Christmas menu

This Christmas, make do-before your cooking mantra. Image: Salvelio Meyer

The cheffy Christmas dinner that won’t keep you in the kitchen all night

Here’s the ultimate showstopper meal that can be made before and assembled with ease.

Christmas menu

This Christmas, make do-before your cooking mantra. Image: Salvelio Meyer

Now is just about the time when eager-to-please home cooks start to relive the horrors of Christmas kitchens past.

You will recall the scene with some degree of vividness, I’m sure: You, last December, slaving away like a madman all day and well into the big night so you can plate up the perfect Christmas dinner while everyone else has their feet up with a glass of the good stuff in hand.

This year, choose a Christmas menu that feels super special, but will allow you to do almost all of the prep work beforehand. Though there will admittedly be lots to do the day before, you will mainly just need to assemble the dishes on the actual night, leaving you free to enjoy time with your guests.

The ultimate do-before Christmas dinner

We asked chef Ralph Gottschalk, owner and principal of the South African Academy of Culinary Arts (Saaca), to share a splendidly festive, three-course Christmas menu. Ralph, who has headed many a Fifa and Rugby World Cup kitchen around the globe, has created three restaurant-quality dishes of which the lion’s share of the work can be done before the time.

“My dad used to say to my mother: “You spend two whole days in the kitchen, then we eat everything up in an hour. Next year it’s going to be potato salad and wiener sausages’,” Ralph chuckled. “After that, we always had very simple Christmas dinners — potato salad and wiener sausages!

“Christmas was without doubt my favourite season of the year as a child. Eating candy, getting gifts — nothing wrong with that!

“As an adult, not much has changed. I still love Christmas but for different reasons. Christmas is the time of the year when the bakers and pastry chefs can show off being creative and get wild.”

More about Ralph and the chefs’ academy

South African Academy of Culinary Arts
Chef Ralph Gottschalk with some of his past students from Saaca. Image: Supplied

Ralph hails from Hanover in Germany, but has been based in Port Elizabeth since 2005, where he raised two sons and co-founded the popular Pastryworks bakeries. He travels widely to consult for international clients and run the kitchens at major sporting events, including the upcoming Tokyo Olympics.

Because of his large network of international contacts, Ralph’s academy is known for its success in placing student chefs at top restaurants and establishments overseas. One past student, Matthew Potgieter, landed a full-time position at England’s top restaurant, L’Enclume, in Cumbria, after having gone over for a test cook-off.

Saaca offers UK-accredited certificates and diplomas in culinary arts and pastry arts respectively that are recognised all over the world.

“Students come from all over South Africa, and we have also had students from countries like Kenya, Nigeria, South Korea, Mozambique and Germany,” Ralph said.

RECIPES: Ralph’s cheffy Christmas menu

salmon blinis
Pickled salmon blinis are an indulgent and luxurious starter. Image: Salvelio Meyer

STARTER: Passionfruit Pickled Salmon Blinis

Serves 6


For the salmon:
450g salmon fillet, skinned
1½ tbsp Maldon salt
38g sugar
12 white peppercorns
1½ tsp mustard seeds
4½ fresh passionfruit
1½ tbsp canola oil

For the blinis and to plate:
3 eggs
75ml milk
150g spelt flour
1½ tsp baking powder
6 tsp olive oil
90g crème craiche
90g good-quality mayonnaise
3 miniature salad cucumbers
Maldon salt
Ground black pepper
1½ tbsp white wine vinegar
6 tbsp canola oil
Some micro-greens or basil leaves to garnish


Crush the salt, peppercorns and mustard seeds using a mortar and pestle (not too fine) and sprinkle onto the salmon. Remove the flesh from the passionfruit, blend for a few minutes, then pass through a sieve. Add the oil, mix well, then pour over the salmon.

Cover salmon with cling wrap and place a plate on top along with some weights – cans work well. Keep in the fridge for 24 hours, turning the salmon once in between.

For the blinis, whisk together the milk and eggs. Mix flour, baking powder and salt, then sift it on top of the egg/milk mixture. Whisk together until smooth. Cover for 30 minutes.

Heat 1 tsp of oil in small pan and add enough batter to the pan to make each blini about 12cm in diameter. You’ll have to cook these in batches. Cook each blini for about two minutes per side or until golden. Remove from the pan and drain on kitchen paper.

Combine the crème fraiche and mayonnaise; place in fridge. Wash the cucumbers and, with a peeler, cut long strips till you reach the pips in the middle. Season the strips with salt and pepper, and mix with the vinegar and oil.

To plate, remove the salmon from the marinade, blotting off as much marinade as possible. Halve lengthwise, then cut into thin slices. Drain the cucumbers, add a little of the micro-greens and mix.

Spread the mayo/crème fraiche mixture onto the blinis, and top with salmon and cucumber ribbons. |Sprinkle with micro-greens and basil, and serve.

