By Christine Salins.
“What even is Australian food?” ponders Bill Granger in his latest book, simply titled Australian Food (Murdoch Books, RRP $49.99). “Healthy, hip and possibly with a smashed avocado on top?”
Granger, who is credited with having been responsible for Australia’s love affair with avocado on toast, set a new standard for café dining in Australia when he opened his first bills restaurant in Darlinghurst, Sydney, in 1993.
As a self-taught cook, straight out of art school, he had furnished his first street-corner eatery in minimalist style, serving a small selection of ‘domestic’ dishes around a communal table.
In the 27 years since the first bills opened and the 20 years since he published his first book of recipes, Sydney Food, the world has fallen in love with this joyfully casual Australian way of eating. These days, Granger owns 19 restaurants in Sydney, London, Japan, Seoul and Hawaii.
“I have always believed that Australia serves the sort of food that brings people together – over coffee, over communal tables, over all-day menus – and makes us all feel good. And I don’t think it’s just the food – it’s the way we eat and serve it,” he says in the introduction to Australian Food. “There’s always been a casualness about Australian eating.”
Granger’s plates are more sophisticated now than they were in those early years, but the warm atmosphere and joy of eating remain the same. People still queue to enjoy his Ricotta hotcakes with honeycomb butter, described by The Sydney Morning Herald’s Good Food as “Sydney’s most iconic dish”.
Granger says that writing Australian Food caused him to “think about what were those magical elements that clicked all those years ago in a tiny, sunny, Sydney cornerstore. And in choosing the 100-odd recipes to feature in this book, how my own particular menu of Australian food came about, and then evolved.
“And I still stand by what I said about this when I was asked in 2002: the best restaurants in the world have a strong sense of place. Somehow our little café took on a life of its own and summed up the Sydney buzz of the time. … And along the way, those (scrambled) eggs, corn fritters and (ricotta) hotcakes (with honeycomb butter), the coffee and fresh juices, and that big communal table, somehow launched a whole new culture of eating in Australia.”
Designed like an all-day menu, Australian Food is brimming with classic Granger dishes such as Sweetcorn fritters with roast tomatoes, bacon and avocado salsa; breakfasts (Tofu scramble with shredded cabbage & chilli sambal on sourdough toast); bowls (Green herb risotto with raw summer salad); barbecued dishes; small and big plates (Chilli miso salmon with hot & sour eggplant); salads (Warm spelt salad with roasted spice oranges); sweets (Pavlova with mango, passionfruit & yoghurt cream) and bakery (Pistachio & olive oil friands with orange blossom frosting).
Along with the meat pie, chicken schnitzel has to be Australia’s favourite pub food. “We see a really good schnitty as one of our basic human rights,” says Granger. The Parmesan-crumbed chicken schnitzel with creamed corn recipe here is the comfort food of his childhood, updated with a heritage tomato salad. The schnitty was on the first dinner menu when bills Surry Hills opened, and it’s been there ever since.
Parmesan-crumbed chicken schnitzel with creamed corn & heritage tomato salad
4 chicken escalopes
75g plain flour
2 tablespoons milk
30g fresh breadcrumbs
45g grated parmesan
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 tablespoon chopped thyme
½ teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 lemon wedges, cut into wedges, to serve
200g red onion, finely sliced
1 garlic clove, sliced
2 teaspoons sliced red chilli
250g sweetcorn, cut from the cob
50ml double cream
Heritage tomato salad
2 tomatoes, cut into wedges
2 green tomatoes, cut into wedges
1 red onion, finely sliced
1 bunch parsley
1 tablespoon ground sumac
120ml olive oil
Place the escalopes between sheets of baking paper on a board and flatten by gently hitting with a rolling pin.
Place the flour in a shallow bowl. Lightly beat the milk and egg in another bowl. Mix together the breadcrumbs, parmesan, parsley, thyme, salt and pepper in a third bowl. Dip each chicken escalope in the flour, then the egg, then in the breadcrumbs, shaking off the excess.
Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the chicken (you might need to cook in batches to avoid overcrowding) and cook for 2 minutes on each side or until golden brown. Drain on kitchen paper.
Meanwhile, to make the creamed corn, heat the butter in a saucepan until sizzling. Add the onion, garlic and chilli. Cook until the onion is translucent. Add the sweetcorn, cover the pan and simmer gently for 20 minutes or until tender. Add the cream and 50ml water and bring to a simmer. Remove one-third of the corn from the pan and blend until smooth. Return the blended corn to the saucepan and mix through. Season well and set aside to cool.
For the heritage tomato salad, toss together the tomatoes, onion and parsley with the sumac. Toss with the olive oil and a sprinkling of salt.
Serve the schnitzels with the creamed corn and tomato salad, with lemon wedges on the side.
Recipe and image from Australian Food by Bill Granger, photography by Mikkel Vang. Murdoch Books RRP $49.99.