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Brae

Prepare to enter a picture of the countryside framed by note-perfect Australiana but painted in bold, elegant and unsentimental strokes. Over 10 or more courses, Dan Hunter celebrates his region with dishes that are formally daring (Crunchy prawn heads! Creamy oyster soft-serve! Sea urchin and chicory bread pudding!), yet rich in flavour and substance. The menu could benefit from an edit, but the plates are tightly composed - and what could you cut? Certainly not the limpid broth bathing fronds of abalone and calamari, nor the clever arrangement of lobster played off against charred waxy fingerlings under a swatch of milk skin. The adventure is significantly the richer for the cool gloss of the dining room, some of the most engaging service in the nation and wine pairings that roam with an easy-going confidence. Maturing and relaxing without surrendering a drop of its ambition, Brae is more compelling than ever.

Grilled apricot salad with jamon and Manchego

Here we've scorched apricots on the grill and served them with torn jamon, shaved Manchego and peppery rocket leaves. Think of it as a twist on the good old melon-prosciutto routine. The mixture would also be great served on charred sourdough.

Farro recipes

Farro can be used in almost any dish, from a robust salad to accompany hearty beer-glazed beef short ribs to a new take on risotto with mushrooms, leek and parmesan. Here are 14 ways with this versatile grain.

Aløft

There's nothing new about Nordic interiors - blond timbers, concrete surfaces, warm, mid-century charm without the twee - and thank heavens for that. It's a style that augments the beauty of everything around it, in this case, gorgeous Hobart harbour, which makes up one whole wall. What is new here, however, is the food - by veterans of Garagistes, which once dazzled diners down the road, Vue de Monde in Melbourne and Gordon Ramsay worldwide. There's a strong Asian bent, but with Tasmanian ingredients. In fact, the kitchen's love of the local verges on obsessive - coconut milk in an aromatic fish curry is replaced with Tasmanian-grown fig leaf simmered in cream to mimic the flavour. Other standouts include a gutsy red-braised lamb with gai lan and chewy cassia spaetzle, pigs' ears zingy with Sichuan pepper and a fresh, springy berry dessert. While the food is sourced locally, the generous wine list spans the planet. 

A festival of cheese hits Sydney

Kick off winter with a week of cheese tasting.

2017 Australian Hotel Awards: The Finalists

This year's finalists across 11 different categories include established and new hotels, all with particular areas of excellence. Stay tuned to find out which hotels will take the top spots when they're announced at a ceremony at QT Melbourne on Wednesday 24 May, and published in our 2017 Australian Hotel Guide, on sale Thursday 25 May.

Chorizo recipes

Where would Spanish cuisine be without the chorizo? This versatile smallgood lends its big flavours to South American stews, soups, and salads, not to mention the ultimate hot dog. Let the sizzling begin.

Pea and ham soup

XO sauce


A relatively new addition to China's ancient culinary repertoire, XO sauce has a history shrouded in mystery. Tony Tan reveals its secrets.

You'll need

25 gm dried scallops 75 gm dried prawns 250 ml (1 cup) vegetable oil, or just enough to cover all the ingredients 75 gm garlic (about 20 cloves), finely chopped 75 gm red shallots (about 6), finely chopped 50 gm jamón or prosciutto, finely shredded 25 gm fresh long red chillies (about 6), seeded and finely chopped 15 gm dried long red chillies, seeded, soaked and finely chopped 7 gm dried birdseye chillies, finely chopped 5 gm roasted shrimp paste (belacan; see note) 2 tbsp dried shrimp roe, crumbled (see note; optional) 15 gm sugar, or to taste

Method

  • 01
  • Soak dried scallops and dried prawns separately in 125ml hot water each until plump (preferably overnight).
  • 02
  • Drain scallops (reserve soaking water), tear them into fine shreds, pat dry on absorbent paper and set aside. Drain prawns (reserve water), chop them finely and set aside.
  • 03
  • Heat half the oil in a wok or large saucepan over medium-high heat, add scallops and deep-fry until very crisp (1-2 minutes; cover with lid as they may spit). Drain well, reserve oil. Wipe out wok with absorbent paper, add reserved oil and remaining oil and return to medium heat.
  • 04
  • Add garlic, shallots and dried prawns and stir continuously until golden brown (4-5 minutes).
  • 05
  • Add jamón, fresh chilli and dried chilli, fry for a few seconds (be careful, it may burn easily), then add shrimp paste, fried scallops and reserved scallop and prawn water and stir continuously for a few more seconds.
  • 06
  • Add remaining ingredients and a pinch of salt and stir occasionally until fragrant and water has completely evaporated (20-30 minutes). Remove from heat, strain (reserve oil), transfer solids to a sterile jar, then pour in enough reserved oil to cover. Makes about 2 cups. XO sauce will keep refrigerated in a sealed container for 1 month.

Note This recipe makes about 500gm. You'll need to begin this recipe a day ahead. To roast shrimp paste, wrap in aluminium foil and roast at 200C until fragrant (4-5 minutes). Dried shrimp roe is available from Asian grocers.


Some Chinese gourmands call it the emperor of sauces, others the king. Chefs and restaurateurs jealously guard its recipe, and top-drawer Chinese restaurants proudly offer this classy condiment to their valued clients. XO sauce, to the ever-food-conscious Chinese, raises much comment in any Chinese restaurant worth its salt. Considering it's consumed mostly as a condiment, dip or appetiser, and can cost some hundreds of dollars to prepare, this must be one of the most luxurious food indulgences in the world. It stands head and shoulders above the rest of Chinese sauces not only because of its expense but also because it represents the continued evolution of Chinese cuisine, based on a very sound knowledge of ingredients.

So what is XO sauce? Named after XO Cognac to symbolise wealth, status and exclusivity, this savoury, glossy relish is made essentially from fresh and dried chillies, shallots, garlic, top-quality dried scallops (conpoy), dried shrimps and Yunnan or Jinhua ham; these last three ingredients are especially appreciated for their intensity and complex flavour.

Dried scallops, depending on their quality, can cost up to $300 per kilogram. When buying, ask for the stash held behind the counter at Chinese grocers - that's where you'll find all the good stuff. Yunnan and Jinhua ham are also costly - they're akin to jamón and prosciutto, and these are good substitutes as Chinese ham is difficult to find in Australia.

These ingredients, along with shallots, ginger and garlic, are cooked over medium heat for up to an hour and a half, resulting in a multi-layered and robust paste with an intriguing nose. The diner first tastes the chilli, then the amalgam of seafood, before the ham takes over, releasing intense, complex and glorious flavours that burst in the mouth. It's extremely moreish, spicy, salty and sweet; if you're a chilli-lover, you'll find it near impossible to say no to XO sauce.

XO's culinary history, although relatively short, is shrouded in secrecy and mystery. The general consensus seems to be that it first appeared in the early '80s, somewhere in the top-end seafood restaurants of Hong Kong. Spring Moon, the Chinese restaurant at The Peninsula, is often credited with its invention, while others believe the seafood restaurants in Kowloon's Tsim Sha Tsui district are more likely to have been reponsible for its creation.

Irrespective of its birthplace, there's no denying this rich sauce's ability to add that extra something special to many a dish. It's delicious with prawn dumplings such as har gau, or a plate of stir-fried scallops, or braised Cantonese egg noodles (yi meen) with prawns, or as a topping on beancurd. It's also excellent tossed through steamed mussels as we have done here. Although it's possible to buy XO in a jar, it really doesn't compare. As labour-intensive - and expensive - as it is, you won't fail to be impressed by this king of sauces.


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Nov 2009

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