Salmon with Spiced Orange Sauce, Spring Peas and Mint

The Spring weather is so wet and cold this year that I’ve been forced to spend far more time indoors. The gardens and summer vegetable planting have been put on hold- again. To compensate, we are having four days of cheffy home cooked meals, little dinners for two that require a degree of concentration, an interesting sauce and some clever assembling at the last-minute. And that, dear reader, means more recipes on this blog. Today’s recipe started off as Duck Breast with Orange Spiced Sauce. I often find myself substituting fish or vegetables in meat based recipes found in good cookbooks, especially if there is a good sauce involved. In this way, each section of the book gets used. You should try this trick. Fresh Atlantic Salmon is probably the best substitute for meat, given that it is fairly robust and holds its shape well and is readily available.

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Salmon, spiced orange sauce, Spring peas, mint. Bad low light.

The recipe is for four people. I simply halved it for our little dinner for two. The original used 4 200 g duck breasts, skin lightly scored. I have substituted fresh Tasmanian salmon and used around 160 g per person. This quantity is plenty for one serving, despite the tendency of major supermarkets to cut larger pieces, another reason to adopt a good fishmonger.

Ingredients

  • 4 oranges
  • 4 salmon pieces, ( not tail pieces) around 160 g per piece
  • knob of butter and a little olive oil
  • 1 heaped teaspoon 5 spice powder
  • 1/3 cup ( 80 g) brown sugar
  • 50 ml red wine vinegar
  • 1 cinnamon quill
  • 2 star anise
  • 2 cup grand Marnier ( or brandy)
  • 2 cups baby green peas, just cooked
  • mint leaves to serve.

Preheat the oven to 220c. FF

Zest all the oranges, juice 2 oranges and set aside. Remove the peel and white pith from the remaining 2 oranges, then slice them into thin rounds and set aside.

Cut each salmon pieces across into 3 pieces. Combine 5 spice powder with 2 teaspoons sea salt, rub them into the salmon pieces in a bowl and set aside.

Place a large non stick pan over medium heat, add butter and oil to the pan and fry the salmon, skin side down, until quite crisp. Remove the fish and place them on a metal tray in the oven to complete cooking for 5 or more minutes.

Return the pan to low heat. Add the sugar and vinegar to the pan, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add the cinnamon and star anise, then cook on low for 3 minutes, until caramelised. Add the Grand Marnier or substitute, the orange juice and zest, then simmer for 5 minutes or until thickened. Add the orange slices for 1 minute to warm through.

Cook the peas until just done and keep hot. Tear the mint leaves.

Warm the serving platter and plates. Place the peas on the serving platter, add salmon pieces and any juices from the tray, place the orange slices and mint leaves around the fish, then pour over the hot sauce. Serve it on hot plates.

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The rain pours down, the light is low, let’s light the fire and eat well.

Adapted from a recipe found in Delicious, Simply the Best, Valli Little, 2011. p. 18

 

 

 

 

Home Again Recipes. Pumpkin and Haloumi Salad and Nasi Goreng Ikan

After six weeks of travelling, it takes a while to adjust to the rhythm of cooking your own meals, let alone all those other tedious tasks, such as bed making and house cleaning. Where are those fairies who come and clean up? Home cooking routines return more quickly; after all, we do need to eat at least twice a day. After purchasing one packet of inedible bread, the sourdough starter was revived and our breads are back on the table, using a variation of this recipe. I dehydrated my sourdough starter (Celia’s method can be found here) back in July, but then discovered that one very kind sir kept my fridge dwelling starter, Sorella, alive, replenishing her each week while visiting to feed my other animals.

Sourdough loaves, one for now, one for the freezer
Sourdough loaves, one for now, one for the freezer.

Home made food tastes glorious, modest yet satisfying and comforting, filling that yearning for more olive oil and cheese that is missing in most Asian diets. And then there’s the wine- beautiful Australian and New Zealand wines at an affordable price. The Spring garden is neglected, with only leeks, celery and herbs ready for picking, while our hens keep pumping out eggs, now far too many for our own needs. It is with these modest supplies and a well stocked pantry of basics ( lentils, rice, pasta, dried beans, olive oil, cheese) that we can eat well for very little.

A garden full of leeks.
A garden full of leeks.

