In The Kitchen At Spice Temple
Lore has it that we owe Chef Neil Perry’s signature ponytail to a strict school-era dress code. Upon leaving, he was finally free to wear his hair as he wished, and the rockstar persona has seemed to suit him ever since. As is often the case with standard bearers, Perry has built his astonishing influence by traveling a unique, and at times unorthodox, road. Beauty school dropout turned waiter turned restaurateur sensation, his 25+-year track record alone hints at an uncommon dedication. And while you may not expect that the longstanding king of Sydney haute cuisine would also turn out to be one of the city’s most prolific purveyors of traditional Chinese delicacies, it is also not surprising: this is a chef who opts out of comfort zones.
There is a sense of curiosity at the core of Spice Temple’s menu, a demonstrated understanding of the cultural significance behind the source country’s contribution. The result is dishes that pay homage while shaping Sydney’s utterly original food identity. So masterful are Perry’s skills on the plate, so nuanced and delicious are his flavors, that they impart a little of that rockstar spirit to the diner. You may never have folded a dumpling or rehydrated a scallop, but something in Spice Temple’s ethos emboldens you to dip a toe outside your comfort zone too. Stock up on potato starch, chop those chiles and let the oil sizzle and pop on the burner: these recipes find new ways to fire you up. Rock on.
COURTESY OF CHEF NEIL PERRY
“One of the really great things about going to Hong Kong is the XO chile sauces made by the fine dining restaurants. All the chefs are showing off, of course – it is their want to become the king of XO chile sauce, so it has become a challenge as to who makes the very best. XO chile sauce is simply the ‘top shelf’ of sauces, named after XO Cognac. I have never once had an XO sauce I thought not worthy of dipping a dumpling into. These sauces may not even be that hot, but what they all have in common is a marvelous blending of the most exotic dried ingredients and seasoning. XO is great as a dipping sauce.”
- 4 dried scallops, soaked in warm water for 2 hours and drained
- 1/4 cup dried shrimp, soaked in warm water for 2 hours and drained
- 7 ounces long red chiles, deseeded and finely chopped
- 1/4 cup ginger, peeled and finely chopped
- 1/4 cup garlic, peeled and finely chopped
- 2 teaspoons sea salt
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 1 cup vegetable oil
- 3 scallions, finely sliced
Put the scallops on a plate and put the plate in a bamboo steamer over a pot of rapidly boiling water. Cover with the lid and steam for 10 minutes. Remove the scallops from the steamer and, while still warm, shred with your fingers, separating all the fibers.
Pound the shrimp until finely ground in a mortar with a pestle, or grind in a spice grinder.
Put all the ingredients, except for the scallions, in a large heavy-based pot and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, for about 45 minutes, or until the sauce loses its raw edge and turns deep red.
Remove from the heat and let cool, then stir in the spring onions.
Northern Style Lamb & Fennel Dumplings
COURTESY OF CHEF NEIL PERRY
“I first ate these little beauties at a restaurant inside the Xinjiang provincial government offices in Beijing and promptly fell in love with them. Similar to a pot sticker, with a crisp base and chewy top, they have a rich, aniseed- flavored filling. We make these in large batches at Spice Temple, but you could always freeze half before cooking.”
For dumpling dough:
- 1 cup plain flour, plus extra for dusting
- 1 1/2 cups potato starch
- 3/4 cup boiling water
For lamb filling:
- 1 pound ground lamb
- 1 tablespoon fennel seeds, toasted and ground
- 3-inch knob of ginger, finely chopped
- 2 scallions, finely sliced
- 3⁄4 teaspoon sea salt
- 3⁄4 teaspoon white sugar
- 2 tablespoons light soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons sesame oil
- 4 teaspoons potato starch
To fill and shape the dumplings:
Divide the dough into walnut-sized balls and set aside, covering with a bowl. Use a small rolling pin to roll the dough ball out into a round about 10 cm in diameter. Place a tablespoon of the lamb filling in the middle and fold in half to make a half-moon shape. Pleat the top of the dumpling into a series of folds to seal, then dip the bottom into some extra flour to prevent sticking to the frying pan. Repeat with the remaining dough balls and filling.
- Vegetable oil, for pan-frying
- 2 cups Chinese chicken stock or water, or as needed
To cook the dumplings:
Pour a film of oil into a large, heavy-based frying pan over medium–high heat. Working in batches, add the dumplings in a single layer, with their pleated side facing up. When they start to sizzle, pour enough chicken stock into the pan to come about a quarter of the way up the sides of the dumplings.
Cover with a lid and reduce the heat to medium. When all the stock has evaporated, the dumplings will sizzle and pop. Remove the lid and cook for a few more minutes or until a crust forms on the bottoms of the dumplings. Carefully transfer the dumplings to serving bowls.