Bill Granger: 'Australia serves the sort of food that brings people together'

Bill Granger has always championed Australian food. Picture: Mikkel Vang
Bill Granger has always championed Australian food. Picture: Mikkel Vang

When you think of Australian food what springs to mind? The meat pie, Anzac biscuits, a coconut-encrusted lamington, perhaps a pavlova if you're up for a debate with a New Zealander.

When Bill Granger was asked to write a book about Australian food, 27 years since the first bills cafe opened in Darlinghurst, and 20 years after the publication of his first book, Sydney Food, he started thinking about what defines our national cuisine.

"I have always believed 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," he writes in Australian Food.

"And I don't think it's just the food - it's the way we eat and serve it. There's always been a casualness about Australian eating. We've never dressed for dinner (most of us barely ever use a tablecloth). The majority of us are sprinkled in towns and cities around the coast of this great wide land, our climate means we get to eat outside a lot of the time, and we don't need to be wealthy to enjoy a family picnic by the beach or a barbecue in a park with friends."

Australian Food, by Bill Granger. Murdoch Books. $49.99.

Australian Food, by Bill Granger. Murdoch Books. $49.99.

He acknowledges our First Nations peoples and their unique relationship with this land and the traditional food it offers them, as well as our long history of immigration.

"Australia is often described as a 'melting pot' - which is a glorious culinary term. One in four of us was born overseas; around half have at least one parent from overseas. Sport might be Australia's god, but food is our means of inclusivity. We love food from everywhere. When we sit down to eat we are optimistic and multicultural, without fear or distrust of 'otherness', confident that everyone will bring and share the best of their cuisine to add to the melting pot."

He suggests there should be no "set menu" for Australia.

"Perhaps that's why it's interesting. We're up for anything and open to change. We thrive on sushi one day, pasta the next, fish and chips by the sea, octopus marinated in the Greek style, yum cha on Sunday mornings; our beef might be in a Thai salad or a Vietnamese pho; our chicken could be cooked in an Afghani pulao or Nepalese momo."

With cafes and restaurants across Sydney, London, Japan, Hawaii and Seoul, Granger has no formal training as a chef.

"Ironically, this was great training. I wasn't tied down by any rules about food and fine dining. I didn't even know the rules I wasn't supposed to be breaking. It puts me on a parallel with the Australian way of eating: joyfully lacking in fixed assumptions or strict culinary history."

It was all about taking "a bit of Australian sunshine (and great coffee) wherever we went".

  • Australian Food, by Bill Granger. Murdoch Books. $49.99.
Pavlova with mango, passionfruit and yoghurt cream. Picture: Mikkel Vang

Pavlova with mango, passionfruit and yoghurt cream. Picture: Mikkel Vang

Pavlova with mango, passionfruit and yoghurt cream

When we were first opening in Japan, we had a pop-up café for a weekend. There was to be a big press launch on the first day and we had painstakingly prepared our menu, including true Aussie pavlovas. Then we discovered the only oven in the café was a pizza oven. Pavlova in a pizza oven is quite a challenge - we were up until 2am, but the team pulled it out of a hat and everyone went crazy for the pav.

You can fold a handful of chopped pistachios or chocolate chips into the meringue, depending on the season. I love the slight sourness of the yoghurt cream that prevents this whole dish self-combusting into a sugar rush.

Ingredients

Pavlova:

6 large egg whites

200g caster sugar

150g soft brown sugar

2 tsp lemon juice

Yoghurt cream:

500ml double cream

150g Greek yoghurt

To serve:

2 mangoes, sliced

pulp of 4 passionfruit

lime zest or chopped pistachio nuts

Method

1. To make the pavlova, preheat the oven to 160C. Line two large baking trays with baking paper.

2. Whisk the egg whites and a pinch of salt with electric beaters until soft peaks form. Mix the sugars together. With the beaters running, gradually add the sugar a spoonful at a time, beating until dissolved after each addition. Beat until all the sugar has been added and the mixture forms glossy stiff peaks. Beat in the lemon juice.

