Monday, August 25, 2008

Uncle Monty and I go fishing

There are not many things finer in life than to spend a few Winter hours stumbling around in the dark, on slippery rocks dogged by a howling Southerly after a few could ones above a heaving ocean chasing fish. Uncle Monty and I took home over nine pounds of flesh for our persistence.

The Tailor (Pomatomus saltatrix) pictured left, was a tough customer.We had to beach the creature to land it, navigating by torchlight down the slippery rock wall into waist deep water among hidden rock pools and a raging swell. Once back to our spot Uncle Monty bled the fish to maintain the utmost table quality and we headed home.

So tonight I decided to give this glorious fish a simple treatment: served crispy skinned on mash with saffron braised leek and steamed veg.

I won't add a recipe here, all I will say is that I pondered writing a poncy recipe starting "Firstly, catch one five pound tailor at your local surf beach using pilchards on ganged hooks at or around dusk." but realised there are really only so many people who would appreciate such a thing, or be able to do it.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Mushrooms stuffed with olives, fetta and thyme with caramelised carrot, mash and saffron sauce

VB recently posted a delightful number on mushrooms. So delightful, I decided I had to grow some. I took a trip to the local Agricultural Co-operative (try finding one of those in St. Kilda. . .) who fortunately had a pile of them. I followed the instructions, placed the little farm on top of my hot water heater out of direct sunlight and watered and waited. And watered . . . and waited. After a time, much longer than that indicated on the instructional panel on the box (many weeks in fact), little pin head sized mushrooms began to appear. And get larger and larger and larger. (to be fair, it is winter and my laundry is a poor accomodation for Mycelium at this time of year.)

This morning my wife said she wanted mushrooms stuffed with fetta and olives and a side salad of baby spinach and pine nuts for dinner.

So tonight I plucked the first of the fruiting bodies to have raised their pale heads from the dank mouldy compost. Almost saucer sized, firm and dry and perfect. There is something almost erotic about plucking the caps out of the farm box, the pinky brown gills so fine, so delicate and untouched, nary a finger laid upon them. An allegedly wise old friend said mushrooms are best picked the day before "to forget the ground", but I think that was just a drunken rambling not to be taken seriously, he was probably thinking of Pomelo forgetting the tree. Bollocks! The faster a mushroom goes from paddock to plate the better!

I decided to serve the stuffed caps atop the mash of some Dutch Cream potato. These are a wonderful all round potato that make a mash of wonderful texture and flavour. Just a little butter, seasoning and a splash of milk to ease it into a coarse whip is all that is required.

Stuffed mushrooms with mash, caramelised carrot, blanched green beans and saffron sauce.

Some large mushrooms: one per person, stem removed with a sharp knife
30 gm fetta per shroom
8 decent black olives per person (in decent oil too, or don't bother!)
4 ts semi-dried thyme leaves
20 gm pancetta per shroom, sliced coarsely and crisped off in the oven for garnish
olive oil to bake

Pit the olives and chop them coarsley, shred the thyme, add them to the fetta and mash it all together with the tip of a robust fork. Season and spoon into the mushroom cap. Oil up a baking tray and bake in a preheated oven (180 C) for abot 20-25 minutes.

The Mash:
200 gm Dutch Cream potato per person, peeled chopped and well drained
milk and butter to finish.

I wouldn't dare tell anyone how to make mash. (If you can't make mash you shouldn't be near a kitchen anyway!) All I will say is invest in a decent set of biscuit cutters to form up the mash to serve.

The Veg:
1/2 eschalot finely sliced per person one carrot per person, peeled and juliened
six beans per person, topped, tailed and blanched for 60 seconds
Slowly sweat off eschalot in a good knob of butter, add carrot, sweat off further until sweet. Arrange beans in pairs, top with carrot and apply sauce.

The Sauce:

Make about 700 ml of vegetable stock from sctratch. Reduce down to a thick, sweet, syrupy 150ml. Take off the heat. When the mushrooms are almost ready, add a decent pinch of saffron and let the edge of the flames lick the base of the sauce pan for long enough to colour up the sauce. Strain off the saffron and take off the heat. Slowly whisk in about 40gm unsalted butter.

I served mine like this:

Oh, I forgot to make a salad too. And I used the two smaller shrooms instead of on big one. Oops. Twas rather fine though. . .

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Giant carrot and cardamom soup.

Giant carrot and cardamom soup.

Dropping by work to collect my pay the other evening I discovered a very large carrot. Enormous. Must be on steroids. Or grown in radioactive soil. None of my colleagues has ever seen a carrot of such magnitude. It had been kept aside as material for the standard workplace sexual harassment (Oh I am thinking of you, DI) and sight gags, as much for it's novelty. So with beer fueled bravado, waving 12 extra fat inches of carrot in the air I announced:

"I'm going to cook this!"

