Fast Ed Halmagyi's new book, The Food Clock elevates humble ingredients into things of escapism.
Over the last decade, we've seen something of a shift in the way men approach cooking - and chef and author, Fast Ed Halmagyi, is the first to applaud it.
"Blokes in the kitchen used to get snide comments from mates. But huge numbers are now cooking - and cooking very competently. More and more are realising the whole process of cooking is not only enjoyable, but if you have a creative vent in food, it's very empowering."
The Better Homes and Gardens stalwart goes one step further, pushing his mission to discover the best of fresh ingredients: "How do you really know when something's in season? How do I know that bunch of silverbeet is going to be amazing?"
Fast Ed Halmagyi's Pepper-Crusted Porterhouse. "Know your meat" says Halmagyi.
It is this questioning - directed at fresh produce and the relentless urge to inspire - that has driven the TV chef towards his latest venture, a cookbook that promises to demystify the fresh produce calendar.
"You need a device to help tell when food's ready" says Halmagyi as he describes the calendar-sympathetic recipes woven into a fictional narrative and scattered pencil-sketched illustrations of The Food Clock.
The year, to Halmagyi ('Fast' is a nickname, the origins of which he is cagey to divulge) is divided into a food clock - a fantastical mechanism that delineates what to eat, when. Tuned to the Aussie seasons but given a rustic French theme, 'hot o'clock' is all about heralding summer - peaches, chicken, walnut flan, while half past hot o'clock is high summer - melons, steak, flat bean salad and honey madeleines. Moving into more wintry food, cool o'clock sees braised rabbit, breads, plums and cauliflower enter the pantry.
...What a way to finish a meal: Liquid-centred chocolate mousses are winners, says the chef.
It's the beginning of September and I'd make it about a quarter to warm o'clock. Right now, says the Sydney-based chef, is all about pates, sweet pastries, a crusted pork loin and minted broccoli - and some fiendish-looking seashell pastries.
But this is all about accessing good, seasonal foods, not making them unreachably complicated. "I’ve spent my life cooking very complex foods. I've always believed food should be accessible, affordable and achievable. I wanted to try to help people to understand what they're eating." True to his word, Halmagyi has included a recipe for bacon that demystifies the processes behind the smoked meat, requiring time and planning (and a nifty barbie-top smoker) but certainly no especially advanced skills.
There are few recipes with more than a dozen ingredients, echoing Halmagyi’s overarching philosophy - one that he picked up from Michel Roux, no less - that "when you do less, the ingredients can do more." Exercising restraint, then, gives a cook the ability to tease out the natural flavour of seasonally spot-on foods.
‘Man food’ is something of a sweeping, oversimplified moniker – but while the meats and breads have that accessibility, The Food Clock taps into the (pretty sophisticated) Aussie appreciation for good food, done well. "Men do love a bit of meat, but most men with a bit of savoir-faire will equally enjoy something like stewed red cabbage," says Hamalgyi. To that end, there are combinations that are sure to impress – think slow-cooked, rich meat paired cut with a spiced silverbeet or a minted take on broccoli to perk up green veggies.
More than a celebration of ingredients, the book is to Fast Ed about something far more visceral: food as escapism. "I became captivated by getting to take care of someone else. I hope it gives them somewhere to escape to."
Fast Ed’s tips…
Away from the meats, fruit-heavy puddings and bright salads, what simple tricks can we take from Ed's cooking that will elevate the mundane to the sublime?
- "When seasoning meat, always use a fine table salt - not the fancy salt flakes." You don't want blasts of salt in some areas and no seasoning in others.
- "Know your meat. Choose a cut that suits the way you like it cooked. If you like your steak well-done, choose a more marbled cut that will stay moist."
- "If you're planning a dinner party, choose a menu that only has one of three courses or dishes that need to be prepared that evening. Ideally, just the entree should have a bit of fiddling, then you can leave the rest - a good host is not just a provider of food."
- And, somewhere we've all likely tripped in the entertaining stakes: "lay the table in the morning." Come 7:15, when guests are about to arrive and you still haven’t changed out of your apron, you'll know why.
- Date night? If you really want to impress, there are two recipes he says are guaranteed winners:
Pepper-Crusted Porterhouse with Thyme-Scented Sauce
Who doesn't enjoy a good piece of beef, brought alive with thyme and shallot?
4 x 240g thick-cut porterhouse steaks
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
cooking oil spray
2 French shallots, finely diced
2 garlic cloves, finely diced
1 tablespoon softened unsalted butter
2 teaspoons plain flour
250ml (1 cup) dry sherry
2 teaspoons drained pickled green peppercorns
1 bunch of thyme, leaves finely chopped
1 tablespoon cream
1. Rub the steaks with salt and press the pepper into the meat. Sprinkle with the oil, then arrange on a hot griddle and cook for 4 minutes on each side for medium. Set aside in a warm place to rest for 3 minutes.
2. Sauté the shallots and garlic in the butter in a saucepan over moderate heat for 2 minutes until just softened. Sprinkle the flour on top, then cook until just thickened. Pour in the sherry and simmer gently until a sauce consistency forms, then mix in the peppercorns and thyme. Stir in the cream and serve with the steaks.
And, to finish...
Liquid-centred chocolate mousse
"When you bite into the perfect chocolate mousse, you forget the world for a nanosecond."
125ml (1/2 cup) coffee liqueur
60ml (1/4 cup) water
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
2 tablespoons soft brown sugar
160g dark chocolate, chopped
50g unsalted butter, chopped
175g (1/2 cup) liquid glucose
400ml thickened cream
120g icing sugar
Crostoli, to serve
1. Line four 250ml (1 cup) moulds with plastic wrap. Combine the liqueur, water, cocoa and brown sugar in a small saucepan and set over moderate heat. Simmer for 10 minutes until the cocoa has completely dissolved and the mixture has reduced by half. Set aside to cool completely.
2. Melt the chocolate, butter and glucose in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Make sure the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water. Set aside to cool.
3. Whip the cream and icing sugar to soft peaks, then fold into the chocolate mixture.
4. Spoon half the chocolate mixture into the prepared moulds and make a well in the centre with the back of a spoon. Pour the liqueur mixture into the well, then top with the remaining mousse and smooth. Refrigerate for 2 hours or until firm.
5. Serve with pasty crisps.
The Food Clock, published by Harper Collins, is out now.