filled with food, wine and family.

But while they’re sitting down to their favourite dish on Christmas Day—you can be too!

We’ve asked six Canberra chefs to dish on their favourite Christmas recipes, so you can have the best of Canberra’s food scene at your Christmas table.

If you’re looking to add some wow factor and a European flair to lunch or dinner, why not serve up this bueno pairing of a Spanish Seafood Paella and Casablanca Salad, from the kitchen of Fox & Bow and Manolo’s Alex Piris?

Tell us about your dish. Why did you choose it?

Paella is the sort of dish that invites the family to be involved in the cooking. There’s also a  bit of theatre about it while it’s being prepared so that makes it a bit of fun too.

The aromas, the colours, by the time it’s finished cooking, everyone feels like they’ve been involved in the process. Food is better that way, when it’s communal and a shared experience.

To me, Christmas is…

About the kids. The excitement leading up to it. The Santa Tracker, Elf on the Shelf, going to see the Christmas Lights around town. Catching a glimpse of Santa at the Plaza. And then, finally, Christmas Eve.

It’s pretty exciting stuff as a kid. We’ve still got our daughter Ivy who’s nine so the whole mystery surrounding Santa is sadly coming to an end but hey, we’ve had a good run.

What are your plans for Christmas 2020?  

We’ll close down for a few weeks. Drink lots of wine. Eat lots of food. Probably do another boot camp late January to lose the extra pounds we’ve put on over Christmas and then head down to Mollymook.

Alex Piris.

Tell us about one ‘high’ and one ‘low’ of 2020  

High: The human spirit of our staff and community. How they responded to what we were expecting to be a catastrophe of a year will never be lost on me.

The generosity and sincerity of our locals was pretty special to witness. Let me just say that the human spirit is alive and well in Canberra.

Low: A lot of our team have been with us for a few years now but unfortunately there’s a bunch of them moving on to pursue new careers which are apparently better than serving you, our customers. Don’t worry, I’m not offended either… To be honest, we’re really proud of them but it’s always a bit sad to see them go. 

What are you looking forward to in 2021?

No natural disasters and/or pandemics

Spanish Seafood Paella

INGREDIENTS

  • 3 onions, diced
  • 8 tomatoes, diced
  • 6 capsicum (red and green), diced
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 1kg paella rice (Bomba or Calaspara)
  • 3 litres seafood for chicken stock
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 12 chicken wings
  • 400g green king prawns
  • 200g calamari
  • 2 blue swimmer crabs
  • 300g black mussels
  • 1 pinch saffron
  • 50g peas
  • 50g roasted red capsicum
  • 3 lemons
  • Salt
  • Olive oil

METHOD

You’ll need a Paella Pan or otherwise a large flat based pan to cook this in. If you don’t have the type of gas burner you need to distribute the heat evenly, and let’s be real, there’s a good chance you won’t, you can still cook it on your kitchen cooktop using four burners, controlling the heat on each burner individually.

The best paella, however, is cooked outside, over coals, with friends and family around, so if at all possible, check the fire rating for today here and then go get your kindling.

IMPORTANT:

Cooking is meant to be fun, so relax, pour yourself a G&T, or even better a Vermouth (I tried this Cocchi from Torino over ice at Continental Deli in Newtown a few weeks ago—it’s bloody delicious).

I mean seriously, if you’re all stressed, stiff and shit when you cook, your food will be too.

Just ensure you’ve got good ingredients and give yourself plenty of time to get your prep done, the cooking part is actually fun. Have you finished that Vermouth yet? Told you it was good. Now pour yourself another, put on some Prince and let’s get started.

Bring your fish or chicken stock to the simmer in a pot. If you’ve never made one before, Google it. It’s honestly simple as shit. If that’s too hard, buy some down the shops. But buy a decent one—it’ll make a huge difference in your final product.

Place your paella pan over medium heat with the olive oil and saute off your sofrito—that’s your onions, tomato, capsicums, garlic and bay leaves in the olive oil. Try not to let it colour too much but allow it all to become one combined saucy mix.

Now you can add your saffron threads and the chicken drummies. They’ll take some time to cook through to the bone so adding them now will add flavour to the base and ensure they’re just cooked at the end. Season your chicken with a decent amount of salt, but not too much—ok?

