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Culture: Brunch is a serious game, says Gastrono-me's Gemma Simmonite

Gastrono-me fritters
Gastrono-me fritters

At Gastrono-me it’s fairly safe to say we take brunch pretty seriously.

Brunch, as a rule invariably includes eggs and bacon in some form – good. It makes the casual quaffing of alcohol at an inordinately early hour seem socially acceptable – very good. It also means never having to make a choice between sweet or savoury for your actual main course – oh my goodness good! What’s not to like? Undoubtedly the best meal of the day. But how did this new wave of eating actually arrive? Surely a hipster thing, originating from beautiful west coasters with their numerous pictures of avocado on toast? Surprisingly, no.

It dates back earlier than you would ever imagine. The name itself, a playful portmanteau of breakfast and lunch, actually first appeared in print in 1895 by British author Guy Beringer. He suggested it as an alternative to the heavy post-church Sunday meal. “Brunch is cheerful, sociable and inciting. It is talk-compelling. It puts you in a good temper, it makes you satisfied with yourself and your fellow beings, it sweeps away the worries and cobwebs of the week.”

That Guy Beringer really knew what he was talking about. There’s just something about brunch that really does promote excitement and chatter (no its not just the Mimosas). Maybe it’s because it’s not as organised as lunch. It’s certainly not as formal as dinner. If brunch were a relative, it would be your cool aunt; always late, regularly forgets birthdays, but turns up with tickets on a school night for a sold out concert. It’s laid back, and doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Carl Degler, in the Chicago Tribune, wrote an article about the rise of brunches popularity and suggests it may have been that “after World War II, large numbers of US married women entered the workforce for the first time. Married women needed a relief on Sunday too, thus the rise in popularity of Sunday brunch eaten out”. So, yet another reason to really love brunch is that it’s feminist at it’s very core! Stuff the roast after working all week, take me out, get me pancakes and get me sloshed! Well not quite, but you can see the appeal.

The brunch service is famously dreaded by some chefs (almost as much as being on the pastry section). Hundreds of eggs, requested in as many ways – “Just set please”, “Sunny side up”, “Bullet hard”, or even as once requested “Hard, but still with an appearance of gluey”, I kid you not! Not a lot of pre-prepping possible, plus it goes fast. But that’s the joy of brunching – you still have the day ahead of you. Lunch ties you in, dinner’s the main event, but brunch can be leisurely or done by 10am, the choice is yours.

What’s on the menu then? It’s so much more than just bacon and eggs nowadays, but let me stress there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that combo. Menus at great brunch places can be inspired from all over the globe. In Melbourne, the very mecca of brunching and a great inspiration to me, dining at one restaurant alone you can taste-travel as far as Malaysia with Nasi Goreng – a tangle of fragrant noodles, prawns and vegetables topped with a fried egg, to a bustling souk in Tunisia with it’s spicy Shakshuka – a soupy slightly sweet and sour stew with baked eggs nestling inside it. That’s what excites us at Gastrono-me. . . the diversity, the vibrancy, no limits. Spicy, sweet, comforting, mollifying, these are the adjectives that inform our menus, and hopefully your palates.

So it’s with my antipodean mindset that I decided on this week’s recipe (plus a promise Mike made to Katie, a loyal customer). I present to you our Sweetcorn Fritters. Nubbly golden corn pancakes, studded with chilli, spring onions, peppers, and coriander. They are the perfect vehicle to carry all your brunch favourites. Bacon, halloumi (we call it vegetarian’s ‘bacon’, it’s a perfect salty replacement), fried egg and spinach. Even that old trendy avocado!

I studied many recipes before creating our own. Most came out bland and flabby, nothing more than a savoury pancake with sweetcorn thrown in. I knew I wanted ours to have more bite, more flavour. Bill Granger’s recipe in Sydney Food came the closest, a book that I highly recommend. It shows his beautiful café Bills, (not to be confused with the British chain restaurant, Bill’s) with communal tables and diners bathed in sunshine eating vibrant, fresh food – bliss!

