‘Old school 1950s granny food’: Australian chefs on revitalizing retro recipes | Australian food and drink

We all love a kitchen comeback. Think of the return of the meatloaf, or when the shrimp cocktail inexplicably got its groove back. Chefs are adept at digging the depths of nostalgia, from the phrase “I learned to cook this dish on my grandmother’s knees” to digging up collective dining memories.

“I kept going back and reading old cookbooks a lot,” says chef Blaze Young, who oversees the kitchen at Nieuw Ruin wine bar in Fremantle. “I love old school 1950s granny food and old Australiana.”

Young is not married to her own grandmother’s cooking style; She also enjoys interpreting other people’s food memories. One of those efforts, a confit fish “under a fur coat,” has become her trademark. The childhood memories of the owner of Nieuw Ruin, Dimitri Rtshiladze, were the inspiration for this version of Herring under a fur coat. Rtshiladze, who is of Georgian descent, told Young about the Eastern European classic.

“Traditionally, it’s made with preserved canned herring and then topped with cold vegetables,” she says. “I guess to make the herring a little more appetizing.” Young uses monkfish from Scott Reef off the northwest coast of Western Australia. It’s an bycatch that she says has a “lovely vegetal flavor” reminiscent of leeks when confiscated slowly.

A bottom layer of blanched potatoes is sparingly dressed with pickled shallots, followed by monkfish confit, fresh dill, then blanched carrots, roasted beets studded with some horseradish, with a final layer of egg salad prepared with a quality olive oil mayonnaise . The six layers are prepared “incredibly simply,” Young says, making them “really clean examples of this ingredient” when eaten individually, but “really complex and interesting” when eaten together. The finishing touch is salty, smoked caviar from the Yarra Valley – an element of decadence for a traditionally humble dish.

In Sydney, food writer Jill Dupleix’ dreams of comeback dishes came to life at relative newcomer Ursula’s in Paddington. “My grandma used to make the best flummerie,” she says. “It would float off the table, and there it is with Ursula.”

Flummery by Ursula in Sydney.
Flummery by Ursula in Sydney. Photo: Nikki To

Phil Wood, chef and owner of Ursula’s says: “It used to be very well known and featured in home cooking guides for Australian housewives such as the CWA books The Golden Wattle Cookery Book. [But] A lot of things just fell by the wayside a bit… It’s amazing how quickly things can disappear in a generation.”

While Flummery’s English cousin dates back centuries, the Australian version of Flummery arose out of post-war necessity, says Wood. The original recipe combines fruit gum and condensed milk. The condensed milk “must be made really cold, and when you whip it, it whips up like fake cream.” The fruit jelly stays in the fridge until almost set. Then “you fold those two things together and you end up with this flavored mousse.”

While Wood is known for his impeccable technique, his iteration of the dish is easy to prepare. It uses strawberry juice for a more natural flavor but still includes that all-important evaporated milk. His is a little lighter than traditional flummery, which can be “a bit squishy rather than aerated.” The dish is currently off the menu but is set to make another comeback when light spring fruit is back in season.

Lee Ho Fook’s Melbourne-based chef Victor Liong has also occasionally stirred up nostalgia. “A few years ago [at Chinese New Year] we cooked from the Australian Women’s Weekly Chinese Cookbook. It was a lot of fun and very well received,” he says. “But I didn’t want to go that route [every day].”

Because for those who didn’t grow up with the many faces of Chinese cuisine, we’re still in a phase of discovery when it comes to Chinese cuisine. “It hasn’t gotten around to people saying, ‘I really want that nostalgic honey shrimp,'” he says. There are exceptions. “Queen Chow in Sydney does it really well, but Dan Hong obviously does it too with a pretty serious dim sum offering. It’s highbrow, lowbrow I think.”

The Australian Women’s Weekly cookbook experiment was valuable to Liong because it helped explore stories about the Australian Chinese experience. “There’s a recipe in there [that book] I think it’s called Billy Kee’s Pork Ribs.” He says the dish is “basically a sweet soy pork rib-type dish.” But it was “named after this guy who had a Chinese restaurant and had a really, really interesting life… It’s cool to dig a little deeper into that and try to tie that to how it looks on our menu.” .”

For Young, who also has a popular riff on cake floaters and devil’s liver, the joy of reviving a retro recipe undermines expectations. “I love the idea of ​​taking things that have lost relevance and seem really bizarre and clunky that wouldn’t look appetizing at all, and then make them really accessible and really delicious.”

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