Neil Perry just wanted to write a book that would bookend his 2016 classic, The Food I Love. He thought he might gather 100 or so of his favourite recipes from his restaurants, Rockpool Bar and Grill, Spice Temple and his current venue Margaret, a few from his newspaper columns, a couple of classics from his previous nine cookbooks.
But he realised pretty quickly that it was going to be an impossible task.
"It kept growing and growing and I wanted it to reflect the way I cook at home, the way I cook in the restaurants, the things I love to eat," he says.
"If you don't feel something for what you're eating it's a sad day, you really should be cooking the things you love eating, my whole career, even my upbringing, has been built around that idea.
Everything I Love to Cook expanded to more than 230 recipes. But it's so much more than a cookbook. Perry shares tips and techniques, shares his philosophies on fresh, quality produce, on sustainability. For him, that love of cooking and eating extends to farmers who put that same love into their produce.
One thing Perry does love is a good sandwich. During lockdown his Instagram feed kept us all amused as he posted regular photos of his lunch.
"When made properly, there is little more satisfying or delicious," he says. "To make a great sandwich remember the most basic rules: use the best ingredients and don't overcomplicate things."
It's a recipe that works across any dish, whether you're cooking in a fine-dining restaurant or at home.
"The sandwich chapter is where all the trouble started," he says. "I'd originally planned to include five or six ... but I could not get the list down to less than 20."
One of his favourite sandwiches is nothing more than two thin slices of rye bread with a slim lining of hot salami, good-quality Swiss cheese and a veil of pickled cucumber.
In many ways his love of sandwiches, his love of simplicity as such, is what's made him accessible over his 40 year career. You might be amazed by the food coming out of the acclaimed restaurants but you could pick up a recipe in a newspaper, or from one of his cookbooks and think to yourself "I could cook that".
In June he was about to open a new restaurant, Margaret, named after his mother, in Sydney's Double Bay and then lockdown hit. While they're sending food out via Providoor - delivery extends across NSW and the ACT - it's the sandwiches and burgers that have been a big hit with locals.
"Wednesday to Saturday we do burgers and sandwiches, the neighbourhood is going mad for our American and Aussie burgers, the katsu chicken, a pimped up pork belly roll, a lobster roll ... we sell about 300-350 sandwiches in an hour and a half."
NSW restaurants are reopening on October 13 and Perry can't wait. He hopes we're all a little more grateful about what it takes to get a meal on the table, from the paddock to the plate; that we're patient with changes such as limited bookings and QR codes and mask wearing.
"Things have changed," he says. "But I know I'm sick of cooking at home, and I love cooking at home, but every day became a nightmare. I love eating at restaurants and I love cooking in the restaurant.
"After all these years there is still nothing I enjoy more than watching a plate go out to a table and seeing that look of joy on someone's face as they're about to eat it."
- Everything I Love to Cook, by Neil Perry. Murdoch Books. $59.99.
American cheese and bacon burger
It's hard not to love an American cheeseburger. Just make sure you look after the most important parts: I prefer grass-fed beef, and you really need American-style cheese singles or you won't get the authentic flavour. I also think that Heinz is the best tomato sauce to use here as its acidity helps bring the burger to life.
800g freshly minced grass-fed chuck steak
extra virgin olive oil, for brushing
12 slices of American-style cheese singles
8 rashers of streaky bacon
4 hamburger milk buns, cut in half horizontally
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
tomato sauce, Kewpie mayonnaise, American mustard and thinly sliced dill pickles, to serve
1. Put the meat into a bowl and gently mix, then divide into four patties. Move each one from hand to hand for two minutes, so the meat is firmer but not overworked, then shape into a ball and gently flatten to form a patty about 2cm thick. If making the patties in advance, cover and chill in the refrigerator until needed. If you do this, however, take them out of the fridge about an hour before cooking to bring them back to room temperature, so they will cook more evenly.
2. Heat a heavy-based frying pan large enough to fit all four patties until it is very hot. Brush some olive oil over the patties and season them liberally with salt so they'll form a really good crust in the pan. Cook on the first side for five minutes if you want them rare, six minutes for medium-rare or seven to eight minutes for well done. Turn the patties over and place two slices of cheese on each one, then cook for the same length of time as the first side. Remove from the pan and leave to rest for five minutes.
3. Meanwhile, cook the bacon until it is reasonably crisp but not too dry and toast the cut sides of the buns under a hot grill.
4. Place the bottom halves of the buns on four plates. Spread each one with mustard, add a dollop of mayonnaise and a slice of cheese, followed by a cheese-topped patty, bacon and lots of tomato sauce. Finally, add the dill pickles and a grind of fresh pepper. Top with the bun lid and serve.
You can add lettuce and tomato slices - and pickled beetroot, of course - to make the American classic Aussie.
For a meatless burger, replace the beef and bacon with a large flat mushroom: steam it until tender, then coat in flour, beaten egg and breadcrumbs and fry until crisp and golden.
This is a classic Latino-style sandwich like the ones sold from food trucks in the large cities in America. It can be eaten fresh and is damn tasty that way, but the toasting and the melting of the cheese takes it to another level. Carnitas, or Mexican braised pork, is quite easy to make and is well worth it for this sandwich: the pork is slowly braised until tender and then roasted to crisp it up, or you could pan-fry it instead if you prefer.