MAINS: Pork Roast with Bread Dumplings and Red Cabbage

pork roast with dumplings
Ralph’s Christmas pork roast with dumplings and red cabbage. Image: Salvelio Meyer


1½kg pork roast with fat and skin on
1 carrot, chopped
1 leek, chopped
1 stick celery, chopped
1½ onions
5 stalks of fresh thyme or 1⁄2 tsp dried thyme
150ml cream
60ml beer
White pepper

Remove the roast an hour before cooking from the fridge. Preheat oven to 230°C. Cut skin crosswise, about ½cm deep. Place roast into a sieve in the sink and pour two litres of boiling water over. Using a cloth, dry the roast as much as possible.

Season the meat well with salt. Rub sugar into the skin part. Place the roast skin side down in a deep baking tray. Add 375ml of boiling water to the tray and cook for 60 minutes on the lowest position in the oven. Halfway through, add more hot water.

Cut carrot, celery, leek and onions into 2cm pieces, and add to the roast after 60 minutes.
Turn oven down to 180°C after the first hour. Cook for a further two hours, adding water from time to time. Turn the roast over and grill the skin for golden crackling.

Remove the liquid from the tray and blend until smooth. Add thyme, cream and beer. Bring to a boil and reduce for five minutes. Season with salt, pepper and a little sugar.

Slice the pork and serve with the sauce.


Makes 6

600g stale, firm bread rolls
3 onions, finely chopped
3 tbsp butter
450ml milk
3 eggs
6 tbsp parsley, chopped
9 tbsp butter

Using a grater, remove the skin from the rolls. Cut the rolls into thin slices and place in a bowl. Chop onions fine and cook in the 3 tbsp of butter until translucent. Add the milk to the butter/onion mix and heat until warm, then pour over the sliced rolls and let sit for 10 minutes.

Add egg, parsley, salt and pepper and mix together. With damp hands, form six even-sized balls and drop them into a large pot of boiling, salted water. As soon as the dumplings are in, turn heat down to medium and simmer for about 20 minutes until fully cooked.

To serve, heat the 9 tbsp butter in a large pan and let it foam. Add the dumplings and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, then serve.


Serves 6

750g red cabbage, outer leaves removed
3 onions
3 bay leaves
6 cloves
1½ Granny Smith apples
6 tbsp schmalz or duck fat
1½ tbsp sugar
4½ tbsp white wine vinegar
White pepper
450ml chicken stock or broth
3 tsp cornstarch
3 tbsp cranberry jelly

Cut cabbage into quarters, remove stalk and slice thinly. Dice 1½ of the onions. Take the bay leaves and, with the help of the cloves, stick them into the other 1½ onions.

Peel and quarter the apples, remove pips and slice thinly. Heat fat in a large pot, add diced onion and cook until translucent. Add cabbage, sugar, spiced onion, apple and cook for five minutes while stirring. Add vinegar, salt, pepper and then the stock. Cover the pot with a lid and cook on medium heat for 45 to 60 minutes.

Mix the cornstarch with 2 tbsp of water and add to the cabbage. Stir until well combined. Add cranberry jelly and season to taste.

TIP: Red cabbage is best when made a day or even two before the time.

DESSERT: Apple Tiramisu with Almond Crunch

apple tiramisu
Apple tiramisu: What’s not to love? Image: Salvelio Meyer

Serves 6


1 lemon

1kg Granny Smith apples

1 cinnamon stick

3 tbsp sugar

5 tbsp water

100ml orange juice, freshly squeezed

50g sliced almonds

2 tbsp honey

250g mascarpone

250g low-fat cream cheese

3 tbsp sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

10 boudoir biscuits

2 tbsp orange liqueur

3 tsp cocoa powder


Remove a 2cm piece of rind from the lemon. Squeeze lemon until you have 4 tbsp of fresh juice. Set aside half an apple, unpeeled for garnishing later. Peel the other apples, quarter, remove pips, then cut lengthwise into thin slices.

Place the apple slices, lemon rind and juice, cinnamon, the 3 tbsp of sugar and the water in a pot. A bit of orange zest is optional. Cover the pot and bring to a boil, then cook on medium heat for about seven minutes or until apples are soft. Remove from heat and let cool.

Mix the almonds with the honey and spread onto non-stick baking paper or a silicone mat. Bake at 175°C until golden. Let cool.

Mix the mascarpone with the cream cheese, vanilla and the 2 tbsp of sugar until smooth.

Cut biscuits into irregular, biggish pieces and distribute between six dessert glasses. Mix the orange juice with the orange liqueur and pour over the biscuits. Top with the stewed apples.

Fill a piping bag with the cheese crème and pipe even amounts into each glass. Place glasses in the fridge. The half of the apple you kept for garnish earlier can be sliced into even, thin slices and brushed with a little lemon juice.

Dust the tiramisu with a bit of cocoa powder, top with some broken pieces of the almond crunch and decorate with a small fan of three apple slices. Serve.


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