"These deliciously moreish snacks are sure to go down a treat," says Daniel Wilson. "Served cold they make excellent picnic fare. The spiced flour mix is also great dusted on seafood before cooking." Chicken ribs are pieces of bone-in breast; they're available from poultry shops and butchers.
Huxtabook? Yes. Huxtaburger? No. The dish that has latterly become Daniel Wilson's signature isn't in Huxtabook, his first foray into publishing. But don't let that hold you back, not least when there are now three branches of Huxtaburger Melbourne-wide, with another on the way (and when the Huxtaburger recipe, which graced the January 2013 GT, is on our website). Even burgerless, Huxtabook, which for the most part details dishes from Huxtable, the restaurant Wilson opened with Dante Ruaine and Jeff Wong on Smith Street in Collingwood in 2010, is a cracking read, and it has a look more original than many a cookbook issued from an Australian published in a good long while.
Raised in New Zealand, Wilson has worked for some of Melbourne's biggest names, heading the kitchens of Arintji for Jacques Reymond and Blakes Cafeteria for Andrew Blake, and then cooked at The Graham before opening Huxtable. Modern Australian cooking is his métier, and recipes for dashi, XO sauce and tamarind water sit comfortably in the basics section of the book alongside dill oil, lemon curd and harissa.
At Huxtable, gherkins make nice with Korean barbecued pork ribs just as kombu shavings enrich smoked kingfish with horseradish, beetroot and cream, and Sri Lankan love cake is served with liquid Turkish delight and a mint ice-cream. They're dishes that are restaurant-pretty while still within the reach of the home cook; modern without being too modernist.
"It's just about quality food, quality wine, a relaxed atmosphere and nothing pretentious," Wilson says. "All of us here come from a fairly serious hospitality background - Dante was at Verge and MoVida, Jeff was at Circa - and we just wanted to do something that had quality but was accessible and fun." On the plate, he says, that translates to plenty of punch. "It's not too tricked-up, but it should be full of flavour."
Where could a person dip their toe into the book? Wilson says the tuna with Japanese flavours and tempura crumbs is an excellent place to start, as are many of the other simpler fish dishes. For something a little more involved, the wagyu and green peppercorn curry with coconut, pickled shallots and lime leaf, he says, is "a bit more intense in terms of preparation and procuring ingredients".
For all the menu's reach, Wilson's original kitchen inspiration was a considerably less exotic thing (depending on your take on New Zealand children's television broadcasting). He says as a kid his favourite segment of Saturday morning's What Now ("eight till 10, Channel Two") was the cooking segment. So much so, in fact, that its influence can still be felt in his cooking today. "Their French toast recipe's secret was fresh orange juice."
The younger Wilson was so keen he wrote away for the recipe. "Squeeze one fresh orange into the egg and milk mixture with ground cinnamon. When we first started at the restaurant, doing breakfast, I used that very recipe. I still make it at home today."
- 500 ml (2 cups) buttermilk (or 500ml milk mixed with 1 tbsp lemon juice)
- 1 kg chicken ribs, trimmed of excess fat
- For deep-frying: vegetable oil
- 150 gm Kewpie mayonnaise (see note)
- 2 tbsp jalapeño chilli sauce, or to taste
- 150 gm plain flour
- 3 tsp each sweet paprika, ground cumin, ground coriander and ground Sichuan peppercorns
- 2 tsp each garlic powder and onion powder
- 1 tsp each cayenne pepper, ground turmeric and five-spice
- 1Pour buttermilk into a large bowl, add ribs, cover and refrigerate overnight. (Soaking the ribs in buttermilk tenderises the chicken and makes them extra juicy.)
- 2For the jalapeño mayo, whisk together mayonnaise and jalapeño chilli sauce. Set aside. You can add more or less chilli sauce depending on how spicy you'd like it.
- 3For the spiced flour, mix all the ingredients together in a bowl with 2 tsp each sea salt and ground white pepper.
- 4Heat about 5cm of vegetable oil in a large saucepan to 180C. Test by dipping a wooden chopstick into the oil: it will sizzle when the oil is ready. Remove chicken ribs from the buttermilk in small batches. Toss well in the spiced flour, then place in a sieve and shake off the excess. Gently lower the ribs into the oil and cook for 2-3 minutes, or until golden and crisp (take care, the oil will spit). Drain immediately on paper towels.
- 5To serve, simply spread the mayonnaise in a pool on a plate, then pile the hot chicken on top.
Note Kewpie mayonnaise, a Japanese brand, is available from Japanese grocers. This recipe is from Huxtabook ($49.95, hbk) by Daniel Wilson, published by Hardie Grant Books, and has been reproduced with GT style changes.