Our house is unlike any other in our street, as it sports a distinctive front portico. When we attended the local Christmas street party recently and the inevitable question of where we lived came up, we’d give directions and invariably receive a response along the lines of, ‘Oh, the Taj Mahal house?” Whilst it is a fair more modest rendition of Shah Jahnan’s enduring edifice symbolising his grief at the passing of his wife, our little house remains as much a curiosity in our neighbourhood as the Taj Mahal does on a worldwide scale, purely because of the portico.
Christmas Day is not Christmas Day without a full roast pork lunch – at least that is the case in our family. After a decidedly Australian starter of fresh cooked prawns with squeezed lemon and icy-cold beer, an early afternoon pork roast has been the mainstay of our Christmas Day celebrations for as long as I can remember. It might seem incongruous to be eating a hot and heavy meal such as a roast dinner in the peak of an Australian summer, but I really can’t imagine eating anything else. Least of all a meal that prepares you so well for the compulsory afternoon naps that is part and parcel of Christmas Day.
I still maintain that what makes or breaks a good roast pork lunch is ultimately left to the crackle. The only thing that can be more disappointing on Christmas Day, apart from receiving more crochet hangers from Grandma, is inedible crackle. Whether it is soft and chewy (ewww) or teeth-breaking hard, inedible crackle goes against the very spirit of Christmas. My heart heaves with sadness at such a wasted opportunity for greatness; and so, I have included a recipe today that guarantees crackle that will not leave you disillusioned or at the dentist.
In regards to roast potato, I am not so picky. I’m as happy to eat potatoes that have been submerged in baking pan juices for the extent of their cooking, so they resemble drunken jewels of soft caramelisation as much as I enjoy a crunchy potato with pillowy insides. The latter takes a little more effort so I appreciate a crispy potato and raise my glass to the cook for taking the extra step to make them so.
Add some flavoursome green beans and peas (I recommend this recipe) and you have what I can only describe as the perfect nap inducing lunch this Christmas Day.
What constitutes Christmas Day lunch for you?
Roasted Loin of Pork with Crackliest Crackle
3kg boneless loin of pork (or 2.5kg trimmed)
1 quantity of stuffing
vegetable oil and table salt for rubbing
Make your stuffing. Preheat the oven to 220C.
You’ll need to make room for the stuffing in your boneless loin of pork. Remove the small fillet and any excess meat from around the loin of the pork. Reserve these pieces to add to a stir-fry or pan-fry at a later date.
With the point of a sharp knife, score the skin of the pork at 1.5cm intervals, about 3-5 mm deep – don’t score the meat.
Then, using the knife, separate the skin from the loin, leaving about 3cm joined. Place the stuffing down the middle. Roll the loin over the stuffing and into a complete log shape and secure with string.
Rub the skin generously with oil and salt. Place the meat on a rack in a baking dish. Bake for 20 minutes. Reduce the heat to 200C and bake for 50-55 minutes. Leave to rest for 10 minutes then cut the string and slice to serve.
Apricot & Mustard Stuffing
½ cup chopped dried apricot
¾ cup chopped macadamia nuts
1/3 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
¼ cup Dijon mustard
1 loaf fresh uncut white bread
sea salt and cracked black pepper
Cut the crust from the loaf of bread and pulse in a food processor until breadcrumbs form. Take 1 ½ cups of fresh breadcrumbs, apricots, macadamia nuts, parsley, mustard, salt and pepper in a bowl and stir to combine.
Preheat the oven to 220C.
(adapted from donna hay magazine)
Crunchy Roast Potatoes
1.6kg bintje, pink-eye or kipfler potatoes, peeled and cut into large pieces, or left whole if small
5tbs extra virgin olive oil
After you put the pork in the oven, put the potatoes in a saucepan of cold water, add some sea salt and place over a high heat for 12 minutes. The potato should still be hard in the middle but soft on the outside. Drain and cool for a few minutes, then place in a bowl with the oil and toss to combine.
You can rough up the surface of the potatoes for extra crunch by running a fork over the surface of each one. Spread the potatoes out in a roasting tin and roast for the last 30 minutes of the pork’s cooking time (at 200C). Turn every 5 minutes or so to ensure an even golden brown colour.
To check the potato is done, pierce with a small knife. It will glide in easily when cooked through. Sprinkle with sea salt.
(Adapted from Neil Perry’s Good Food)
My friend Gerry had a great-uncle, Norman Thomas Brown, who was a confectionery maker in Sydney. Mr. Brown was born into a family with a long food lineage that included bakers, pastry cooks and cordial manufacturers. He catalogued all his recipes in a book for posterity. Some of the recipes are old favourites like Almond Rock, Buttermilks, Turkish D-Lite, Eucalyptus & Honey, Fruit Pastilles and Humbugs. There are also recipes for Macaroons – a man well before his time, obviously.
Having made confectionery throughout the Depression and Great War he learnt to adapt recipes whenever there were shortages of particular ingredients or money. One such recipe is Scrap Batch, which uses 25kg of confectionery off-cuts. Others are confections I’ve never heard of. One recipe, patriotically referred to as Australian Crunch, caught my eye. A quick Google search drew nil results on any reference to this toffee laden with popcorn, peanuts and shredded coconut. There was that vague feeling of excitement at having stumbled across a recipe lost to time and one that might actually be worth resurrecting. I wondered about making up a batch.
