Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Yellowfin tuna with saffron cabbage and sebago mash

Yellowfin tuna with saffron cabbage and sebago mash

Tonight was to be a Slow braised beef neck, slowly and succulently braised beneath a saucy chicken stock with mushrooms, but as I was about to enter the butcher's, the neighboring fishmonger had spotted me.

"The tuna has just arrived, it's still in the box." she yelled, hand cupped to mouth to direct her call.
Super fresh sashimi grade Yellowfin tunua or beef neck? Mmmm.
"It's a bit more expensive than usual, there hasn't been a lot of it around lately."

The young lad pulled out the tuna fillet and unwrapped it and showed it to me. The colour a gorgeous deep claret red, the flesh translucent and firm, smelling of the tuna, not of fish. Half a kilo should do for two, especially at $35/kg. Next stop: greengrocer. I discussed the merits of various spuds, (not being an expert) settling on some Sebagos to mash. I choose some savoy cabbage, just a quarter as I intend to saute with a little butter and saffron, some colour and soft crunch to offset the smoothness of the mash.

you'll need

500gm yellowfin tuna in one piece

for the cabbage
i x onion, sliced finely
1/8th savoy cabbage
1 ts saffron in 60ml hot water
50 gm-ish butter

for the mash
3 x large sebago potatoes, scrubbed, peeled and diced
2 x cloves garlic, diced finely
60 gm butter
1/2 cup milk

for the beans
8 x beans per person
2 x lemongrass leaves

You'll need to get the mash and the cabbage going at the same time. The spuds for the mash can be done ahead of time if you keep them covered with water. Use a heavy based pan for the mash, that way you can finish it off and cover it and not have to worry about it later. Do the cabbage in a big non stick. Have a pot of fiercely boiling water ready for the beans, when it's their time. (They really don't need more than 2 mins to retain some bite.)

Oil a dinner plate and season it. Cut the tuna fillet in half lengthways, place on the oiled plate and season the upside too.

Julienne the cabbage and onion, toss in a pan with the butter. Add the saffron in water. keep adding water to soften the cabbage, but keep up the heat. You should have a gorgeous brown/red sort of caramelised finish to it.

Strain the spuds and mash manually with a masher. add the garlic and butter and milk, return to a low heat and stir with a wooden spoon. Turn the heat off and cover until ready to serve.

Start the tuna when the mash and cabbage are ready. Heat a griddle plate when you start doing the mash. Get it hot. Toss the tuna in the oil again and place it on the griddle. It only needs one minute a side, any more will overcook the fish, as I did after a few too many wines with this dish. When the fish is done, take it off the griddle and on to a room temperature plate.

Prepare an ice bath for the beans. (Keep a bag of ice in the freezer, throw four cups of ice into a steel mixing bowl and add cold water.) Tie the bundles of beans up with a leaf of lemongrass and blanch in the boiling water for two minutes maximum and refresh in the ice bath.

Take a 10cm pastry cutter and fill it in the middle of the plate full of mash, squaring off the top, then do the same on top of the mash with the cabbage. Place the tuna fillet on top, decorate with the beans and serve with a squeeze of lemon on top.

We enjoyed this with a 2007 Leeuuwin Estate 'Siblings' Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon from Margaret River. Which was perfect, but a SB or a buttery chardie would go just fine. Next time, I'll make a sauce. The combination of the mash and cabbage was sublime!

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Cajun Flathead

Cajun Flathead
The week before Easter, my family spent the week at Yamba, a little town on the mighty Clarence River. The fishing there is exceptional. After a few days of stuffing around, I finally nailed (with the help of my four year old daughter) the art of catching flathead. Sounds simple right? Catch small fish. Keep them alive long enough to put on a hook and throw out to the big fish. A concept called live baiting. IP, daughter, out fished me with alarming regularity. It seemed every time she put a bait into the water she pulled out a shiny herring or glistening river gar. She'd reel em in and then give them a name like honey, or peanut, or nibbles.

