Brendan Fong’s Fijian-Chinese feasts combined earthen ovens and curries


There was no glimpse of the sausages at Brendan Fong’s family barbecues, instead his family feasted on epic Fijian feasts cooked in a lovo – an underground oven or fire pit.

Growing up on a five-acre block in Queensland, the 35-year-old executive chef of Lilymu in Parramatta in western Sydney, says he lived for big family reunions on weekends and school holidays when any the extended family would get involved in cooking the traditional Fijian cuisine from his mother’s side.

“On weekends, when the family came, we would cook in the lovo, similar to a hungi, where the food is cooked in the earth for three hours,” he says.

“There was a whole ritual, my parents would get up early to wrap all the meat in banana leaves and light a fire that would heat all the stones. Dad would get up at 5 in the morning to prepare it and throughout the meal. day people were starting to flow and help with cooking and wrapping the meat. “

Fong says it was a huge process. “We didn’t eat until 2pm and by then everyone was crowding around the fire to dig up all the food, put it on trays and carry it inside.

“As children, our job was to hold the trays and prepare them, so that when they dug the food out of the ground and took it out of the fire, we were there and could bring it into the ground. inside while it was still warm. I was also always excited to help light the fire and collect the wood for it. “

Lovo was used to cook meat and a variety of vegetables, but Fong’s favorite was always pork wrapped in banana leaves.

“The pork shoulder and pork belly were getting so smoky and really tender, the meat was so wet because the steam in the dirt had nowhere to go, he says.

“As children, our job was to hold the trays and prepare them so that when they extract the food from the earth and take it out of the fire, we are there and can bring it inside while we are there. ‘it’s still hot. “

The menu would also include paulisami, a traditional Fijian dish where taro is stuffed with onions, salt, and coconut milk, as well as Chinese dishes such as stir-fried noodles, siu yuk, and wonton soup, which accounted for the paternal side of the family.

Now that he’s an adult, Fong can appreciate the amount of work that went into these huge family feasts.

“When I was little it felt normal to us. It wasn’t every weekend, but it would be very regular and now that I’ve grown up and look back on it, those times are actually quite special. “

Fong is the youngest of four children and his parents worked full time. The daily meals were therefore simple and quick meals. Her father used to cook Chinese dishes such as stir-fries and Hainan chicken riffs.

Her mother made Fijian dishes like boiled taro with fish braised in coconut milk. “They cooked dishes they knew, which they simplified so that they were quick because there was always more than one dish – there was a meat dish, a vegetable dish and rice”, he said.

“Sharing and cooking a great meal with your family shows how much you care and love them. So I’ve always had a connection with food in that sense and I always apply it to anyone and to everything I cook to date. “

“Fong has always been interested in cooking and he learned by watching. His favorite TV show was Cooking with Geoff Jansz and he was hanging out in the kitchen to see what was going on. “I would always ask my dad how to cook his meals and he would always say, ‘No recipe, if you want to learn you have to watch’.”

These days he brings together the dishes of his intercultural education. Lilymu is a pan-Asian restaurant that doesn’t stop at just one cuisine, which gives Fong a chance to play with dishes he couldn’t have created otherwise. “Lilymu has no fixed borders, the idea is to bring together different Asian cuisines,” he says.

Combining his two cultures into one dish wasn’t easy as the ingredients don’t lend themselves to fusion, but he gave Fijian kokoda a Southeast Asian twist for Lilymu’s menu, reinterpreting it as a king mackerel and coconut ceviche with taro.

“Kokoda is one of my all-time favorite Fijian dishes and it’s easy to understand for everyone – Japanese people eat raw fish and South Americans eat ceviche, so this version mixes the ingredients of Southeast Asia with a Fijian dish. It just fell into place, “says.

Another family-inspired dish was the Beef Mozzarella Spring Roll, with the rendang recipe from Fong’s mother-in-law, who is Singaporean. Rendang’s origins can be traced back to Indonesia, but it has spread to other countries in Southeast Asia such as Singapore and Malaysia.

“Passing on the recipes in the Asian community is almost a ritual. A grandmother will share her recipes with her children, then her grandchildren and even her great-grandchildren. This means that these centuries-old recipes and traditions are kept alive through this tradition. ,” he says.

“I wanted to put rendang on the menu like a normal dish, but I like to be creative and think of dishes in a different way. I had some leftovers that I made for the staff meal, I tried them and it worked.

“I hope we have respected the recipe and reinterpreted it.”

Do you like history? Follow the author here: Twitter @RenataGortan and Instagram @renatagortan. Photographs by Lilymu.


Beef rendang

Ingredients

For 4 people

  • 1 kg beef shank, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 45 grams desiccated coconut
  • 20 grams coriander seeds
  • 8 grams fennel seeds
  • 50 grams dried chilli
  • 80g Lemongrass
  • 20 grams Galangal
  • 150g eschalot
  • 20 grams Garlic
  • 30g Ginger
  • 1.5 liter coconut milk
  • 200 ml vegetable oil

Method

  1. Prepare this dish the day before. Soak the dried peppers by placing them in a bowl and covering them with enough water so that all the cooled peppers are submerged.
  2. The next day, in a hot pan, toast the coriander seeds and fennel seeds until they become fragrant and set aside.
  3. In the same pan, add the desiccated coconut and toast until it is a rich dark brown. A good way to tell if it’s roasted enough is to find out if the coconut smells good and unburnt. Let cool on a flat platter. It is important not to put it in a bowl to cool it down as it will retain heat, continue to cook and burn.
  4. For the curry paste, you will need a blender to make it as smooth as possible. A food processor will not make the dough thin enough.
  5. Start by roughly chopping the shallots, garlic, galangal, lemongrass and ginger, and set aside in a bowl. Drain the water from the peppers you soaked the day before and place them in the same bowl as the garlic and other fragrant plants and roots.
  6. Mix the grilled coriander and fennel seeds with the coconut until a fine paste is obtained. Then add the shallots, garlic, galangal, lemongrass, ginger and the soaked dried peppers that you chopped earlier with half the oil and mix again into a fine paste.
  7. In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat the remaining oil over medium heat and add the batter. Cook the dough until the oil begins to separate, then add the diced beef shank and coconut milk. Stir then bring to a slow boil and stir every 10-15 minutes, making sure that the curry does not stick to the bottom. Cook for 1.5 to 2 hours, until the beef is tender and tender.
  8. Season with salt to taste and serve with steamed rice, or if you’re feeling fancy, coconut rice.



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