How To Cook Like An Aussie
Breakfast is an Australian obsession. The national preoccupation with a tasty breakfast started long before hipster cafés began offering avocado on toast, coconut yogurt, kimchee, sourdough or fresh ricotta whipped into hotcakes. While Sydney likes to claim they did it first, bigger and better, this phenomenon probably started in Melbourne in the late 80s or early 90s. And it may well be the result of the coffee and espresso machines that Italian immigrants were importing into Melbourne in the 50s. Breakfast is but one meal or occasion that reflects what Australian food is today: an eclectic combination of ingredients and cooking styles, simply prepared food using prime locally grown produce, with a no-holds-barred attitude. A rollercoaster ride of freshness and flavour.
Chinese culture has flourished in Australia. Melbourne has one of the oldest Chinatowns in Australia and the oldest continuous Chinatown outside of Asia. It would not be an exaggeration to say that every Australian town has a Chinese restaurant serving classic Australian-Chinese dishes like prawn cutlets and Mongolian lamb. Chinese recipes also enticed the home cook with their ease and flavour. Chicken with almonds became a favourite to make at home, as did short soup – the colloquial term for wonton soup (long soup being egg noodles in broth). Today, these classics are served alongside more modern Australian-Chinese dishes, like salt and pepper squid.
Australians can’t get enough of the fresh and fragrant offerings of Vietnamese food. Vietnamese bakeries are thriving, offering freshly baked, French-inspired pastries and breads. Many of these bakeries also sell Anglo-Australian items like sausage rolls, meat pies and custard tarts. They introduced the traditional baguette-style banh mi rolls. A good Vietnamese bakery will have people lined up at lunchtime to buy a banh mi sandwich filled with ingredients like pâté, pork sausage, chicken, salad, mayonnaise and coriander.
The mighty prawn is the hero of Australian seafood. They either come cooked in their vibrant orange shell, all ready to go, or they are sold raw and are called green prawns. In Australia, this crustacean has inspired Australian-Chinese restaurants to come up with a whole host of prawn-centric specialities, such as deep-fried prawn cutlets, prawn toasts and even battered prawns drizzled with honey. Prawns have come to symbolise us, and I don’t mean the cliché about throwing a shrimp on the barbie. For one thing, we don’t call them shrimp here. Such a diminutive term would be an insult to us and our prawns. They are big, colourful and sweet creatures. They define a prawn cocktail, or are divine simply peeled and eaten as fresh as can be. They can be fried, steamed or baked. Few things are as good as prawns bubbling in a cast-iron pot of olive oil and garlic, all pink and curled up, crusty bread at the ready to dive in.
Inspired? Here are five simple recipes to try at home…
Salt & Pepper Squid
Neil Perry and Kylie Kwong have forged success in the local and international food scene with their unique take on the fusion of Asia and Australia thanks to their passion for Asian cookery and advocacy of premium Australian produce. They’ve helped popularise thise dish to the extend you’d now be hard pressed to find a pub restaurant that didn’t have salt-and-pepper squid or chilli salt squid on the menu. Versions using prawns or tofu are popular too.
Bacon & Egg Fried Rice
Fried rice is very much an Australian-Chinese restaurant thing. The Chinese don’t have one clearly defined recipe for it. Plain, steamed rice is what is traditionally eaten with a meal. This is an easy version of fried rice. Restaurants will also offer a luxe edition called ‘special fried rice’, which will include any combination of prawns, chicken and Chinese BBQ pork.
Pronounced ‘pee-dae’, these freshly baked Turkish breads have been around for as long as I can remember. Thanks to diplomatic relations between Australia and Turkey starting in 1967, Turkish citizens were able to live and work in Australia. The Cypriot Turks who came to Australia initially settled in the inner-city suburbs of Sydney and Melbourne and so this is where many of the first Turkish restaurants and shops were established. Turkish bread became hugely popular in cafés here and remains a very popular bread to toast and spread with butter and Vegemite. Pide are now sold in all three of the leading supermarkets in Australia. Pide refers not only to bread but also to Turkish pizzas. These Turkish pie-cum-pizzas are topped with spiced meat, spinach, feta or egg and are very popular.
Butterflied Leg of Lamb
In 1985, the Australian Meat & Livestock Research Development Corporation promoted boneless cuts of lamb as convenient and quick to prepare. With the increase in popularity of cooking outside on the BBQ, larger deboned and butterflied lamb was also in demand. A whole boneless leg of lamb could be easily splayed out on a BBQ and would feed eight people, with salads on the side. Supermarkets will have ‘easy-carve’ butterflied legs of lamb ready to go, but they are often marinated and can be very salty. For quality control, simply ask your butcher to butterfly the leg for you.
Smoked Salmon Frittata
This is a classic combination, all made in one pan. Smoked salmon was never something that Australians ate before the mid-70s, and when they did it was almost always imported. Now, the local industry, though confronting environmental issues, is producing some of the best smoked salmon in the business.
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