"Here's how we put the hook through Peanut" I'd say, deftly sliding a 2/0 hook through the shoulder of a small herring, trying not to kill it or remove any scales in the process. One large cast and then wait. It wasn't long before a fish hit the panicky bait that we could see glimmering in the mid afternoon light, flitting from one predator to another. We watched the rod tip arch over then listened to the reel scream as three kilos of flathead tore off along the rock-wall. I grabbed the rod, adrenaline coursing through my veins and spent ten minutes wrestling the fish up to the bank of the wall, rod bent over in half. I could see it thrashing around in half a foot of water, a magnificent fish! At the precise moment that I had one of the local fisho's thoughts (" you should get rid of that wire trace and go back to some mono. . . .") the huge lizzard bit through the mono I had gone back to, and the rest of the tackle whipped through the air past my ear at just under the speed of sound. Crap! That was the last live bait too. Double Crap!! So anyway, the fish in the photograph and therefore the recipe was caught 100m away on Turners Beach (in the surf) on a live garfish. It weighed in at 2020 gm, and measured 70cm on the brag mat.

Back in the good days at Claypots in St. Kilda, Melbourne, one of our best selling fish dishes was the Cajun Flathead, a whole baked fish Deep South style. After some playing, I have approximated the recipe, with a little less heat to suit my lessening ability to handle too much spice, in my older age.

1 tablespoon Paprika
2½ teaspoon Salt
1 teaspoon Onion powder
1 teaspoon Garlic powder
1 teaspoon Ground red chilli
¾ teaspoon White pepper
¾ teaspoon Black pepper
½ teaspoon Dried thyme leaves
½ teaspoon Dried oregano leaves

Simply dust the flathead all over with the spice mix. If you coat the fish in melted butter first and seal it in the pan the you achieve the blackened effect made famous by Paul Prudhome. For this dish we had to fillet the fish, then cut the fillets in half. The oven was far too small to bake the fish whole. Each fillet weighed around 500gm!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Stoplight stew

Stoplight Stew
(Slow braised lamb with three capsicums and cous cous.)

It's definitely the sort of weather that demands some stick to the ribs slow cooked dish. The wife and have developed this recipe over some chilly nights. The use of three different coloured capsicums gives the dish a freshness and some colour, unlike most "stews" that are just, well, brown.

3 x cloves garlic, chopped finely
1 x large brown onion, chopped finely
1 x red capsicum, chopped finely
1 x yellow capsicum, chopped finely
1 x green capsicum, chopped finely
1 x kg lamb forequarter chops or similar
1 x 800g tin crushed tomatoes
500gm mushrooms, diced, stems removed
fresh thyme
cous cous to serve

optional: bunch chopped coriander or parsley to serve.

Season the chops both sides. Heat a heavy based pan and seal the meat both sides in batches and remove. Add a little oil and saute' onion until soft. Add mushrooms and cook off until reduced by half. Add capsicum and garlic and cook for two minutes. Remove from the pan and return the meat, then the vegetables and add tomato. Add a small bunch of thyme and about a cup of water. Simmer slowly for two hours, adding more water if necessary to stop the sauce sticking or becoming too thick. Serve atop some cous cous. Load the stew up with fresh herbs to serve if you please.

Sunday, April 20, 2008



DI tonight witnesses first hand my son's first real words. "Cheers!" he says as he clinks his plastic closed kiddie cup with our wine glasses and stubbies. A class act.

It's a crappy wet Sunday Autumn afternoon and my wife calls me to tell me she bought a kilo of cryovacced Boston Bay mussels. My partner in crime, DI and I b-line it for the bottle shop and the local shop before it shuts. Need tomatoes, garlic, pick parsley from the cafe garden, beer (Birra Moretti seeing as were doing Italian. . .). Better get Vodka too. Zubrowka at that. Tonic. Frozen water.

Anyway, we arrive. A 1.5 kg snapper, whole baked en papillotte hits the table (a credit to my wonderful wife who has a way with parchment and alfoil baked parcels!), with roasted spuds, corn and broccoli steamed to perfection. A short pause later and DI rinses off the mussels as I prep up the sauce:

olive oil to start
2 x Roma tomatoes
1/2 a Spanish onion
3 x cloves garlic, sliced coarsely
glass (don't be shy) of good white wine
small bunch parsley, chopped

Usual story, soften the onion in the oil in a heavy based pot, add tomato and garlic, then wine, cook off a little, throw mussels in and cover. When half of the mussels have opened, add the parsley. Cover again. Eat as soon as you can. Use the shells as a spoon to drink the leftover liquor. Yay!

Friday, April 18, 2008


The Wintry weather has made me feel for soup. A good hearty chicken broth. Stracciatella to be precise. Loaded with seasoning and egg and parmesan and parsley. Ooooo.
I think I learned this at the Dogs Bar in St Kilda, Melbourne. The success of this dish relies on the quality of the stock you make. My favourite version requires a couple of osso bucco and a smoked bacon bone for good measure.