My budget dishes this week included a Flamiche, a leek based quiche, enabling me to make a dent in the leek and egg bounty.  A leek and potato Vichyssoise for the export market (my mother), a lentil shepherd’s pie with Kumara mash, (my $1 per person comfort food), a salad of baked pumpkin with haloumi, the pumpkins left over from last Autumn’s harvest screaming to be used. Haloumi can be picked up in 1 kilo jars at Bas foods for around $10, another pantry/fridge essential for a quick salad. A purchase of 400 grs of Dory fish fillets was stretched over three meals: 200 gr went into a Vietnamese caramel claypot, (still trying to perfect this method of cooking), 100 gr accompanied some fresh mussels in a Pasta Marinara, and the last 100gr added more flavour to a Balinese nasi goreng ikan.

Haloumi and Pumpkin Salad

  • a generous chunk of Kent pumpkin, cut into 5 cm cubes
  • haloumi cheese
  • olive oil
  • salad leaves
  • 1 small cucumber
  • EV olive oil
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • salt and pepper
  1. Toss the pumpkin cubes in a little olive oil, season, then bake for around 20 minutes, stirring or turning over once during cooking.  I often bake extra to stash in the fridge for a pumpkin risotto or a pumpkin and caramelised onion pasta or topping for a foccaccia. Cool the pumpkin.
  2. Cut the Haloumi into strips and fry in olive oil until golden on both sides.
  3. Refresh chosen salad leaves and dry.  Cut the cucumber into long thin edges. Toss the leaves and cucumber in a bowl with salt flakes, a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
  4. Plate the leaves, cover with baked pumpkin cubes, and haloumi strips. Add ground pepper and another drizzle of oil.

    Haloumi and baked pumpkin salad
    Haloumi and baked pumpkin salad

Nasi Goreng Ikan ( Fried rice with fish, Indonesian style)

I became quite fond of this simple dish and ordered it often in a little Balinese Warung by the sea. My version includes some sliced fresh turmeric, as I believe all the healthy hype surrounding this little tuber, despite my general cynicism regarding supposed ‘superfoods’. The Balinese always colour their seafood nasi with red, simply using tomato ketchup from a bottle. I used some bottled tomato passata. The choice is yours- use what’s on hand.

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Nasi Goreng Ikan Recipe- serves 2-3.

Ingredients

  • left over steamed white rice, cooled. (one cup of uncooked rice will make a large nasi goreng for two or three)
  • a little neutral flavoured oil, not olive oil
  • one fish fillet (100g or so) of boneless fish, for example Dory, chopped into small 2 cm chunks.
  • 2 finely chopped garlic cloves
  • 2 small purple shallots, chopped.
  • a small finger of fresh turmeric, scrubbed, finely sliced or grated
  • a small knob of ginger, finely chopped or grated
  • 2 small kaffir lime leaves, centre vein removed, shredded
  • 1/2 red capsicum, finely sliced or 1/2 cup grated carrot
  • 1 small birds eye chilli, finely sliced (optional)
  •  some greens, for example, 1 cup of finely shredded cabbage or wombok
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1-2 Tbs tomato passata or tomato ketchup
  • 1 Tbs  ketchap manis
  • lime wedges to serve
  1. Heat the wok on a strong, high gas flame, add  two or so dessertspoons of oil. When the oil is hot, add the aromatics- garlic, ginger, shallot, turmeric, chilli, and kaffir leaves. Stir and toss for 30 seconds.
  2. Add the fish, toss about until opaque, then add the capsicum and cabbage.
  3. Add the rice, breaking up large clumps with your hands, then stir fry the rice through the vegetables, tossing well as you go and colouring all the rice.
  4. Add the sauces, toss further, then season with pepper.
  5. Serve with lime wedges.
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A simple lunch. Nasi Goreng with fish

A nasi goreng has a wetter, denser consistency than its Chinese cousins.

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Nasi Goreng Ikan

Thanks Peter, from Tropical Bliss B & B, for the delivery of fresh turmeric from your northern paradise.

Jumping Jimbaran, Bali. Sunset and Fish Frenzy

A sleepy hollow by day, Jimbaran Bay turns into a frenetic dining spectacle by sunset, as tourist buses, mini vans and taxis descend on the place, disgorging passengers onto the broad sandy stretch for a big night out eating barbecued fish. It’s amusing to watch.

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View from our front row table which is about to become a back row table.

At around 5pm, smoke begin to rise along the fringe of the bay as restaurants light their coconut shell charcoal fires. The front row tables are dragged out to the sandy berm, the demarcation line for each restaurant. Front row sunset seats are apparently sought after: we are happy sitting back a few rows, under a shady umbrella, a cold Bintang beer in hand, watching the madness unfold before us.

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They’re coming. Time to make more front rows.