3. Use a large metal spoon to spoon eight large even mounds of meringue onto the baking trays, leaving room for spreading. Make an indent in the centre of each.

4. Reduce the oven to 110C. Place the meringues in the oven and cook for 1 hour 30 minutes. Switch off the oven, open the door slightly and leave the meringues to cool completely in the oven.

5. For the yoghurt cream, beat the cream and yoghurt together briefly until thick.

6. Crack a hole in the top of each pavlova, spoon the yoghurt cream over the top and add sliced mango and passionfruit pulp. Scatter with lime zest or chopped pistachios to serve.

Serves 8.

Sticky chilli pork belly with barbecue sauce. Picture: Mikkel Vang

Sticky chilli pork belly with barbecue sauce. Picture: Mikkel Vang

Sticky chilli pork belly with barbecue sauce

Pork belly has been the dish of the past decade. The secret is in slow cooking: you want to render all the fat out of the pork belly before barbecuing it to irresistible stickiness. Serve the pork belly with lettuce leaves to wrap it up in - a great barbecue tip that saves on cutlery!

Ingredients

light-flavoured oil

600g pork belly, bone removed, cut into 3cm cubes

1 litre beef stock

1 red chilli

5 garlic cloves, peeled, left whole and lightly crushed

10cm piece fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced

2 spring onions, roughly chopped

1 tbsp Chinese five-spice

125ml light soy sauce

1 tbsp oyster sauce

125ml Shaoxing wine (Chinese cooking wine)

2 tbsp caster sugar

Barbecue sauce:

4 tbsp Korean chilli bean paste (gochujang)

2 tbsp runny honey

2cm piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated

2 tbsp light soy sauce

1 tbsp light-flavoured oil

Salad dressing:

4 tbsp red wine vinegar

2 tbsp fish sauce

1 1/2 tbsp sesame oil

To serve:

crisp lettuce leaves

4 tbsp peanuts

4 tbsp crispy shallots

1 bunch each coriander and mint

2 spring onions, finely sliced

Method

1. Heat a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Drizzle a little oil into the pan and sear the pork belly on all sides until browned. Add the stock, chilli, garlic, ginger, spring onion, five-spice, soy sauce, oyster sauce, wine and sugar and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to a high simmer and cover the pan with a lid.

2. Simmer the pork for one hour, then remove the lid and simmer for 30-45 minutes until the stock has completely reduced and is sticking to the meat, and the fat is starting to separate.

3. Meanwhile, to make the barbecue sauce, stir together all the ingredients in a bowl.

4. In another bowl, whisk together the ingredients for the salad dressing and set aside.

5. Remove the pork from the heat and stir into the barbecue sauce, thoroughly coating the pieces of pork belly.

6. Heat your barbecue until hot and ready to cook on. Chargrill the pork belly pieces on all sides until caramelised and just starting to char, brushing with extra sauce from the pan as you turn them.

7. Serve on a platter, with the lettuce, peanuts, crispy shallots, herbs and spring onions scattered over the top. Spoon the salad dressing over to serve.

Serves 4.

Summer chopped salad with citrus sesame dressing. Picture: Mikkel Vang

Summer chopped salad with citrus sesame dressing. Picture: Mikkel Vang

Summer chopped salad with citrus sesame dressing

My favourite go-to lunch is always a chopped salad. I love that you can eat it just with a fork. Serve this as it is or with haloumi, chicken, tofu or salmon. But, like any salad, the best part about this dish is the dressing. This is magic dressing, with a creaminess that isn't cream.