Basic Chicken Stock

3 x Large chicken frames
2 x osso bucco
1 small bacon bone
1 x Bunch celery
2 x large carrots
1 x onion, unpeeled, quartered
6 x cloves garlic, unpeeled
ts black peppercorns
4 x bay leaves
A big handful of herbs out of the garden (thyme, sage, basil and oregano this time round)

Wash all excess shmaltz and blood from the frames. Roughly chop all the veggies, except the garlic and throw them in the stock pot. Throw the meats into the pot, cover with cold water and simmer for four or so hours. Strain through muslin cloth, feed the veggies to the worm farm.
Let cool to allow the fat to set on top then remove with a slotted spoon.


Beat two eggs, some grated parmesan cheese and some chopped flatleaf parsley.
Heat the stock and stir in this mix with a fork until strands form. A little lemon on top to serve with some crusty bread. Belissimo!

For tonights dish i cut a chicken breast into very fine slivers that cooked in the stock within seconds as the soup was served. . .

Oh and a glass of Viognier!

Chilli lemongrass mudcrabs

Chilli lemongrass mudcrabs

The phone rang. It was KO. It was one of those calls that set the heart and saliva racing.
"Wanna buy some mud crabs?" she said.
"How much?" inquire I.
"A tenner each" she says.
"I'll be there as soon as I can!"
I left the house so fast my son didn't get any shoes on his feet.
When I got there, six shiny blue-black crustaceans sat in a box, tied appropriately and covered with mangrove leaf to keep them from running amok. Probably seven odd kilos worth. $30 bucks a kilo retail up here. Quick sums done, a tenner each is a bargain. I take four, DI takes two. I had arrived by bike and trailer, having no way to transport the crabs, DI agrees to deliver them. And to join us for dinner with his delightful younger muse.

I went shopping for the ingredients necessary. My folks, who were visiting from interstate and more than a bit partial to a bit of spicy muddy, had to be invited, and all the prep done. My wife had to be informed of a change in dinner plans. Most of all I needed beer. And some Sauvignon Blanc. No time to waste! I took a large chunk of lemongrass and some kaffir lime leaf from the garden and set about making the flavourbase.

Chilli lemongrass mudcrabs

one mudcrab per person, about a kg each
Four stalks of lemongrass, bashed and cut into matchsticks
Large knob of ginger cut into matchsticks
Two kaffir lime leaves julienned hair fine
six cloves garlic cut into matchsticks
bunch coriander's roots, washed
bunch coriander leaves and stems chopped, reserved for last
tow ts sambal oleck (i made this evil stuff myself)
juice of a lime
tbsp palm sugar

Five beers and two hours later i had all of the ingredients inbeutiful little stacks in bowls, my mis en place ready to go. Then DI arrived with the cargo. We iced down the crabs in a recycling tub, the poured five litres of water in to make a slurry. Recycling tubs hve holes in th bottom don't they. . . Within seconds crabby water spilled all over the floor leaving DI and I to mop furiously and upend the crabs into the sink. After a time, and a Stella Artois or two, we took on the task of breaking the crabs down. We set up on the old butchers' block in sight of the PC. With Withnail and I on, we broke up the crabs with gusto (and more beer). Into to fridge with them and a cursory mop of the floor, DI was off to Byron Bay for a shower.

Down came the rain. Guests arrived, wine was opened. Where's DI. The phone rings:
"It's flooding down here, we can't get there!" cries DI

We start without him.

Heat a large wok, add some vegetable oil and throw in all the ingredients except the crabs, lime juice, palm sugar and corriander leaf. Heat until fragrant. The add the crabs and remaining ingredients, except the corriander leaf. Turn the crabs every now and then. Turn off the heat when they turn orange and add the coriander leaf.

I just served them in the wok, with brown rice on the side (absolutely unnecessary I might add) and an elbow deep fingerbowl. Oh and lots of beer and Sav Blanc. Divine. Hours of cracking, gnawing and sucking, there were two pieces of crab left. Seven kg of muddie is definitely enough for four adults as a main :-)

The next day, I went to see DI at work, with my bum on fire and a pain in the back of my head.
"Please tell me they were awful JP, please"
I couldn't lie to him. All I could do was grin like a cheshire cat.