Each narrow restaurant can be accessed from the beach or from the back lane running behind the buildings on the shore. What looks like a confusing enterprise is well-managed in typically Balinese fashion with different coloured tablecloths signifying each enterprise. There isn’t much point in reading all the menus, they are generally all the same. Each place offers barbecued platters of fish and seafood at various prices, depending on your appetite or greed. More expensive platters will include lobster. The Bintang beer prices are standard but the wine price differs enormously. I do like a drop of Two Islands wine, a cooperative wine venture between Australia and Bali, so I know which one I’ll choose.

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The restaurant that specialises in bus tours.

It is probably best to avoid the places with very long tables joined together. This indicates the restaurant specialises in tour groups.

tour group in action.
A tour group setting means tour group food.

After the glorious sunset fades, the umbrellas are removed and tea light candles appear on all the tables. The wandering minstrels appear but fortunately for us, they favour large groups.

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Bintang and serenade

It is probably best to choose what is known here as a Packet which is a meal deal of fish and seafood, at various prices and sizes, as well as a small serve of acar (a pickled salad), some steamed kangkung, rice and a small serving of fruit. If you choose your own fish, be prepared for an amusing experience. The scales are totally rigged and some of the fish looks a little water-logged. But by the time they are gutted, basted in spicy sauce and barbecued on hot charcoal, you won’t know the difference.

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Waiting for customers.

The best way to guarantee a great seafood meal is to buy your own fish at the Pasar Ikan, the Jimbaran seafood market and take it to a restaurant up that way, where they prepare and grill it for you at a very reasonable price. This assumes you are staying locally for a while and feel confident in buying fish, as well as having a little Bahasa Indonesian under your belt. The Jimbaran Fish Market provides fish and seafood for all the major restaurants and resorts in Bali.

And don't forget that selfies are mandatory- well for some!!
And don’t forget that selfies are mandatory, well for some!!
As the sun goes down over Jimbaran.....
As the sun goes down over Jimbaran.

 

Hội An Feasting and Chả Cá at Vy’s Market Restaurant.

The first time I tasted  Chả Cá Lã Vọng, fried fish La Vong style, was in the famous 120 year old La Vong restaurant in Hanoi in 1996.  It was the only dish served, along with beer and tea, so it saved any confusion about ordering. In those days, you entered the restaurant via steep rickety stairs and soon after, a tiny terracotta brazier was placed on the table, coals glowing, along with a small aluminium frypan, and a platter full of various ingredients, which were quickly cooked, layered and assembled before your hungry eyes.

First step: assemble your ingredients.
Step One: assemble your ingredients.

I always vowed that I would make that dish on my return to Melbourne, once I  had acquired a little authentic table top cooker. I never did, although I often saw some small charcoal braziers, moulded in the shape of a bucket, along Victoria Street in Richmond. Now twenty years have passed and I did not expect to see this famous dish from Hanoi turn up in Hoi An. It was a very good version too and transported me back to the more spartan days of Hanoi, where young women still wore pure white Au Dai and the spirit of Uncle Ho was alive and well.

Step two, light the table top stove and add marinated fish.
Step two, light the table top stove and add marinated fish.

We visited Vy’s Market Restaurant in Hoi An and were surprised to find Cha Ca on the menu. Vy’s  is a huge dining hall  with various cooking stations around the perimeter. You can watch rice pancakes being grilled on hot coals, young apprentices making vegetarian wonton, noodles being stretched and woks tossed. You can learn a lot here without attending their famous cooking school.

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Step three, when the pan gets hot, toss the fish about, using long chopsticks, then add half the herbs and half the peanuts. Toss.
step for. Add the precookd rice noodle or Bun.
Step four. Add the precooked rice vermicelli noodle or Bun and more herbs.
Toss all together then add chilli and final herbs and peanuts. Toss
Toss all together then add chilli and remaining herbs and peanuts. Toss

The  Recipe

Marinade for fish. 

  • 1/2 kilo neutral tasting white fish, cut into 2.5 cm pieces
  • small knob of ginger, grated
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp Nuoc Mam (Vietnamese Fish Sauce)
  • 1 tsp Mam Ruoc (Vietnamese Fermented Shrimp Paste)
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 piece ( small finger) of fresh turmeric, pounded or 1 teas turmeric powder

For Frying

  • A small amount of neutral oil
  • 1 bunch spring onions, chopped into long pieces, white and green parts used. Thick white ends cut through lengthwise.
  • 1 large bunch dill, chopped into 2-inch pieces
  • 2 cloves garlic, smashed
  • roasted unsalted peanuts, chopped
  • Bun (Vietnamese rice vermicelli noodles), soaked or cooked so ready to use.
  • Herbs- rau ram (Vietnamese coriander), tia to (Vietnamese perilla), more dill. ( not basil- the predominant taste is dill)
  • Fresh chopped chilli or chilli sambal
    Cha Ca on the plate.
    Cha Ca on the plate.

