In Tony Tan’s new home and cooking school in Trentham, Victoria, a marble bench embedded with precision induction burners gives way to steam ovens, three or four fridges and a fully stocked pantry supplemented with homemade additions: mandarin skin dried slowly near the oven; sourdough made from a lively starter. A glance at Tan’s personal library reveals Jane Grigson and Hakka reference books topped by Sally Rooney’s latest novel, while outside hens scratch at soaked corn, ice plant and Tuscan kale fight for space in beds, and a quail coop stands ready for when he finds the right Jurassic breed.
The curry tree in his backyard hasn’t taken to regional living, but Tan clearly has. Join him for a walk and he’ll drop local names and gossip, pausing to show off his favourite pub or a hidden Chinese Spring, then raving about Du Fermier, chef Annie Smithers’ farmhouse-style restaurant on Trentham’s main strip.
If the setting is small town, the scope is wide; Tan’s grounding is in the Malaysian food of his birthplace, but the cook and food historian in him is similarly across the cuisines of China and the West and boasts a network that extends far from his country home. Melbourne chefs Phillipe Mouchel (Phillipe) and Dave Verheul (Embla) are already scheduled to teach classes in his cooking school; give it a year or two and guest chef instructors may well be drawn from Copenhagen, London or Madrid.
Tan’s own program, though, stays closer to home. He speaks of plans for a class combining Singaporean and Nonya influences, while his first session, called Hong Kong Food City and Beyond, brings recipes from his book togetherwith choice B-sides: spicy won tons with chile oil, tea-smoked duck, or crystalline Chiu Chow dumplings, stuffed with dried shrimp and pork, and steamed gently until translucent.
“These sensational dumplings are called Chiu Chow fun gor in dim sum restaurants,” says Tan. “Interestingly, because they originate from the Chiu Chow people, they are not often served in Cantonese restaurants. This group speak a dialect similar to Hokkien. The recipe uses preserved salted radish or daikon, called cai pu in Mandarin, which is readily available in Chinese grocers.”
Chiu Chow Dumplings (Makes 25-30)
100g minced pork
50g preserved salted daikon (from Chinese grocers), rinsed and finely chopped
50g dried shrimp, soaked in hot water, rinsed and finely chopped
15g dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked until soft, squeezed out and diced
2 eschalots, finely chopped
1 tbsp light soy, plus extra to serve
1 tbsp rice wine
1 tsp oyster sauce
½ tsp sugar
Dash sesame oil
1 tsp tapioca flour mixed with 3 tbsp water
2-3 spring onions, finely chopped
50 g roasted peanuts, coarsely chopped
Small handful garlic chives, cut into 1 cm lengths
Chinese black vinegar (Chinkiang vinegar), to serve
Chilli sauce, to serve
125g wheat starch, plus extra for dusting
120g tapioca flour
1 tbsp vegetable oil, plus extra for greasing
- Fry pork, daikon, dried shrimp, mushrooms and eschalot in 2 tbsp oil until fragrant.
- Add soy sauce, rice wine, oyster sauce, sugar and sesame oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper, then stir in tapioca flour mixture.
- Stir until filling begins to thicken, then add spring onions, peanuts and garlic chives. Transfer to a plate and leave to cool.
- For the wrappers, combine wheat starch, tapioca flour and a pinch of salt in a bowl. Add oil to 300ml boiling water, then pour this into dry ingredients all at once, stirring quickly with a pair of chopsticks to incorporate the flour until a ball of dough forms.
- Turn the hot dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and pliable. Cut dough in half, form into two cylinders and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Allow to rest for 10 minutes.
- Lightly brush the bench with oil, then cut dough into 2.5cm pieces; you should have about 10-12 pieces. (It’s best to cut about 5 pieces at a time, and keep the rest under a damp tea towel so they remain soft and pliable.)
- Working with one piece at a time, roll out dough with a well-oiled cleaver or rolling pin to form 9-10cm discs. Place a wrapper on your palm and spoon 2 tsp cooled filling into the centre. With your fingers, gather the edges of the wrapper to form a half moon, sealing the edges. Cover dumpling with a damp tea towel while you make the rest.
- Place dumplings, about 3cm apart, in steamers lined with greaseproof paper and steam them over simmering water in a wok for about 6-8 minutes or until translucent (if you have a small steamer, do them in batches).
- Serve with soy sauce, Chinese black vinegar or chilli sauce.