To occupy herself in the early days of the pandemic, Melbourne chef Rosheen Kaul created The Isol(Asian) Cookbook with her friend Joanna Hu. Both women have a mixed bag of Asian heritage. Rosheen kept herself busy by documenting all the inauthentic Asian recipes she loves to eat, and she asked Jo to illustrate them.
Chinese-ish, published by Murdoch Books, is based on that pandemic project. Clearly a dynamic duo, they’ve produced a colourful, quirky book full of Chinese-influenced dishes that are “not quite authentic but 100% delicious”, illustrated with Jo’s amazing drawings.
Spending their formative years living between two or more cultures and wondering where they fitted in, food was a huge part of the journey for both Rosheen and Jo. To her parents’ horror, Rosheen pursued a career in food, ending up as head chef at Melbourne’s Etta restaurant.
Tips, tricks and shortcuts
Jo swapped a career in law for a whirlwind few years in hospitality, mostly spent front-of-house. Born out of all those nights in professional kitchens, Chinese-ish has lots of tips, tricks and shortcuts for creating delicious dishes.
The book is filled with recipes that have come into their lives over the years: Chinese-influenced dishes from south-east Asia, recipes from Saturday yum cha with family, Shanghainese recipes from the time Rosheen lived there as a teenager, recipes from Jo’s childhood in Hunan, and comfort food from Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland that they have enjoyed here in Australia.
The humble custard tart makes appearances in many different cultures, most famously as the Portuguese pastel de nata. The egg custard tart made its way to Hong Kong from the nearby Portuguese colony of Macao and the Cantonese transformed it by adding more egg yolks and decreasing the sugar and dairy. The result is a delicate, eggy custard with only a gentle sweetness, encased in a flaky tart shell.
Traditional Chinese puff pastry is incredibly difficult to make. Rosheen — who says most of her cooking revolves around her “inherent impatience (read: laziness)” — uses ready-made shortcrust pastry to speed up the process. It’s a foolproof recipe and puts a still-warm, freshly baked egg custard tart in easy reach of everyone.
Rest assured that her hacks and shortcuts come from a good place. “I wouldn’t make any adjustments that resulted in a sub-par recipe,” she says. “I have some pride, after all.”
Buy your copy of Chinese-ish from Australian-owned Booktopia.
Cheat’s egg custard tart
Vegetable oil, for brushing
2 sheets shortcrust pastry
1/3 cup (75 g) caster (superfine) sugar
150 ml (5 fl oz) hot water
¼ cup (60 ml) sweetened condensed milk
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
For the custard, dissolve the sugar in the hot water in a saucepan over low heat, stirring to make a syrup. In a bowl, whisk the eggs, condensed milk and vanilla together to combine. While whisking continuously, slowly pour the sugar syrup into the egg mixture. Strain into a jug and allow to stand until the air bubbles dissipate. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F). Lightly brush a 12-hole muffin tin or 12 fluted individual tart tins with oil. Cut the pastry sheets into 12 even squares and press into the greased tins, trimming off any excess. Chill in the fridge for 15–20 minutes.
Line the pastry shells with baking paper and fill with pastry weights or uncooked rice. Blind-bake for 10 minutes, then carefully remove the paper and weights and bake for another 3–4 minutes, until golden. Set aside to cool.
Reduce the oven temperature to 140°C (275°F) and divide the custard equally between the shells. Bake the tarts on the lowest shelf of your oven for 20-25 minutes, until the filling is just set. Remove from the oven and allow to rest for about 15 minutes. Enjoy the custard tarts while they’re warm.
Recipe and image from Chinese-ish by Rosheen Kaul and Joanna Hu, photography by Armelle Habib. Published by Murdoch Books and reproduced with the publisher’s permission.
This story originally appeared in PS News.
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