Australian classic with a twist ... Dan Lepard's double-chocolate lamingtons include a 'sacreligious' addition of cocoa to the cake. Photo: Colin Campbell/Guardian
- Recipes - meat pies, double-chocolate lamingtons and more
- Australia's favourite dishes - reader nominations
ONE OF THE WORLD'S TOP restaurant critics sums up Australian food with a single word: more. ''As in more flavours, maximally heightened,'' Los Angeles Times reviewer Jonathan Gold says.
Like most visitors, he's struck by Australians' ease with Asia. ''Chinese techniques seem as essential as French ones,'' he says, ''especially in the best restaurants, which I'm pretty sure is unique in the non-Asian world.''
Kate Gibbs with her Aussie pies. Photo: Edwina Pickles
If pressed to pick a typically Australian dish, Gold might nominate mud crabs in XO sauce. ''I saw [that dish] four times in the week [I was in Sydney]. I never did run across a meat pie or a pavlova,'' says Gold, who visited for the 2012 Crave Sydney International Food Festival.
Melbourne chef Paul Wilson describes Australian cuisine as ''global, produce-driven and free-spirited''. And he should know.
Across seven restaurants, including Melbourne's Circa, the Newmarket, Middle Park and Albert Park hotels, Wilson serves up everything from British-Australian gastropub and Cal-Mex to luxe Latin and Pacific Rim.
Former MasterChef winner Adam Liaw nominates salt-and-pepper squid as a national dish. Photo: Danielle Smith
And all this from a Brit.
''I wouldn't have attempted to explore [these kinds of] gastronomy if the typical produce of those continents wasn't grown here, and certainly not if I was still working in London,'' says Wilson, who, at 27, was executive chef of Quaglino's in London.
''Australia is just such a young country in an age of travel and sharing information,'' says New Yorker (and part-time Sydney chef) David Chang, of Momofuku. ''And what's great is that it acts like a sponge. There are pockets of amazing food here. Ethnic food is really good. And if any country can get away from asking, 'What's our tradition?' and say, 'Let's just eat good food,' it's definitely Australia.''
Momofuku Milk Bar's Christina Tosi was particularly taken with the Violet Crumble.
SBS TV presenter (and MasterChef winner) Adam Liaw reckons it's our proximity to south-east Asia that sets us apart from similar ''melting pot'' cuisines in North America, which is probably why his choice of a national dish is salt-and-pepper squid. ''Almost every pub, Chinese restaurant, Thai takeaway or Italian cafe in Australia will have some variation of it on the menu,'' he says. ''And you don't really find it too often outside Australia. If that's not Australian cuisine, I don't know what is.''
We've given the world the Tim Tam and the flat white coffee (now found everywhere from New York to Paris).
Visiting Australia last year, Christina Tosi, the New York baking queen from Chang's Momofuku Milk Bar, enjoyed such delicacies as Minties, Anzac biscuits and red frogs. She was particularly taken with the Violet Crumble and was last seen planning a new dessert around it.
Adopted Aussie David Chang of Sydney's Momofuku says we should be working towards foods that are unique to Australia. Photo: Marco Del Grande
An Australian expat and baking expert, London-based Dan Lepard (who will be here for the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival in March) always has a lamington on visits home. ''And a perfectly made vanilla slice is a thing of joy,'' he says.
Fellow Aussie Brett Graham of London's Ledbury confesses to nostalgia for the taste of our sweetcorn, avocados and fresh king prawns. ''Australian cuisine is very hard to distinguish on a plate,'' he says. ''There are so many different styles and influences. I tend to identify it by ingredients like marron, jewfish, pearl meat, wagyu, native berries and great mangoes.''
And there, perhaps, lies the answer to the riddle, says food historian Barbara Santich, of the University of Adelaide.
Diana Lampe's stuffed curried eggs are perfect picnic fare. Photo: Graham Tidy
''What you do [to define Australian cuisine] is showcase some really good ingredient - Sydney rocks, fine fish, good piece of lamb - and say, 'This is ours.'''
Wilson says we should shout about our seafood. Lepard says Australian sourdough is the best in the world, due to the quality of our grain and flour. Keen hunter Graham is a fan of kangaroo, wild deer, hare and rabbit.
