DINING: Crackling Christmas 

HUDSON Daley says there is one key to making Christmas Day stress free: keep it simple.

The catering manager at Wests Nelson Bay Diggers will be working on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day preparing a sold-out three-course buffet with all the trimmings for 365 people in the club's auditorium, as well as a special lunch in the club's Bay Brasserie.

For the auditorium extravaganza alone he will use more than 300 kilograms of beef, 400 kilograms of pork, 150 kilograms of turkey breast, 15 whole leg hams and 600 puddings.

But preparing meals at home shouldn't be as complicated.

"Don't make Christmas Day a chore - it is for sitting and relaxing, not slaving away in the kitchen," Daley said. "Avoid something out of your depth - it all looks good in the cookbook but they've probably done it 100 times to get one picture that looks perfect."

Daley said coastal living made seafood an easy choice for the Christmas table.

Prawns and crabs (mud, blue spinners and spanners) don't require any preparation, or for the oven to be turned on, and Sydney rock oysters are ready to go.

"Tuna is also magnificent at this time of year - it's not carrying as much fat and is great served with leftover salads on Boxing Day on the barbecue," he said. "It should have an oily look on the flesh and be a little bit firm to the touch. Add lemon, salt and pepper and it's absolute magic."

Daley suggested those who enjoyed a traditional roast might try a lean cut such as pork loin.

For the perfect crackling, avoid moisture. Dry the skin with a cloth, rub it with salt and leave for 15 minutes before putting it in the oven for 20 minutes at 220°C and a further 40 minutes at 150°C.

Ham lovers might consider Daley's bourbon glazed ham, which uses a mix of bourbon, brown sugar and honey.

Daley scores the ham and places a clove in the middle of each diamond. He heats the ham for 15 minutes at 160° degrees and then bastes every 15 minutes, continuing until the baste has the same consistency as honey.

This can be done up to two days before Christmas and served warm or cold. And it's good for sandwiches for five days after.

Daley said after the rush of Christmas Day he enjoyed going home to his wife and children and dining on leftovers from his brother-in-law's lunch, followed by his favourite dish: his mother's Christmas pudding, with hidden ha'pennies and hard brandy sauce (to make, whip brandy, butter and icing sugar until it is white, cool in the fridge and pour over hot pudding).

And the leftovers?

"Ham keeps for five days, but throw out everything else two days after Christmas," Daley said.

"My dad on Boxing Day strings leftover ham and combines it with creamed corn in batter made from flour, eggs, milk, salt and pepper to create ham and cream corn fritters."

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