It’s about as Australian as the meat pie. The first Chiko Rolls were inspired by Chinese egg rolls, which were invented by Chinese-Australians.
The deep-fried 'mystery meat' snack was created by Frank McEnroe, a boilermaker from Bendigo, according to multiple sources including the Museum of the Riverina and their current-day packaging. But in a bizarre plot twist, the rolls were first sold at the Wagga Wagga Agricultural Show, sparking heated debate last year between two NSW Nationals MPs.
Origins aside, the ingredients are undisputed: boned mutton, cabbage, barley, celery, rice, carrots and spices. The mix was wrapped in a thick egg and flour dough, then fried until golden.
McEnroe invented the “Chiko”, as it affectionately became known, as a one-handed answer to the then popular chicken rolls. It’s where its name hails from - they were first sold as 'chicken rolls', despite the fact there’s never been any actual chicken inside the rolls.
By 1956, almost every milk bar and fish and chips shop stocked Chiko rolls – frozen and ready to fry – and they’re still around today, manufactured by Simplot.
"They seem to have made themselves synonymous with our beachside kiosk and surf culture," says River Cottage Australia's Paul West. "Up there with chocolate milk and orchy juices."
Mention their name to anyone who grew up in Australia around this time, like Paul, and you'll realise that the nostalgia-tinged snacks are wedged in many a heart.
"They seem to have made themselves synonymous with our beachside kiosk and surf culture"
During his childhood, Paul's parents ran a firearms retailing business in a small town in rural NSW. A few doors down was a Shell "roadhouse", rarely seen nowadays. "It had a separate lounge area for truck drivers, a sit-in restaurant and a huge bain marie laden with deep fried treats," he recalls. "After school, if I was good, mum would flick me a few bucks to go and get some afternoon tea. Usually I'd go for hot chips with tomato sauce, but one day there was something different about the roadhouse. Directly behind the bain marie was a new poster of a blonde haired Valkyrie, sitting atop a motorcycle and holding a Chiko roll.
"I had no idea what they were, (maybe they had something to do with chicken?) - I just knew that I wanted one. I slid my two bucks across the counter and was handed a deep fried cylinder wrapped up in paper. One bite and I knew that they had nothing to do with chicken, in fact, I couldn't really identify any ingredients. I didn't care though, the mystery filling wrapped in golden pastry was delicious. I was hooked."
But as beach culture moves further away from fried food and into the health food realm, Paul felt the chiko's star was fading. So on episode two of season two of River Cottage Australia (tonight 6pm on SBS) , he pays tribute to the ubiquitous snack, giving the Aussie classic “a River Cottage spin”. In true River Cottage style, he recreates his “cheeky rolls” with what he’s currently got in surplus: zucchinis, which stand in for the traditional cabbage.
“As far as pastries go, they don’t get much simpler,” says West in the episode. And he’s not wrong: his egg pastry is made with four cups of flour, four eggs (one egg for each cup), incorporated and then worked together with a cup of water.
“Your pastry will start off quite sticky,” West warns.
For his “mystery filling”, he cooks a cup of pearl barley (which isn’t totally dissimilar to the original recipe) to add some “beautiful springy body”.
Next up, West finely slices his zucchini, removing the watery seeds and salting them to draw out extra moisture.
For the rest of the filling, he chops celery, onion, carrots and fresh beans. Then, seasoned, chunky lamb mince gets fried off in a pan “that’s good and hot” to avoid it stewing in its own juices.
In a separate pan, the vegetables get the same sizzle treatment, as does the zucchini. The filling ingredients are then all combined.
West rolls out his dough to a 1-2mm thickness.
“The last thing I want is for the pastry to tear and run the risk of a leaky cheeky.”
A few spoonfuls of the filling are piled onto the bottom edge of the dough, and the other edges are brushed with an egg to “seal the deal”. The filling is enveloped like a regular spring roll. Then, they’re deep-fried and drained on paper towels.
“I’ve never had anything from the bain-marie at a takeout shop that takes this good."
For a real dose of childhood nostalgia, Sydneysiders are in luck - for $4, they can get their hands on cult eatery Daisy's Milkbar's chiko roll. Head Chef Rhys Platt says the mysterious insides are not a mystery at all at Daisy's: "Ours are made using beef, carrot, barley and celery".
Lead image via Wikicommons.