IIf you had asked me what my culture was a few years ago, you would probably have gotten a separate answer each time, depending on the year and my temperament. The same old response was something next to traces of, “Asian, I guess? Lots of several types of Asians.
My father is from Kashmir, a disputed region between India and Pakistan. My mother was born in Singapore to a Chinese-speaking Filipino father and mother, but was adopted at an early age by a Eurasian mother and an Indonesian father. In my opinion, that already makes six ethnic groups.
As I grew more confident and proud of the cultures that make me who I am, I now make it a point to reveal all of my major ethnicities. That being said, if you don’t know me or are a rideshare driver, I’ll probably still say “I’m Chinese”.
These recipes are a snapshot of my journey as a young Asian-Australian, clinging to tradition through meals while navigating my way through the western world. This is my Chinese cuisine – vibrant, crispy, flavorful, vibrant and extremely delicious.
Sichuan Hot Pot
It is a well-established fact that many people of East Asian descent suffer from lactose sensitivity. I am lactose intolerant myself, but I think this recipe is worth it.
In this recipe, we use beer as a substitute for normal, high-acid white wine. Beer is precisely what I would ingest with this dish, as the flavor pairs beautifully with the cheese.
As with all Sichuan style dishes, this hot pot is served under a blaze of hot pink chili oil. For those without an elaborate fondue set-up, use a cast-iron skillet or something comparable that retains heat and put it back on the stovetop whenever it feels good to heat it up.
2 tablespoons of cornstarch
300g Gruyere cheese, grated
300g of county, grated
2 cloves garlic, chopped
300ml light beer
1 tablespoon lemon juice
½ teaspoon of salt
½ teaspoon ground white pepper
100ml chilli oil (your individual selection, or use Lao Gan Ma Chilli Oil)
Contemporary dill, parsley and chives, coarsely chopped
Cracked black pepper
Bread, cut into cubes
Hot smoked sausages
Place cornstarch and cheeses in a bowl and stir to combine. Put aside.
Heat the garlic and the blond beer in a saucepan over low heat and bring to a boil. Add a handful of the cheese combination at a time to the simmering beer and whisk vigorously, making sure each addition is fully melted and emulsified before adding any more.
Once all the cheese has been added and the mixture is thick and easy, add the lemon juice, salt and white pepper and stir. If the combination was a drop of melted cheese with a separate liquid, fear not. Just turn up the heat and whisk hard to bring it back together.
Put the cheese combination in a fondue pot or cast iron skillet. Season generously with chili oil, fresh herbs and cracked black pepper. If the fondue starts to set, simply put it back on the stove and heat it over low heat.
Serve the fondue with pickled peppers, bread, smoked sausages, cold cuts and boiled potatoes for dipping.
Sichuan sausage sangas
I really like the sizzle of sausages, as they are called in Australia. This recipe retains the sizzle, sausage, and white bread, but the similarities end there. As a substitute, a savory, juicy and spicy Szechuan peppercorn pork sausage is sprinkled with guanciale, coated in Japanese mayonnaise and refreshed with lime juice. Definitely not your common sausage sanga.
450g minced pork
50g guanciale or pancetta, finely chopped
2 teaspoons grated ginger
2 tablespoons of fish sauce
1 tablespoon mild soy sauce
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
2 teaspoons caster sugar
1 tablespoon of cornstarch
1 teaspoon ice water
Vegetable oil, for shallow frying
For the spice mix
3 teaspoons Szechuan or Korean chili flakes
2 teaspoons Sichuan peppercorns
1 teaspoon ground white pepper
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
½ teaspoon coriander seeds
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
4 slices of white bread
Place the pork mince in the freezer for half an hour before using it.
To combine the spices, place all the components in a small skillet and toast over low heat until very aromatic, taking care not to burn the chili flakes. If they get too dark, start over. Set aside to cool, then blend into a high quality powder using a food processor.
Add the chilled minced pork, guanciale, ginger, fish sauce, mild soy sauce, Dijon mustard, sugar, corn flour and ice water to the spice mixture and beat until thick. everything is mixed together. The combination should bounce back again when squeezed. Refrigerate sausage combination for 2 hours.
Using moist palms, roll sausage combination into 4 x 2cm x 4cm logs and refrigerate for at least an hour to set.
Heat a pan over medium heat and add enough vegetable oil to evenly coat the bottom of the pan. Cook sausages until deep golden brown, rolling constantly, about 10 minutes.
To assemble, wrap the sausages in white bread with a hearty handful of fresh herbs, a good splash of mayonnaise and a nice drizzle of lime juice.
Cheat’s Egg Custard Pie
The standard custard pie makes appearances in many alternative cultures, not least because the Portuguese pastel de nata. Egg custard pie made its fix in Hong Kong from the neighboring Portuguese colony of Macau, and the Cantonese re-vamped it by adding extra egg yolks and cutting back on sugar and dairy.
Traditional Chinese puff pastry is extremely difficult to prepare. Using ready-made shortcrust pastry is foolproof and puts a still warm, freshly baked egg custard tart within everyone’s reach.
Vegetable oil, for brushing
2 sheets of shortcrust pastry
For the pastry cream
80g caster sugar
150ml sparkling water
60 ml sweetened condensed milk
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
For the pastry cream, dissolve the sugar in the simmering water in a saucepan over low heat, stirring to make a syrup. In a bowl, whisk the eggs, condensed milk and vanilla together to combine. While whisking constantly, slowly pour the sugar syrup into the egg mixture. Squeeze right into a jug and leave face up until air bubbles dissipate. Put aside.
Preheat the oven to 200C.
Lightly brush a 12-hole muffin pan or 12 fluted pie pans with oil. Cut the sheets of dough into 12 equal squares and press them into the greased pans, cutting off any excess. Chill in the refrigerator for 15 to 20 minutes.
Line the dough bases with parchment paper and fill them with dough weights or uncooked rice. Blind bake for 10 minutes, then carefully remove the foil and weights and bake for an additional three to 4 minutes until golden brown. Book cool.
Lower the oven temperature to 140°C and divide the custard evenly between the shells.
Bake the pies on the bottom rack of your oven for 20 to 25 minutes, until the filling is just set. Remove from the oven and let rest for about a quarter of an hour. Enjoy custard pies while they’re warm.
It’s an edited excerpt from Chinese-ish by Rosheen Kaul, illustrated by Joanna Hu, and printed by Murdoch Books (RRP $39.99). Images by Armelle Habib