We really hope you enjoy our version of sweetcorn fritters. Pop that cork and get brunching like a boss!

Christmas Tip

If canapés are your thing, these fritters make an amazing substitute for blinis.

Just mini-size them when frying, then top with smoked salmon, avocado, a small dollop of soured cream and a drizzle of sweet chilli sauce. A sprig of dill if you’re feeling festively fancy!

They freeze well once cooked, so you can plan ahead. Just take them out of the freezer for at least two hours before.

Sweetcorn Fritters

Dry Mix

125g sifted plain flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon of white pepper

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

2 large free range eggs

125ml of semi-skimmed milk

325g large tin of sweetcorn drained

1 finely diced small red pepper

1 finely diced small green pepper

4 finely chopped spring onion

1 teaspoon of chilli flakes

Butter for frying

The Garnish

As with all our recipes, change it as you wish. Veggie – leave out the bacon. Not an avocado fan – swap for some lovely field mushrooms. Watching fats – poach your eggs instead.

12 rashers of streaky smoked bacon

1 halloumi block

1 ripe avocado, cubed (not too soon ahead or it’ll go brown)

Sweet chilli sauce (I recommend Healthy Boy Thai Sweet Chilli Sauce, crazy cheap for a large bottle, available in most of the big supermarkets)

A handful of cherry tomatoes sliced in half

A handful or two of baby spinach

4 eggs for frying

As with all brunches, they need to be breezy and carefree so, with that in mind all our garnish items are going to be pre-prepared and ready to be thrown together at the end.

Cook bacon your way, and put to one side.

Slice your halloumi thickly, and fry in a lightly greased griddle pan until squeakingly golden, then rest on some kitchen towel

Pre-heat your oven to 140°C

We’ll fry our eggs at the end.

For the fritters

Put the first 5 dry ingredients into a large bowl and give a whisk to incorporate the seasonings.

Beat the eggs and milk together in a jug, then gradually add it to your flour mix, stirring and eliminating any of the lumps (I find a wooden spoon is better than a whisk for this).

Then add in half of your chopped peppers and spring onion mix, give it a really good stir, then tip the rest in – it will feel quite thick, this is good.

In a non-stick frying pan, rub the warm pan with a knob of butter – I do this by carefully holding the butter in kitchen towel. Don’t use too much, just enough that the fritter doesn’t stick. Dollop about 1-2 tablespoons of batter into the pan, gently shaping it into a nice round mix. After a minute or two, carefully lift the edges with a palette knife to see how the underside is cooking. When the fritter feels ready (you will get a feel for when this), flip it over, then after 30 seconds, gently press the top – this just helps the inside cook thoroughly – they’re ready when the centre feels a little firmer. Keep going until your mixture is used up, wiping the pan out and greasing the pan again each time. Nobody will judge if you snaffle one while frying! Put your fritters onto a plate and put into the low oven to keep gently warm, covering with foil.

When you’re ready to serve, mis en place is your friend. It simply means ‘Everything in its place’.

Have your warmed fritters, cooked bacon, cooked halloumi, sliced tomatoes, cubed avocado and chilli sauce in sections in front of you. I know it seems like a faff, but this is how you get ahead and appear as a culinary hero to your guests.

Prepare each plate individually, placing 2 fritters per person, 3 rashers of bacon, a sprinkle of cherry tomatoes, a slice or two of halloumi, and decorate with some spinach.

When you’re ready to fry your eggs, turn your oven up to 180°-200°C, it needs to be quite hot to revive these plates again. (Remember they’ll be hot when taking out and warn your guests).

When your eggs are nearly ready, put each decorated plate into the oven to warm through. The spinach will start to wilt, the tomatoes and the halloumi will soften, and the bacon will be sizzling, and more importantly your diners will be swooning! Top with a fried egg each, a sprinkle of the cubed avocado and a drizzle of sweet chilli sauce. Nothing left but to call order away!

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