Adopted Aussie Chang agrees. ''We should be working more towards what's unique to us,'' he says. ''Mud crabs, marron, yabbies. Unbelievable! Quandongs, muntries, saltbush … One of the best dishes I had all year was wallaby. It was delicious.''
It's boldly un-Australian, but in adult memory I don't think I've ever bought a meat pie. But that doesn't mean I haven't eaten my fair share of this iconic morsel. My grandmother, Margaret Fulton, passed on to me her skills with pastry, as well as a love of a well-made Aussie pie. To me, it's the summer holidays in the palm of your hand, a thing for making in great quantities and sharing. A good Aussie stout and a spoonful of Vegemite lifts the flavour to even greater patriotic heights.
1kg beef chuck steak, cut into 2cm cubes
1/2 cup plain flour
1 tsp paprika
3 tbsp olive oil, plus extra
2 onions, chopped
1 leek, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 large portobello mushrooms, chopped
2 cups beef or vegetable stock
2 cups (500ml) Australian stout
2 tsp Vegemite
3 large tomatoes, chopped
2 sheets good-quality puff pastry
2 tbsp milk
1 cup plain flour
60g butter, frozen
1 egg yolk
2 tbsp iced water
1. First, make the shortcrust pastry. Sift flour and salt into a food processor bowl. Cut butter into small pieces and add to the flour. Process for 15-20 seconds, pulsing, until mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add the egg yolk and water. Process for 20 seconds, or until pastry clings together and forms a ball. Add another teaspoon of cold water if needed to form a dough. Remove, wrap in plastic and chill for 30 minutes.
2. Preheat oven to 190C. Grease two 12-hole muffin tins. Roll out pastry to a three-millimetre thickness, then cut out 16 10-centimetre rounds and use these to line the tins. Press the pastry in so it comes a little higher than the edge (it will shrink). Chill in fridge for 30 minutes. Prick the bottom of each case with a fork a few times. Line each pastry case with tissue paper and fill with pie weights or dried beans. Bake in oven for 10 minutes, then remove paper and weights and bake for another five to 10 minutes, until golden. Remove and allow to cool. Reduce oven to 180C.
3. Meanwhile, dust the beef in flour and paprika to lightly coat. Heat olive oil in a large casserole pan over medium-high heat and sear beef, until golden but still raw in the middle. Sear meat in about three batches, being careful not to overcrowd the pan. Remove from pan and set aside. Add a little more oil to the same pan, if needed. Fry onions, leek and garlic until soft and translucent, about 10 minutes. Add mushrooms and cook until soft, about five minutes, then return beef to pan. Add stock and stout, stir in Vegemite and tomatoes. Place lid on pot and cook over medium-low heat for one hour. Remove from heat and let cool slightly.
4. To make pies, fill pastry cases with beef mixture to the top. Cut circles from the puff pastry, about seven centimetres in diameter, to fit pie tops. Crimp the edges with a fork. Combine egg and milk in a small bowl and brush over pies. Bake pies in the oven for 20-25 minutes, until pastry is golden and cooked through.
What's a typical Australia Day family feast? To me, they will be different the country over, given our huge variation of microclimates. It should be food that suits the climate, using local ingredients, in season, as the heroes. Therefore, it will be different state to state. We rarely have a family feast without one of my daughter Saskia's Barossa chooks. In summer, we would start with yabbies. There would be wonderful summer veg from the garden - tomatoes of all shapes and sizes with basil and local extra virgin olive oil - beautiful salads and grilled eggplant to accompany the chook. As for dessert, I can't think of anything better than a jelly studded with white nectarines poached first in sangiovese verjuice, and Jersey cream to finish.
125g unsalted butter, softened and chopped
2 small quarters preserved lemon, flesh removed, rind rinsed and finely chopped
1/3 cup French tarragon leaves
1 x 2kg Barossa or other well brought up chook
2 cloves garlic, crushed
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup verjuice
1. Preheat fan-forced oven to 170C.
2. Place butter, lemon and tarragon in a food processor and whiz to combine. Don't overprocess or the butter will split.
3. Place chook, breast-side up, in a shallow roasting pan and use your hands to separate the skin from the flesh, working from the legs then up and across both breasts. Tuck the wings underneath the chicken. Place garlic in the cavity. Push butter mixture under the skin with your fingertips. Season chicken with salt and pepper and rub olive oil into the skin.
