What’s on the menu this Australia Day?
Australia’s culinary preferences have come a long way. No longer are we a nation of meat and three veg or burnt snags on the barbecue. These days, we love to embrace both the amazing abundance of quality homegrown produce on offer and the mouth-watering array of cuisines that our multicultural communities have brought to this wide brown land. So what will you be cooking up this Australia Day? We share some inspiration from top chefs, along with expert tips for those of you planning a classic Aussie barbecue.
Quality produce is key
Rosalin Virnik is the owner of Anchor restaurant in Elwood, Melbourne. This Mediterranean-inspired fine dining establishment offers dishes designed for sharing, all made from top-quality local food. Virnik worked in food production before becoming a restaurateur, so is keenly aware of the importance of provenance. She opts for halloumi from Dreaming Goat Dairy, chicken and eggs from Milawa Free Range Poultry, heirloom vegetables from Ramarro Farm and Tasmanian Cape Grim beef that’s been dry-aged by the legends at Gary’s Meats.
While Anchor is known for Mediterranean and modern Australian-style dishes, this Australia Day, the venue will be serving up something decidedly more British.
“We had a tradition at our previous restaurant Curly Whiskers to do a beef wellington each Australia Day,” Virnik says. “Our customers have asked for us to bring it to Anchor. So this Australia Day, we’ll resurrect our beef wellington as a special. We use a classic recipe with Cape Grim eye fillet and house-made mushroom pâté and pastry. Our beef wellington is a dish that I love to serve when entertaining at home as well.”
A fusion of flavours
Joe Vargetto, owner of Sicilian restaurant Mister Bianco in Kew, Melbourne, is opting for an Aussie/Italian vibe for his family’s Australia Day meal, dishing up homegrown seafood with handmade pasta. As well as being delicious, it also holds personal meaning for the chef.
“I’ll be serving up handmade cavatelli with yabbies and verbena for my family on Australia Day,” he says. “Cavatelli is a real staple in Sicily, where it is called ‘cavateddi’. Mum used to make it for us as a treat, so it always reminds me of her. That’s why I also include lemon verbena in the recipe; Mum had a big lemon verbena plant growing at the front of the house that gave off a beautiful smell every time you brushed past it.
“The yabbies remind me of my godfather’s farm. We used to get them fresh from his dam every spring. So this is a dish made of three childhood memories.”
A real happy meal
Darren Templeton, Head Chef at Sydney’s Botswana Butchery, which brings a taste of Australia and New Zealand’s best produce to inner-city diners, is also choosing a blend of cultures for his family’s Australia Day feast.
“I love to fire up my Japanese BBQ at home, and my favourite cut of meat is flank,” he says. “We use David Blackmore’s wagyu flank at Botswana Butchery, but equally as good is Westholme wagyu flank; simply cook it over hot coals and served with chimichurri and a green salad. It tastes just divine. When I eat it, I’m in my happy place!”
Australia Day barbie tips
Planning a barbie? You want to do it right. Ballarat-based chef and Cleaver’s Organic ambassador Tim Bone offers his pro advice. By following just a few simple tips and hacks, this will ensure you get the most out of your Australia Day barbecue.
1. Preheat your barbie
Generally, I’ll preheat my grill with the lid closed for efficiency and extra temperature.
2. Use charcoal
Consider alternatives to gas as your fuel source. You get the best results with lump charcoal and natural wood coals. I’d recommend you use a purpose-built coal barbecue and allow time to prepare coals for grilling. Different woods can impart subtle flavours to grilled meat.
3. Be organised
Grilling is generally a fast process, so make sure you have the necessary equipment you need on hand when you start. That way you can focus on cooking your meat perfectly. It helps if your barbecue is on level ground to avoid any oil/fat running into potentially dangerous areas. If you’re cooking multiple batches of different meats, have a moist cloth you can pick up with tongs to quickly wipe the grill clean between batches.
4. Season before cooking
Oil and season your meat and other ingredients immediately before placing them on the grill. This is best done in a designated tray.
For more barbecue tips and tricks, check out this advice from pit master Nathan Roberts, and these tips on how you can raise your humble barbie to greatness. For grilling something a little different, check out these surprising ideas from pit master Adam Roberts. Or, for a distinctly Aussie touch, try grilling avocados for a green and gold barbie.