Quick and Easy

Poh’s recipe for a relaxing Christmas feast: stress-free lunch ideas

Our exclusive chat with the masterchef!

As the festive season inches terrifyingly closer, there’s no denying the joy that comes hand-in-hand with Christmas. However, the prospect of preparing a stress-free Christmas lunch can feel like an elusive goal. Fear not, for acclaimed chef and culinary maestro Poh Ling Yeow is here to guide you through a relaxed Christmas day and transform your festive feast into a tranquil affair.

What do you need to think about when planning a make-ahead Christmas meal?

Try your best to focus on quality over quantity. One of the most common mistakes home cooks make when preparing their Christmas meals is trying to cook too many dishes and leaving too much to do on the day. Start prep early with robust salads that can be made a day or two ahead then focus on just a couple of centerpiece dishes.

Melon tomato and prosciutto salad
Melon, tomato and prosciutto salad

Can you suggest a Christmas menu that includes starters, mains and desserts that can be prepared in advance?

For starters, these are my three favourite dishes: 1. Melon & prosciutto (try this); 2. Fresh prawns with sriracha & Japanese mayo, (try this); and 3. fresh oysters with tabasco & lemon (try this).

For mains, definitely a baked ham and then I always do a vegetarian japchae using shiitake mushrooms instead of pork.

For dessert, my family, bless them, loves a proper retro trifle. It starts with making finger jello by adding 1 tablespoon of powdered gelatine to a raspberry or strawberry jelly so you can easily cut them into cubes after it’s set. Then it’s just a matter of layering sliced, store bought jam rollettes drowned in (regular) strawberry jelly mixture, tinned peaches, fresh strawberries, custard made with powdered custard mix, fresh cream then piling on the prepared jelly cubes. 

And if you’re still all out of ideas, the Philips’ Nutri-U app is packed with time-efficient recipes from around the world, all with super simple airfryer instructions.

Christmas trifle
Strawberry trifle

What are your top tips for efficient meal prep in the days leading up to Christmas?

Delegate, delegate, delegate. The key to a stress-free Christmas is reducing your personal workload. And I can’t think of a better way to get into the festive spirit than sharing preparations for the big day with family and friends. It’s always potluck at the Yeow family Christmas! Also, incorporating lots of cold or room temp food that only require assembling rather than cooking – things like antipasto, fruit & cheese platters.

I would also recommend getting in on the communal menu planning early. Prep as much as your fridge space will allow so that you’re ready to just plug and play on the day. Remember, as important as the food is, it’s the precious time spent with loved ones that matters most and being cooped away slaving over a hot stove is not what it’s about!

Antipasto board
Antipasto board

Are there specific ingredients that can be prepped ahead of time without compromising taste or quality?

Depends on your menu! Our Christmas table is incredibly eclectic. It’s a ham next to a curry next to a Korean noodles. Ham can be baked and curry made days ahead. Also, may I suggest pre-carving a good portion of the ham because it’s a lot more time intensive than you’d think.

Then think about things that you don’t need to apply heat to and can amplify with a few simple store bought or home made comdiments – cold prawns and oysters is a Yeow Family Fave. We love a bit of retro comfort – Thousand Island dressing for the prawns, then tobasco and lemon for the oysters.

Pavlova is another one of my fave Xmas sweets. You can bake the meringue days ahead then assemble on the day.

Fig glazed Christmas ham

How do you recommend storing different dishes to maintain freshness and flavour?

For just about anything, large rectangular shallow air tight containers are best for storage because when you are cooking for masses, the ingredients can become heavy and squash the ingredients on the bottom causing leaching or bruising especially with veg.

Rectangles also stack better and use fridge space more efficiently than round containers.

Anything sweet I still love to store in a tin. Biscuits, puddings, cakes seem to keep best in a tin but failing this, of course a good quality airtight container. Herbs and salad ingredients can be picked and spun then stored loosely in containers lined with paper towel. Cheeses need to be cling-wrapped well.

Are there certain dishes that freeze particularly well?

Hot dishes that have a scoopy texture like scalloped potatoes, cauli cheese, puddings or any kind of tray bake numbers tend to freeze best.

Cauliflower cheese
Baked cauliflower cheese with cripsy breadcrumbs

Are there any kitchen tools, gadgets or appliances that you find especially helpful for saving time during Christmas meal preparation?

The electric cake mixer is definitely the one doing the most overtime for baking and making homemade presents but for those who want to park some of the guess work and stress, the Philips Nutri-U app is excellent for side dish ideas and if you are an anxious when it comes to roasting meat like me, park your fears because the Philips 7000 Series Airfryer XXXL has a handy integrated temp probe for delivering the perfect ‘doneness’ or cuisson as the French would say!

How can people customise make-ahead recipes to accommodate dietary restrictions or preferences?

I’d say lean into vegetarian dishes. Roast vegetables and add nuts and pulses to create hearty salads which covers non-meat and gluten free.

Roast vegetable tray bake
Roast vegetable tray bake

What are your go-to garnishes or finishing touches to add a festive touch to the meal?

I’m not for adding unnecessary garnish but I love creating a festive vibe with natural things like branches of greenery from the garden, fruit like cherries and pears and a nice old fashioned table cloth makes all the difference.

What are your best ideas for Christmas leftovers?

For repurposing leftover ingredients, I rely on the three “s’s”. Throw them into stews, soups and salads. In the Yeow family, we always make Boxing Day ham congee for round 2 of eating! And another thing we do is tell everyone to bring containers so the leftovers can be split up and taken away.

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