The Australian Women's Weekly Chinese Cooking Class Cookbook was first published in 1978 and is still in print, recently re-released as a 'Vintage' edition. The recipes are mostly the usual things you would have found in a suburban Chinese restaurant or RSL club bistro (and quite a few still today). They are mostly Cantonese in style, with a few northern ('Mongolian') or Szechuan flavours. For home cooks at the time, this type of cooking would have been such an adventure, a radical departure from the usual.
Since the 1960s there had been an increasing demand for exotic and unusual foods in Australia and women's magazines started to introduce recipes and features showcasing these mysterious dishes. Increased immigration and the rise of affordable travel heightened the view to the rest of the world, in particular Asia, which meant that many Australians were looking to break out from their usual dinner party routines and try something new.
Chinese food in the 1970s was probably the most well known of Asian cuisines to many households in a fairly white bread chomping Australia. While there had been immigration since the gold rush days of the 1850s and a number of well visited Chinatowns in capital cities, cooking this style of food at home was still regarded as a novelty, a taste of the Orient, something to show off your cooking skills and spice up that Saturday night dinner party with Beryl and Norman (Norman would have brought along a half dozen bottles of Reschs DA and perhaps some Porphyry Pearl or Blue Nun for the ladies.)
Shawn remembers his Mum and Aunty attending Chinese cooking classes in the 1970s, with many dishes becoming part of his Mum's usual party repertoire. The pork spare ribs recipe in this book is a spot on take on a dish she still brings out at Christmas lunch. Alison's Mum was limited to fried rice and a curry prawn dish that was a family favourite, Chinese food was strictly in the takeaway zone for them.
As part of a series of cookbooks featuring the new and somewhat exotic (later books in the series featured an "Oriental Dinner Party", Indian and Italian) it would have been a classic Mother's Day gift. Priced at around $3.98 and printed in a magazine style with loads of colour pictures, it was also at the start of the colour picture and recipe cookbook style, a deviation from the wordy B&W Penguin softbacks with small line drawings. Pre internet, it was a window onto a whole new food world.
Spring rolls, the perennial favourite.
A brief note at the front of the book points out that most of the special ingredients used in Chinese cooking are available at large supermarkets and food stores. The ones they point out as perhaps only at Chinese food stores are five spice powder, Chinese chilli sauce and wrappers for spring rolls and wontons (but there's also a recipe to make your own). These ingredients are now easy finds at Colesworths. There are a number of substitute ingredients you wouldn't see in a Chinese recipe today, most notably sherry and dry white wine instead of Chinese cooking wine.
There's a large use of canned goods: straw mushrooms, bamboo shoots, water chestnuts, abalone, crab, creamed corn, bottled oysters, baby corn, lychees, mandarins. Chicken stock cubes are used with abandon (perhaps a replacement MSG?)
Ingredients that would have seemed new and somewhat harder to find are Chinese pickles, bean curd, fresh ginger, hoi sin sauce, sesame oil, canned black beans, rice flour and fresh egg noodles.
Most surprising is the use of meats many home cooks would consider radical to use now, but were far more common (and cheaper by comparison) in the 70s - pork trotters and chicken livers are featured. We pat ourselves on the back these days for using these different cuts and being so clever but I fear we are getting less adventurous rather than more.
So lets start out with the Hors d'oeuvre, as any good dinner party would.
Stuffed mushrooms, spring rolls, ham balls, gow gees, ham and chicken rolls, dim sims and hors d'oeuvre rolls were all deep fried finger foods you would expect to find in a mixed entree dish at the local Chinese, nothing too amazing there. Every single one of them is deep fried. The one dish that really caught the eye was chicken and banana squares, squares of white bread with layers of chicken and banana in between, coated in egg wash and breadcrumbs and deep fried. The only fried exception is 'Pork and Lettuce Rolls', a version of Sang Choy Bow as it was known then (perhaps you'd see sung choi bao on a menu now).
"Chinese soups come in two varieties: light and clear, thick and hearty."
First up is a recipe for Mongolian Hot Pot, an ambitious looking recipe that suggests purchasing a cooking vessel at Chinese specialty stores or even substituting a fondue pot. A crab combination soup pairs tinned crab with fresh scallops, threads of omelette and wisps of egg white; long and short soups with handmade pork wontons; chicken and corn; abalone and ham (with a good home made fish head stock) and finally Szechuan with a kick of chilli sauce.
"Seafood - from crabs to prawns to whole fish - is delicious when given the Chinese touch."
Cantonese cooking is easily defined by its extensive use of seafood. There are a number of dishes here that sound easy to make and great to eat, some not so much. Barbecue Prawns heated over flaming brandy; Seafood combination (scallops, prawns, squid, fish) or just a veg and scallop combo; crispy fish pieces in chilli sauce or a whole crisp skinned fish; Prawns on toast; sate prawns; wonderful stuffed crab claws with sweet and sour sauce; tinned abalone in oyster sauce; squid with broccoli (including squid cleaning instructions); deep fried crab stuffed prawns; pretty and fresh bamboo prawns; rice with crab (there's liberal use of tinned crab in these recipes); Chinese bream, a poached fish with hot oil poured over aromatics and fish at the end; prawn omelettes and butterfly prawns (coated in egg yolk and flour and deep fried); crab in ginger sauce and a simple braised prawns and vegetables.