4. Roast for 40 minutes. Pour verjuice over the chook and return to the oven for 10 minutes, or until cooked through. Insert a skewer through the thickest part of the thigh joint to make sure the juices run clear. If there is any pinkness, return it to the oven. If you have a meat thermometer, it should read 68C when inserted.
5. Leave the cooked chicken to stand breast-side down in the roasting juices in a warm place for at least 20 minutes before carving.
Dan Lepard's double-chocolate lamingtons caused a minor contretemps when the recipe was published in The Guardian in April 2012. One indignant reader went so far as to call the inclusion of cocoa in the cake ''sacrilege''. The London-based baker loves a lamington. His cookbook Short & Sweet: The Best of Home Baking includes a recipe for the more-traditional jammy variety, but these have a subtle rich-chocolate flavour and feather-light texture that make them equally good. Lepard advises putting foil over the cake because it helps the cake rise more evenly. You'll have about 250 millilitres of coating left over - just the stuff, he says, for lamington milkshakes with ice-cream and coconut.
300g castor sugar
50g unsalted butter
50g dark chocolate
50ml sunflower oil
4 medium eggs
100ml low-fat natural yoghurt
3 tsp vanilla extract
175g plain flour
3 tsp baking powder
For the coating (makes 750ml)
50ml cold milk
175ml boiling water
200g dark chocolate, finely chopped
450g icing sugar
1-2 250g bags coconut (that is, much more than you would think)
1. Line the base of a deep, 20cm square cake tin with non-stick paper and heat the oven to 170C (150C fan-forced). Put the sugar and cocoa in a bowl and beat in the milk. Melt the butter and chocolate in a saucepan, and add to the sugar mix along with the oil. Beat in the eggs until smooth, stir in the yoghurt and vanilla, and mix in the flour and baking powder. Pour into the tin, cover with a slightly domed sheet of foil and bake for an hour. Lift off the foil for the last 15 minutes. Remove, cool in the tin and, while warm, cover with cling film.
2. For the coating, mix the cocoa and milk until smooth, whisk in the boiling water, then stir in the chocolate until melted. Whisk in the icing sugar until dissolved and pour into a deep, wide jug. Cut the cake into nine, dunk each piece in the coating and fish out with two forks. Roll in coconut and leave to set.
Dan Lepard's Aussie scrolls
Stuffed curried eggs are old favourites that I think are perfect to share with friends and family as part of an Australia Day picnic. Be sure to make plenty of both because they will be popular and disappear quickly. The eggs should not be too fresh because fresh eggs are difficult to peel when boiled. I have allowed an extra egg, just in case they don't all turn out well, and to use for tasting.
7 free-range eggs, room temperature
3/4 to 1 tsp curry powder to taste
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp sugar
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp sweet mango chutney or other fruit chutney, chopped
1 bunch of chives, finely chopped
2 tbsp mayonnaise, or as needed
1 generous pinch sweet paprika
Lettuce leaves for serving
1. Place the eggs in a saucepan and cover well with cold water. Place on medium heat and bring to the boil. Stir the eggs carefully and occasionally while the water comes to the boil to help keep the yolks centred. Simmer for 10 to 12 minutes depending on the size of the eggs and how well you like them cooked. Be sure to put a timer on.
2. Drain the eggs. Immediately run under cold water and leave them in the water. To peel, tap all over with a teaspoon or on the bench to break the shell. Peel from the broad end, slipping a teaspoon under the skin. Rinse as necessary. Return the eggs to fresh water to cool.
3.Take a sharp knife, dip the blade in water and halve eggs lengthways. Ease out the yolks with a teaspoon into a dish. Keep whites in the water. Mash the yolks with a fork, add the curry powder (I used one teaspoon), salt, sugar and pepper. Add the chutney, chives and as much mayonnaise as you need to make a mixture of piping consistency. Fill a less-than-perfect white for tasting and adjust seasoning as you like. Add cayenne for hotter stuffing.
4. Stuff the curried yolk mixture into the whites using a piping bag or with a teaspoon. Finish the eggs with a sprinkling of paprika and chives and arrange on lettuce leaves or shredded lettuce. Serve cold.
Diana Lampe is a Canberra writer, firstname.lastname@example.org
Double-chocolate lamingtons, roast chook, meat pies ... What will you be serving up on Australia Day? Tell us in the comments below.