Deglaze the pan with some white wine and allow to reduce, lifting everything that has stuck to the pan up until now. Once reduced by half, add 3/4’s of your stock and bring back to the simmer.

Now add the rice, and lightly stir it through your stock. Once evenly mixed through, don’t stir it again. This isn’t risotto ok. You don’t want creamy glutinous rice. You want loose, separate grains. And at the base you want that crunchy socrata. So no more stirring ok. You got it?

Allow this to simmer for the next 10-15 mins. Simmer—not violently boil.

Once about half the stock has been absorbed by the rice, begin to layer in your seafood, starting with the Blue Swimmer crab you’ve expertly chopped into four pieces. Kind of bury it gently into the rice. About five mins later, add your prawns, followed by the calamari, and mussels.

At this point, we’re probably talking 25 mins in here, you can add any remaining stock, sprinkle in the peas, and layer your roasted red capsicum.

It should still be a little “saucy” at this point, so taste that saucy goodness and add more salt if you think it needs it. It’s likely to.

Turn OFF the heat now and cover with a tea towel for 5 – 10 minutes to allow the steam cook through the rest of the seafood and for the rice to absorb that last bit of stock.

Finish with lemon wedges and serve at the table.

Casablanca Salad

Credit: Ashley St George.

INGREDIENTS

  • 300g Quinoa
  • 300g Pumpkin
  • 3 corn cobs
  • 3 Lebanese cucumber
  • 300g heirloom tomato
  • ½ cup pepita seeds
  • 1 bunch mint
  • 2 bunches parsley
  • 100g goats cheese fetta
  • 50g cranberries
  • 1 pomegranate
  • Oilive oil
  • 1 lemon
  • 50g pistachios

METHOD

Is another Vermouth appropriate or should we move on to a glass of Champagne? I mean hey, it’s Christmas Day, isn’t it?

Change the playlist, probably time for a bit of Santana or Radiohead by now.

Bring a pot of salted water to the boil and cook your Quinoa for 8-10 minutes. Strain and set aside to cool.

Chop up your pumpkin however you like. We slice it, you can dice it. Just make sure it’s cooked through but not overcooked. You’ll work it out.

Do the same with corn. Actually—just roast it whole, then when it’s cooled down a bit, slice away the kernels from the cob. It’s fun.

Pick the parsley and mint. This is a good job for kitchenhands who look like they’ve got absolutely nothing in the world to do. Watch them though, they can develop a habit of making this look very technical. It’s not. Just take the leaves off the stem. Get Pop to do it.

Chop the cucumber and tomatoes.

Does anyone actually read this? Pour yourself a Gin. The kids won’t know, don’t worry.

Now this part actually IS really really technical and complicated

Get everything in a bowl, (apart from the cheese, pomegranates and pistachios), drizzle with Extra Virgin Olive Oil (Morella is really good) and toss it all together. Tricky, huh?

Lay it all out on a nice platter—the one you haven’t used since last Christmas. Now break up the goat’s cheese fetta all over the top, sprinkle pistachios and finish with pomegranate seeds.

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And that’s it. You’ll probably start seeing this salad at fancy places like Aubergine. Ben Willis would probably top this off with some sous vide lobster. Kurt at Grazing? Oh for sure, he would most definitely add some quondongs.

Julian at Maestral will call it a Croatian Salad and Nathan at Rodney’s? Well, he’d just call it a Casadingo. Please, let me know if they do, ok? They’ll all owe me a meal!

Merry Christmas, HerCanberra. Merry Christmas Canberra! 

SHOPPING LIST

Belconnen Fresh Food Markets has the freshest ingredients for your Christmas.

Before you make Alex’s Seafood Paella and Casablanca Salad, make sure to pick up pomegranates from Tom’s Superfruits, your seafood from Sea Harvest and your goat’s cheese feta from Deli Cravings.

For details on all the vendors at the markets, head to belconnenmarkets.com.au/stores and stay up to date on Facebook.

 

WANT MORE CHRISTMAS INSPIRATION FROM CANBERRA CHEFS?

PHOTOGRAPHY Emma Kennedy @thecasualcreator

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