As Mr. Brown’s main reason for collating all his recipes was ‘for the benefit of the ‘Trade’ – that’s ‘Trade’ with a capital ‘T’– the ingredients for each recipe are in huge commercial quantities. I feared that attempting a recipe would result in with litres of toffee, so I halved once, twice, three and then four times to get a volume that would suit a home-cook.
What has resulted is a treat perfect for Christmas. As a whole block it looks like a snow-covered landscape of Arctic tundra, or as it title infers, an Australian beach. Once taken to with a hammer it breaks into chucks of petrified popcorn with a summery hint of coconut only apparent once you begin to nibble away.
I’ve packaged this batch into cello bags to give to the kid’s teachers for the end of year thank-you’s. By all accounts, Australian Crunch is definitely a recipe worth resurrecting.
Makes 10 x 100g serves
700g white sugar
300g glucose (available in the bakery aisle at supermarket)
5g bi-carb soda
pinch of salt
50g unsalted peanuts
50g shredded coconut
80g popped corn
Grease a large baking tray with a little vegetable oil and set aside.
In a medium-sized saucepan place the sugar, glucose and water and stir to combine. Over a medium-high heat bring the mixture to a boil stirring constantly. Once boiling leave the mixture to reach 300C (use a candy thermometer) and stir only occasionally to avoid the mixture catching on the base of the saucepan.
As soon as the thermometer hits 300C take the saucepan off the heat and, working quickly, add the peanuts, coconut and popcorn and stir well to combine. Sprinkle over the bi-carb soda and stir to combine once more. As the mixture cools it becomes harder to stir and combine so you want to work quickly. Pour the mixture over the greased baking tray and flatten slightly to form an even-ish slab. Leave to cool completely (about 30 minutes). When cool break into pieces.
Someone once told me that the translation for the Chinese word wonton translates to swallowing clouds. If that’s true I could not imagine a more delicious way to eat condensed water vapour.
Our favourite Chinese food is dumplings – of any kind; jiaozi, bao, wontons, potstickers. Either pillowy parcels of pork and prawn with a dab of chilli sauce or mini puffs of cloud floating in a steamy bowl of soup – we are not fussy. Our local Chinese restaurant, New Shanghai, hosted a Dumpling & Wine Night and as it coincided with Dean’s birthday we didn’t hesitate booking the babysitter and a taxi for a seven-course dinner. We skipped lunch just to make sure we could fit it all in.
While we waited for the first course to arrive we reviewed the kaleidoscope of wines poured before us that would accompanying each of our courses, beginning with a can’t-go-wrong Leo Buring Clare Valley Riesling and finishing with a fail-safe Penfolds Koonunga Hill 76 Shiraz Cabernet. We sipped and watched the spectacle of the ‘dumpling ladies’ through a glass pane overlooking the dining room as they rolled, filled and pinched dumplings into shape at a rate of hundreds per hour.
First up was an easy introduction of shredded kelp mixed with spice and vinegar up against a subtle drunken chicken – luscious pieces of steamed chicken soaked overnight in Chinese wine, herbs and spices paired with fresh cucumber marinated in garlic. This was followed by a bamboo basket of the three most popular styles of steamed dumplings; pork bun, mini crab and pork wonton and a vegetarian dumpling. The trick with these dumplings is to eat them from a spoon, nibbling a little hole in the wrapping to let the juices from inside seep out. They can then be slurped alongside eating the remaining dumpling all without the embarrassing scenario of squirting yourself or your neighbor should you just hoe right into these steamed parcels.
The next dish was deemed of such importance that it was its own course and I can see why. The giant ravioli-shaped shepherd’s purse and pork wonton tossed with sesame butter, red chilli and spice was slippery sucker, full of flavour. You’d be forgiven for thinking shepherd’s purse is a cute name for the dumpling itself, but it is in fact one of the main ingredients and sounds a whole lot better than its Latin name of capsella bursa-pastoris.
As the dishes increased in complexity and richness of flavour, so did our wines. At this point we were up to our fourth wine, a Fifth Leg Crisp Chardonnay and our fourth course of pan-fried pork bun (shaped like a full moon) and pork dumplings (one shaped like a crescent moon, the other like a star) with their crunchy, browned bottoms and a galaxy of sesame seeds sprinkled over the plate. A little palate cleansing shepherd’s purse, prawn and tofu soup prepared us for the course I’d been waiting for all night since I’d spotted it on the menu from the start… crispy chicken and pork belly.
Just as we started asking ourselves if we could really fit in any more food, out come the deep-fried chicken with a garlic and chilli sauce. I bypassed the rice and went straight for the super-crispy chicken skin. What I want to know is how they manage to keep the flesh so moist. Just like my mum who would always save the pork crackle for last with a baked dinner, I saved the pork belly for last. I am a total sucker for pork belly; in this instance braised overnight in a sweet say sauce. Each cube glistened like a little jewel on the plate. Matched with a pinot noir, a Squealing Pig Otago 2010, that’s pretty much my definition of heaven. I read just this week that pork belly is 70% fat and I am totally OK with that.
The only Chinese dessert I’ve tried before are the mango custard rolls (or as a child, cubed-jelly-in-a-cup and fried ice-cream). Other Chinese desserts I’ve seen don’t marry up with my idea of what a sweet ending should taste, feel or look like. But while in Rome…I scoffed the slow cooked white fungus with papaya soup. A light ending to what was a completely indulgent night of Shanghai eating and wine drinking.