This is the picture that accompanied the recipe for first meal I ever made my family for dinner; it’s “Fillet Steak Chinese Style” from the Women’s Weekly Chinese Cooking Class Cookbook. I can’t remember how old I was – 13, I think, because my much older sister was living with us that year. The book doesn’t have a publication date or ISBN, but it sold for $3.98.
The recipe involves pounding sliced fillet steak with a mallet, marinating it for three hours in bicarbonate of soda, sugar, salt, cornflour, soy sauce, oyster sauce and sherry and then cooking it quickly in a large pan with more sherry. As you see from the photo, it is attractively served on a bed of fried onion rings. I’d do it a little differently today, but I can still remember the enormous high I felt when everyone really enjoyed it. Now when I read the recipe I feel very grateful that my mother would let a little kid loose on half kilo piece of fillet steak with a mallet. (It cost a $7.00!)
The kitchen is a sanctuary for me in a way it never was for her – she worked full time, and did almost all of the cooking, but she always encouraged my interest and was happy to explain what she was doing. I loved to sit up on the bench and talk to mum while she was making dinner. She probably only let me sit on the bench once, but I remember it. She’s the kind of mum who gave me a Le Crueset starter set when my first husband* and I set up house, who bought me a Milton Brook mortar and pestle and lugged a Le Crueset terrine half way around Europe as a surprise gift. Lately she’s been giving me Folio Society editions of Elizabeth David’s books, and she snaffled me a 1892 edition of Australian Cookery by M. J. Pearson when cleaning out her brother’s wreck of a house (scroll down here for her recipe for Calves’ Foot Jelly.) I hope she thinks her extravagant gifts have paid off – I’ve cooked her some pretty good dinners. If I’m lucky, my turn will come.
* I believe everyone should have one.