It has been days. I just can't bear to bring myself to cut this split, gnarled monster, let alone peel away it's manhood. I had toyed with the idea of stuffing it, or roasting it, or removing the inner core, roasting that then stuffing the carrot, but I think soup. Soup will work. It's idiot proof.

1 x Litre basic chicken stock (recipe here)
olive oil
1 x giant carrot, peeled and diced
1 x large onion, diced
2 x French shallots, sliced finely
2 x cloves garlic, sliced finely
3 x freshly picked cardamom leaves (remove before puree')
1 x small knob of ginger, peeled, cut coarsely (to remove before puree')

Heat a heavy based pan, with a good whack of olive oil. Saute the onion and shallot until soft, season, add the carrot and garlic and knock back the heat. Cook out until the carrot caramelises a little, then add the stock, cardamom leaves, ginger and simmer for 20 minutes. Blitz 3/4 of the soup with a stab blender or liquidizer and add the rest to retain some texture. Garnish with some coconut cream or maybe some garlic chives.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Slow braised beef neck

Slow braised beef neck

It's Friday. We have the day off, so we take the kids to Brunswick Heads, fly fishing unsuccessfully on the low tide and tannic water. We find a wonderful little shop called "second hand rose" that has bits of old and new, wonderful soaps, enamel colanders, antique cutlery and this fab old Japanese made crock pot in red and white, just like the kitchen. 'Twas a little expense but so cute! Dinner for two size! How romantic. . .

Any ways, after a really shitty day at the coalface/cafe, I return home to find duck curry and Thai fishcakes from the Bruns takeaway "Rice", meaning I didn't need to cook. Still, theres a 400gm piece of beef neck that needs to be eaten and I'm dying to try out this pot.

Preheat a stainless steel fan forced oven (or similar) to 160 deg/c

400gm beef neck ("you can call me chuck")
1/2 cup plain flour
1x small onion, diced finely
2 x mushrooms, chopped
1 x tomato, chopped finely
1 1/2 x glasses red wine
1 x clove garlic, chopped roughly
1/2 ts smoky Spanish paprika
sage, thyme and bay leaves
olive oil to seal

Heat a heavy based pan and swirl around some olive oil. Coat the diced beef neck in some flour, both sides, season and seal in the pan. Remove from the pan and add onions. Saute until soft, then add the mushrooms, smoky Spanish paprika, and tomatoes. Simmer off until the tomatoes lose structural integrity and the mushrooms have reduced by half. Deglase the pan with half a glass of red wine and drink the rest yourself as you wait for the sauce to thicken a little. Lay the beef in the crockpot, add the fresh 'erbs on top then pour over your now rich and wonderful sauce over the top. Add a cup of water. Place in bottom shelf of oven and cook for 2 hours.

Enjoy with a glass of rich red, some crusty bread and the company of one other, perhaps fireside.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Veal Saltimbocca

Veal Saltimbocca

My herb garden has some very sad looking sage in it right now (see left image). It needs a heavy prune and a feed, so therefore: tonight we're having Veal Saltimbocca. Well, not the real, pale milk fed veal, it's a bit on the pink side, so we'll see how it goes. I usually do a chicken version, which is divine, poached in stock and finished in the oven. I haven't attempted this before, but I've seen the chef do it before, so how hard can it be?

What I do know is:
  • don't do it in a non stick pan, there will be no sauce!
  • Feed the small people in the house first, so you can put them to bed and enjoy this dish with adult groans. . .
  • prep ahead and mould the saltis so they stay together.
  • flour them just before you cook them off.
  • make enough for a main and serve them with a big salad of baby spinach dressed only with lemon juice, olive oil and salt and pepper.
  • pre-heat your plates in the nuke-ro-wave or oven for two minutes just before service.
Veal Saltimbocca

many sage leaves
12 x pieces of prosciutto (6 to eat whilst prepping dinner, 6 for the dish itself)
6 x veal steaks
plain flour to coat prior to frying

Wrap the steaks individually in glad wrap and hammer out flat with a wine bottle or a meat mallet if you don't have a wine bottle. (Yeah right you say, no wine bottle, who the f@#k are you kidding?)

Incidentally, should you require a metal meat mallet, the manager of Mitre 10, Mullumbimby may merely manage to make a metal meat mallet available to meet your meat mallet needs.

Flour the individual packages and pile two by two in preparation to cook.

Heat a heavy based non-non stick pan, oiled.

Cook hot and fast, one minute on the first side and about 40 seconds on the other.

Deglase the pan with some wine and cut the heat. Add some butter to give the sauce some body.
Serve on a big white plate with sauce poured over and a salad as recommended.

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!