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And the secret ingredient is ...

You know it's there but can't quite put your finger on it or in it. To discover its identity is a privilege extended only to a select few. And no, it is not the chickpeas and mint in my rissoles.

"Oh this is beautiful, Darl. What do you call these things again?"

"Rissoles. Everybody cooks rissoles, Darl."

Every batch of rissoles is unique and a reflection of the person who made them.
Every batch of rissoles is unique and a reflection of the person who made them. Photo: Eddie Jim

"Yeah, but it's what you do with them."

It sure is.

Rissoles. A mixture of ingredients that are wonderful individually in their own right yet miraculously transform into something special when combined.

Sound familiar?

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You don't have to be a master chef or even know how to boil an egg. Just be prepared to risk failure and getting your hands dirty.

No need for a Smeg kitchen or even a Weber barbecue, either. Your flame just needs to burn brightly enough to seal the goodness in each rissole and transform it from gooey mess into something worth sharing.

There's no right or wrong way. No one measures the ingredients anyway. Your hands are always covered in slightly different degrees of beer or wine or grime when kneading the mixture together. So rissoles will – and should – taste a little bit different every time.

Yet …

They must remain unmistakably the product of the person who's decided on the recipe and is prepared to do the  mixing.

And the secret ingredient?

There's always a secret ingredient.

You know it's there but can't quite put your finger on it or in it. To discover its identity is a privilege extended only to a select few.

And no, it is not the chickpeas and mint in my rissoles. It's not the onion or the capers or the garlic chives either. Break the rissoles apart and you can see all those colourful bits.  No secrets there. 

The sanctity of this secret ingredient means you should never buy pre-made patties or burgers or meatballs or whatever you might call rissoles. Every single thing inside is listed there on the label. All that's missing is the romance and the mystery.

A pre-made rissole is an admission of loss; that the spark has gone; that you don't care enough about those who love you to spend a paltry 10 minutes digging deep and giving of yourself; taking the chance that, oh no, these rissoles may taste like charcoal and the secret ingredient might not have been enough – or I might have even forgotten to chuck it in this time.

So let's start with the basics.

Australian rissoles don't have pastry or batter around the outside like those in France or England. That would hide the rough edges from gaze. Think Darryl and Sal Kerrigan from The Castle

But you don't need meat any more, that's for certain. As my colleague Peter Munro has discovered, you can buy Italian meatless meatballs in the supermarket. You can make meatless rissoles at home too with nutmeat and soy and vego delights. Times have changed and rissoles have too.

Yet …

We still need something to hold the ingredients together. An egg, perhaps, with some breadcrumbs or almond meal for bulk and balance, to remind us that too much of a good thing can repeat on you.

We can toss in bits and pieces close at hand: carrot, cheese, even a dash of port.

We need some spice, of course. Bland rissoles still taste nice, but it's always good to keep the mystery alive with a little surprise.

Let's not overpower the secret ingredient, though.

Now for the big one.

For years I told my wife and kids that my secret ingredient was Vegemite.

They didn't twig that it was hardly a secret if I told them what it was.

No, the secret ingredient is still there, growing stronger every day even as they head off to make their own rissoles with their own special mixtures and, I can only hope, a secret ingredient that will prove as life-affirming, supportive and non-judgmental as mine.

What is this so-called secret ingredient, you ask.

If you haven't worked that out yet, cook a rissole for your loved ones tonight.

Such is life …

astokes@fairfaxmedia.com.au