Ingredients

2 corn cobs

1 tbsp olive oil

2 small zucchini, chopped

1/4 small white cabbage, finely sliced

2 small Lebanese cucumbers, chopped

2 small beetroot, cooked and cut into wedges

1 small iceberg lettuce, roughly chopped

4 tbsp apple cider vinegar

120g edamame beans, blanched

1 small handful dill

1 small handful parsley

2 spring onions, finely chopped

4 tbsp furikake (Japanese nori sesame topping)

Citrus sesame dressing:

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

1 1/2 tbsp tahini

1 tbsp tamari

3 tbsp rice wine vinegar

1 tbsp ponzu sauce (citrus soy)

2 tbsp light-flavoured oil

1 tsp sesame oil

1 tbsp wasabi paste

1 red Asian shallot, finely diced

Deep-fried chickpeas:

500ml light-flavoured oil, for deep-frying

400g tin chickpeas, drained

1 tbsp furikake (Japanese nori sesame topping)

Method

1. Cut the corn cobs in half and simmer in a large pan of water for eight minutes, then drain and cool. Cut off the kernels.

2. Heat a little olive oil in a hot pan, add the corn kernels and zucchini and cook until the zucchini is just starting to soften and colour.

3. Meanwhile, make the citrus sesame dressing. Whisk the garlic, tahini, tamari, vinegar and ponzu in a bowl. Slowly add the oils, whisking continuously until emulsified. Whisk in the wasabi and then stir in the shallot.

4. To deep-fry the chickpeas, heat the oil in a large heavy-based pan until a breadcrumb dropped in sizzles and dances on the top of the oil. Carefully add the chickpeas and fry for two minutes, or until they start to blister. Drain in a bowl lined with kitchen paper. Season with the furikake while still hot and then leave to cool down completely. (You can store them in an airtight container for up to a day - they make an excellent snack.)

5. Arrange the white cabbage, cucumber, beetroot and lettuce in a bowl, add the apple cider vinegar and toss well. Arrange the corn, zucchini and edamame on top.

6. Drizzle the sesame dressing over the salad and finish with the chickpeas, dill, parsley, spring onions and furikake.

Serves 4.

Beef bavette with herb and peanut relish. Picture: Mikkel Vang

Beef bavette with herb and peanut relish. Picture: Mikkel Vang

Beef bavette with herb and peanut relish

When I was a little boy Dad would bring bavette and lamb shanks home for the dog because nobody wanted to buy them. Oh, to be a butcher's dog! Bavette, like lamb shanks, has since been discovered as a great cut of meat (and the price has gone up accordingly). It's not a tender cut, but not all meat has to be. As a wise Italian chef once told me, it's about "enjoying the chew".

Ingredients

1 red chilli, chopped

1 garlic clove, sliced

1 tbsp runny honey

2 tbsp soy sauce

2 tbsp rice wine vinegar

juice of 1 lime

750g beef bavette (skirt), or onglet

Herb and peanut relish:

2 tsp caster sugar

juice of 2 limes

2 tbsp fish sauce

2 tsp soy sauce

1cm piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated

1 garlic clove, grated

45g toasted unsalted peanuts, chopped

1 tbsp chopped coriander leaves

1 French shallot, finely sliced

2 red chillies, chopped

Pickled cucumber:

1 tsp caster sugar

2 tbsp rice wine vinegar

1/2 cucumber, cut into chunks

Method

1. Combine the chilli, garlic, honey, soy sauce, vinegar and lime juice in a shallow non-reactive dish. Add the beef, toss well and leave to marinate for at least 30 minutes, or ideally overnight in the fridge.

2. To make the herb and peanut relish, mix together all the ingredients. Check the seasoning.

3. To make the pickled cucumber, mix together the sugar and rice wine vinegar in a bowl and season well with salt. Add the cucumber and leave for 10 minutes.

4. Heat your barbecue until hot and ready to cook on. Remove the beef from its marinade, pat dry and season with salt. Barbecue for four to five minutes on each side, or until nicely charred but still springy to the touch.

5. Transfer the beef to a board, cover loosely with foil and leave to rest for 10 minutes. Cut into thick slices and serve with the herb and peanut relish and pickled cucumber.

Serves 4.

This story 'Australia serves the sort of food that brings people together' first appeared on The Canberra Times.