Looking for something different for the Christmas table this year? You're not alone. And it seems it's our chefs who are leading the way. As we reported in the news pages of today's paper there's been a marked swing towards boutique seafood, meat, game and organic or rare- breed birds. Many of these "new" specialty products have become popularised by chefs and reality cooking programs which have brought a slow-cooking, whole- animal approach to home cooks and, in the process, emboldened a generation of us to have a crack at dishes and proteins we might previously have shied away from.
Our Fresh Christmas chef this year is Pata Negra head chef Kurt Sampson, one of the most experienced and celebrated chefs in Perth and a man who loves a good Christmas feast.
According to Sampson, WA people are becoming more adventurous this year and he's designed three dishes - suckling pig, barbecued western rock lobster, and roast duck with north African spices - all of which give Christmas cooks the opportunity to be creative with "centrepiece dishes" for the festive table.
"People are more inclined to have a go these days," Sampson said.
Suckling pigs are a case in point.
Boatshed Meats in Cottesloe and Mondo Butchers in Inglewood say they'll sell every suckling pig they can get their hands on, with demand far in excess of supply - even at $200 a pop for a 7-9kg porker.
Mondo Butchers boss Vince Garreffa said the demand for more exotic meats increased every year.
"If you've got to feed more than a dozen guests on Christmas day, a suckling pig might just be what you're after to impress the rellies and, well, show off with a stunning porky centrepiece on the table," Garreffa said. There is one caveat though. You'll need a wide oven and a large baking tray.
Garreffa also sells peacock and pea hen - "delicious meat which cooks well" - and Muscovy duck from a Wagin producer which is delivered fresh in store each week.
"These are WA-grown ducks and although the more common Pekin duck is still a good feed, the Muscovy is renowned for its rich flesh and large, plump breasts," Garreffa said."More and more people are looking for animals and cuts which are out of the box."
Garreffa has a theory.
"People are doing it tougher these days; juggling family, working till they drop and, in some cases, finding that some of life's luxuries are a little beyond them. Christmas is a perfect time for many of them to spoil their families, to lash out and spend big on luxury food," he said.
In Nedlands, seafood supplier to the top chefs of WA, Matt Beagley, said big "show off" fish were rapidly increasing in popularity. He said he would sell more than 1.2 tonnes of whole Atlantic salmon at his Partridges Seafood store in the two days running up to Christmas Day.
"Atlantic salmon is perennially popular, but it's the increase in whole fish sales which is noteworthy this Christmas," Mr Beagley said.
"People want bling on the table and there's nothing more blingy than a whole fish with all the trimmings as a centrepiece," he said.
The best way to cook it?
"If you buy a poaching kettle, there's nothing finer than a whole salmon or ocean trout poached lightly in a court bouillon (a light vegetable stock) and simply plated whole.
"Crayfish is still the most popular item on Christmas seafood platters. But increasingly we find people are ordering raw, even live crayfish (western rock lobster), for barbecuing. It's a real trend this year."
In Leederville Theo Kailis said he did a huge business in "green" (raw) rock lobster. "People are just more prepared to have a go these days, cooking crays themselves rather than buying the traditional cold, cooked ones," Mr Kailis said.
But the ultimate Christmas table protein has to be a dry aged, Cape Grim, grass fed standing rib of beef at an eye-watering $70 a kg.
If you buy one of these black, shrunken monsters at Boatshed Meats, you are buying the best beef in town.
"People actually buy an eight pointer (an eight-rib rack) in one piece, which is about 10kg," Boatshed Meats managing director Wayne Midson said.
"They leave it in our ageing room and the lucky owner can come in at any time and we'll slice off a rib or two as required. It is the ultimate meaty Christmas gift."
Mr Midson said it was not unusual for people to buy the whole rack, nearly $700 worth of meat, and cook it for a big occasion over the holiday season.
"We'll sell more of our Cape Grim dry aged in the week leading up to Christmas than we normally would in a month," he said.
Sampson said cooking showstopper centrepiece main dishes could also make your life easier on the day.
"It's too hot to be slaving away on Christmas day," Sampson said. "So it's a great idea to cook one big meat or fish dish and have your guests bring salads or sides," he said.