"Sweet and sour pork is undoubtedly one of the most colourful of all Chinese dishes. But the Chinese have other clever but so simple ways with pork."
Pork rashers get the treatment with garlic and black beans or a barbeque sauce (this is the dish just like Shawn's Mum makes), pork chops get sweet and soured and spiced; pork trotters are chopped and cooked down with vinegar and ginger; steamed pork buns made from scratch; pork ribs cooked with chilli plum sauce; pork and chicken in black bean sauce and pork fillet is barbecued (a char sui style).
Chicken and Duck
"With their subtle Oriental flavouring, there seems no end to the imaginative recipes the Chinese can conjure up with poultry. Experiment with some of these."
Here there are more of the dishes still seen in many a Chinese restaurant and an excellent illustrated guide to chopping a chicken in the Chinese style; mainstay flavours of lemon, honey chilli, ginger garlic and hoisin chicken; a refreshing cold sesame chicken salad; really fruity chicken with lychees, or with mangoes or honey and pineapple or lemon and ginger; chicken sticks (broken down wings); marinated and fried wings; braised duck in a claypot (including instructions on buying one and preparing for use); duck with pineapple; spiced chicken served with fried salt and pepper; chicken and almonds or asparagus or water chestnuts; an almost hainanese style ginger shallot chicken; chicken chow mein and a combo chop suey and a beggars chicken wrapped in flour and salt and cracked with a hammer.
"Beef in Chinese recipes is generally cut into very fine slices. Put the beef into the freezer for 30 minutes to make slicing easy"
There's not much out of the ordinary here, not surprising considering beef isn't as huge in Cantonese style cooking. Beef with sate, black beans, cashews, ginger, peppers, celery or curry; stir fried with noodles; the very 70s sherried beef with spinach; fillet steak Chinese style and beef chow mein.
"Vegetables cooked in the Chinese manner are crisp and colourful. Because cooking time is so short, they are full of flavour."
Sorry vegetarians - there's only one recipe here for you. A very simple stir fry of crisp green veg. This is probably one of the most disappointing parts of the book, considering the incredible ways you can prepare and eat vegetables prepared in a Chinese style. In another section is a bean curd in oyster sauce dish.
Rice and Noodles
"Steamed rice is an essential accompaniment to any Chinese meal, or you may prefer Fried Rice."
A classic fried rice opens this section, surprisingly free of frozen green peas and diced carrot. Noodles here are all fried, either puffed vermicelli or egg noodles compressed into crisp little baskets or into clusters. Steamed rice closes it.
"Chinese cuisine does not offer a wide range of desserts. We have included a few traditional recipes in this section, and have added some light and lovely desserts which make a superb ending to a Chinese meal."
OK, so here's where this cookbook really shows it's seventies side. Watermelon in green ginger wine; ginger or almond junket (a gelatine and evaporated milk wonder, served with 'Chinese gooseberries' or as we know them now, kiwifruit); banana fritters; lychees and mandarin ice and a strawberry sorbet; honeydew melon in champagne and of course hot ice-cream balls with caramel sauce.
...And all the Lovely Extras
"all the delightful odds and ends that help add special interest to a Chinese meal."
This section is a fascinating assortment of bits. Honeyed walnuts; China tea "one of the most thirst-quenching of all drinks"; how to make wonton wrappers; tinned lychees stuffed with preserved ginger and dipped in chocolate; Chinese style custard tarts; how to curl shallots for decoration; a quick pickled cucumber with ginger and a mixed pickle; sesame peanut candy; fried wontons and a bean curd with oyster sauce.
"We asked some of our top restaurants to part with a favourite recipe."
This almost reads like a list of Sydney restaurants that don't exist anymore, with more adventurous dishes to try.
New Tai Yuen, Dixon Street - Crab in Black Bean Sauce (still open, but not on the menu anymore)
Four Seas Restaurant, Elizabeth Street - Billy Kee Chicken
Golden Lily, Malabar - Sizzling Steak
Dixon Restaurant, Dixon Street - Flower Blossoms (deep fried balls or pork and mushroom)
New Dynasty Restaurant, Cremorne - Stuffed Chicken Wings
Dragon City Restaurant in the Old Windsor Tavern - Honey Prawns
Rose Bay Chinese Restaurant - Pork Chops with Plum Sauce (still going, but with pork ribs instead of chops)
Eastern Restaurant, Dixon Street - Chicken Hotpot
Peking Palace, Cremorne - Toffee Apples
This cookbook was picked up as an a bit of interest in what was presented to Australian cooks as Chinese food. While there were certain recipes we expected to find, the surprise was in some of the excellent seafood dishes and the add ons.
We've seen this book around often in second hand stores. It should be easy to pick up and get your Chinese cooking class skills honed and ready.