Deconstructing Australia’s Chiko Roll

Today marks a milestone in my ongoing 3 year odyssey, pursuing that classic Aussie food icon, the Chiko Roll.

Ever since I was a small boy, buying my lunch from Jimmy’s Fish and Chip shop, across the road from Reservoir North East Primary School, in the mid-70’s, I’ve been in love with this snack. 

That, four’n twenty export piesbeef croquettes, and the cornjack were some of my most favorite fast food items. Later I was to add the Spinach and Ricotta Burger, which pretty much became for me a breakfast staple at one time.

Today is a milestone for a number of reasons. Mostly, because I think I’ve finally cracked the “True” mystery of the Aussie Chiko Roll. Now, I’m not the first to have sought an answer to this question, many have, but most fail, much like Fast Eddie’s Mystery Roll which is more Spring Roll than Chiko Roll, hell it doesn’t even attempt to remotely look the same.

To give an idea of how wide of the mark, some people and “Celebrity Chef’s” are on this divine culinary masterstroke, you just have to watch an episode of Masterchef Australia, Season 3. Ok, so it’s a “re-invention” of an old classic, but??? Beef steak? No mutton? Potato, are you serious? No pastry? 

Now, believe it or not, this actually bugs me, big time, because such ill considered attempts dressed up in all it’s finery, pomp and TV Magic have been a distracting and unfruitful divergence from the true goal, identifying what is the true mystery of the Chiko Roll. However, to be fair at least two of the recipes might prove useful, in retrospect.

Believe me, the True Mystery of the Chiko Roll is NOT the filling.

After so long, banging my head against the wall, I’ve realized that the true mystery lies in the pastry casing. It is such a significant mystery the few, if anybody, actually tackle it directly. Why is that? Because its an egg dough pastry, and pastry scares people, and the process of making it is not so easy to reproduce in a short time in the home kitchen.

So, what is a Chiko Roll and how do you make it?

After much research, searching and scrabbling around for tidbits of information from the Net, and from product packaging, a Chiko Roll is, in essence: 

a deep fried, bread-based cannelloni with a mutton & cabbage stew filling.

It consists of – “consists of beef, celery, cabbage, barley, carrot, onion, green beans, and spices filled into a tube of wheat flour pastry which is then deep-fried.” (Wikipedia)

Legend has it that, creator, Frank McEncroe was inspired by the Chinese Spring roll and made his on, using a variation on Chop Suey, using mutton instead of beef, ala Chinese Mutton Stew. Looking over the Ingredient List of today’s Chiko Roll, the evidence is sufficiently compelling to say that the filling is a Chinese inspired mutton stew with celery, beans and carrots, plus some pearl barley to bulk it out. – barley was a common addition to Lamb Stew in Australian-British cooking. The spices could have ginger and/or curry powder, but not garlic, and chicken stock was most likely used to soften/lighten the stew. For use a s a filling, the stew would have been lightly thickened with plain flour.

So, there you have it, the filling is not that great a mystery.

As I said before, the true mystery here is the wheat flour pastry casing. From various sources this pastry casing has been described as an egg batter dough casing which is first cooked and then deep fried, as part of an industrial process…

Have you ever tried to make an egg batter dough, form it into tubes, fill them and then cook them? I have. It’s not easy at all, and this very fact, a question of technique, had been bothering me and stumping me for a long time.

Thus, how to do this at home? It’s taken me a while to realize, that what needs to be done, is to first make a firm egg batter dough, roll it out to around 2-3 mm thick, and then case the dough around lightly oiled, metal, cannelloni forms. These then go into a hot oven to be blind baked until just firm and are then either chilled or allowed to cool before filling with  mutton stew mix. 

What this does, is allow for the casings to be handled comfortably and filled properly. After filling the ends need to be capped with either an egg and breadcrumb mix or raw egg batter dough disks, before the preliminary ‘blanch’ frying of the rolls, which can then be drained off, packaged and frozen, ready for use as required.

My “Ah Ha!” moment was finally realizing that the shells needed to be blind baked first.

This does not solve the mystery of the casing though, just only one technical aspect. What it does do though is allow us to consider candidate recipes for the egg batter dough.

Egg batter dough, egg batter dough… wtf is ‘egg batter dough?’

 Searching around doesn’t help that much if the search is aimless. We need to consider what culinary influences Mr. McEnroe might have had, especially since he was a boilermaker, in central Victoria, Australia, growing up in the early part of last century. This means, mostly, Australian style British Cuisine, with European/Mediterranean migrant influences. 

Why is this important? Many of the recipes around the Web, especially pastry/dough recipes are either American or French influenced. Useful, interesting, but not exactly what I’m looking for. However they do allow for introspection and for consideration of cross-influenced cuisine. I believe the most likely source for a recipe for Mr. McEnroe’s pastry is to be found in a savory twist on the making of Italian Cannoli.

And so we go round, and round, and round. Thickness, consistency, texture profile, pre and post cooking treatments. A reinvention of the wheel… I move a step forward.

Next time? Recipes and some pictures.