4 Vietnamese- or Italian-style crisp white fluffy rolls
soft butter, to your liking
8 thin slices of smoked ham
8 thin slices of Swiss cheese
2 dill pickles, thinly sliced lengthways
For the carnitas:
600g fatty pork shoulder meat, cut into 4cm dice
3 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 orange, cut in half
1 white onion, thinly sliced
5 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp dried oregano
1 tsp sea salt
For the chipotle mayonnaise:
4 canned chipotle chillies in adobo, finely chopped
1 cup mayonnaise
1. To make the carnitas, put all the ingredients into a wide, heavy-based saucepan just big enough to hold the meat, then add enough water to cover and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, for 1 1/2 hours or until tender, regularly skimming off any foam from the surface. Remove from the heat and, when the pork is cool enough to handle, gently pull it into bite-sized pieces.
2. Preheat the oven to 220C. Spread the pork in a baking dish and roast, uncovered, in the oven for 20 minutes or until starting to brown and caramelise.
3. Meanwhile, for the chipotle mayonnaise, fold the chipotles through the mayonnaise.
4. When you're ready to put the sandwiches together, heat a sandwich press to 200C.
5. Cut the rolls in half and spread the bottom halves with butter. Divide the carnitas evenly between them and then layer with ham, cheese and pickles. Cover with the top halves and press down gently. Carefully transfer to the sandwich press: four should fit in a large press, two in a smaller one. Cook until the roll is crisp and brown and the cheese has started to melt, about six minutes or so. Open up the sandwiches and divide the chipotle mayo between them. Serve immediately.
Use slices of sourdough bread for a chewier, more filling sandwich.
I often make carnitas and serve it on a platter with a chipotle and tomato salsa, some shaved cabbage, guacamole and perhaps a dash of adobo sauce. Wrap in fresh warm tortillas to make your own tacos - great for when you have friends over to eat.
Raspberry and vanilla bavarois
This bavarois was on my first dessert menu at Barrenjoey House in Palm Beach, way back in 1982, but this cracker of a summertime dessert is just as relevant today as it was all those years ago.
4 gelatine leaves
5 egg yolks
200g caster sugar
3 vanilla beans, split lengthways and seeds scraped
600ml pure cream
For the genoise sponge:
8 large eggs
250g caster sugar
250g plain flour
30g unsalted butter, melted
You'll also need two round springform tins: one 23cm, the other 20cm in diameter
1. For the genoise sponge, preheat the oven to 180C and lightly grease the 23cm tin. In a large stainless-steel bowl, beat the eggs and sugar together until pale and creamy. Place the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, making sure the base of the bowl sits above the level of the water, and whisk constantly for eight to 10 minutes, or until the mixture thickens and the whisk leaves a trail. Carefully lift the bowl off the pan and keep whisking for another five minutes. Sift over the flour and fold in gently, then pour in the melted butter and fold through. Transfer to the tin and bake for 30 minutes, or until a skewer inserted in the centre of the cake comes out dry. Carefully run a knife around the edge of the sponge, remove the springform and base of the tin, then transfer the cake to a wire rack and leave to cool.
2. Meanwhile, to make the bavarois, put the gelatine into a small bowl of cold water and leave to soften. In a heatproof bowl, whisk the egg yolks and sugar until pale and creamy. Heat the milk with the vanilla seeds in a saucepan. As soon as the first bubbles start to appear, remove from the heat and slowly pour over the egg yolk mixture, whisking all the time. Place the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, making sure the base of the bowl sits above the level of the water, and whisk vigorously for eight to 12 minutes, until the mixture thickens and coats the back of a wooden spoon. Carefully lift the bowl off the pan and set it over a large bowl of ice. Squeeze out the gelatine and whisk into the warm mixture until completely dissolved, then leave to cool.
3. In another bowl, whip the cream until stiff peaks form. When the bavarois mixture is completely cold and starting to firm up, gently fold in the cream until fully incorporated.
4. To assemble, slice the sponge horizontally into four 1cm layers. Trim one layer to fit the 20cm tin and press into the base. Spread a third of the raspberries over the sponge, then pour in the bavarois mixture and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Sprinkle the remaining raspberries on top (they will sink down into the bavarois but not right to the bottom), then refrigerate for at least three hours.
5. To serve, dip a knife in hot water and gently run around the inside of the tin, then remove the springform and cut into slices.
Tip: You only need a quarter of the sponge here, so refrigerate or freeze the rest for another time. It will keep for seven days in the fridge or six months in the freezer.
Crispy pork belly with red onion, coriander, peanuts and sesame seeds
Here is one of Spice Temple's classic dishes that I think is perfect for summer, served with rice and perhaps some steamed Chinese broccoli with oyster sauce. The pork itself is easy to cook - just remember to allow a day or two beforehand for the skin to dry out - and it has many uses. By the same token, the red onion, coriander and peanut salad is great with, say, the meat from a store-bought roast chook, shredded off the bone and tossed through, to make a super-quick dish for a busy weekend.
1kg pork belly
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 spring onion, thinly sliced
large handful of roughly chopped coriander, leaves and stalks
handful of unsalted peanuts, toasted in a dry frying pan and crushed
1 tbsp sesame seeds, toasted in a dry frying pan
1 1/2 tbsp Chinese black vinegar
2 tsp peanut oil
1. Place the pork belly on a wire rack set over a plate (to catch any drips) and refrigerate, uncovered, for at least a day to dry the skin out; two days would be even better.
2. Remove the pork from the fridge about three hours before cooking.
3. Preheat the oven to 220C.
4. Put the pork belly on a chopping board. Using a sharp knife, score the skin deeply in a diamond pattern and rub generously with salt. Return the pork belly to its wire rack and place in a roasting tin.
5. Roast the pork for 20 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 170C and roast for a further 20 minutes, or until the meat is cooked through and the skin is blistered and crispy. Remove the pork from the oven, cover with foil and set aside in a warm place to rest for 20 minutes.
6. Cut the pork belly into 2cm cubes. Place all the remaining ingredients in a bowl and toss together, then add the pork and mix through. Divide between four plates and serve.