    Place the fish in the marinade ingredients and mix well. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1-2 hours.

Place the fish and its marinade in a small frying pan over a table top cooker. ( you can do this on a regular stove but part of the drama of the dish is assembling it before the diner). Pan fry the fish for a few minutes, then begin adding the flavours. First some of the herbs, especially the dill and spring onion, then half the peanuts. Toss about for 30 seconds, then add the rice noodle and perilla, toss about, incorporating the noodles through the fish. Then add the remaining herbs, the chilli and more peanuts. Serve with plain rice.

A little tofu and chilli dish on the side.
A little tofu and chilli dish on the side.

This version of Cha Ca was was enjoyed at Vy’s Market Restaurant and Cooking School, 3 Nguyen Hoang Street, An Hoi Islet, Hoi An and cost a little under AU $10, one of the most expensive items on the menu.The tofu dish cost AU$3.88. A small tiger beer is around AU$2. The prices are a bit higher than many of the local restaurants but the quality here is superb. Highly recommended for those yearning to visit or return to Hoi An.

Spaghetti Carbonara: I Can’t Believe it’s not Bacon.

I’ve been thinking a lot about eels lately, eels to eat and those other slippery and be-suited characters poncing about in politics and local government. There are the crafty eels standing for election, their slick barrage of three word slogans masquerading as debate. Then here in Melbourne we have the serpentine organisation called VCAT, the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, their nefarious machinations designed to twist words and regulations faster than an eel can swim backwards. Our local government is not immune from eeliness, with self-important planning committees proposing an eel pit full of new draconian restrictions, designed to trap the unwary ratepayer, like a sharp toothed moray lying in wait.

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Spaghetti con Anguilla ( nello stile di carbonara)

How did poor innocent eels get to be connected to untrustworthiness and devious dealings? The saying ‘as slippery as an eel’ is associated with the most duplicitous and sly behaviour.

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I can’t believe it’s not bacon. Frying diced eel in butter.

But getting back to my foody eel thoughts, I was excited last week when my fishmonger turned up with one long smoked eel, vacuum wrapped but otherwise fresh. This set my mind racing. Eel is rich and has that umami taste missing in my diet. Time for a Spaghetti Carbonara I Can’t Believe its Not Bacon. It’s a pescatarian delight.

Spaghetti Carbonara with Smoked Eel. Recipe serves two.

  • 200 g spaghetti
  • 2 large egg yolks, beaten
  • 20 g grated parmigiano, reggiano or grana
  • one large handful of Italian parsley, very finely chopped
  • 15 g or so of unsalted butter
  • 85 g diced smoked eel, skin and bone removed. This amount was from about one quarter of a whole smoked eel.

Directions

  1. Cook the spaghetti in ample boiling and salted water until al dente. Reserve a half cup of cooking water.
  2. Meanwhile, fry the diced smoked eel in butter in a large frying pan. Fry gently until golden, around 5 minutes. I like using a non stick wok these days, providing room to toss through the pasta at the last stage of preparation.
  3. Beat the egg yolks, grated parmesan cheese and parley together.
  4. Drain cooked spaghetti, add to the pan with the eel, toss about, then pour in egg mixture. Toss until the egg sets, adding a little reserved cooking water for creaminess. Keep tossing and heating for a few more seconds, adding a little more water as you go.
  5. Serve with lots of freshly ground pepper and more parmesan.
    Hmm, eel carbonara
    Hmm, eel carbonara

    This recipe has been adapted and simplified from a Gourmet Traveller recipe, March 2014. It has been filed in my mind for two years now, waiting for that illustrious smoked eel to appear.

Another weird eel expression found while researching this post.

Sposarsi è come mettere la mano in un sacco pieno di serpenti, nella speranza di tirar fuori un’anguilla.
Marriage is like putting your hand into a bag of snakes in the hope of pulling out an eel.  Attributed to Leonardo da Vinci.

 

 

Moeraki Surprise, Fleurs Place. New Zealand.

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A Basket of Quince.

Sometimes fate sends you a nice little surprise. We were driving along the highway heading towards Dunedin, about 40 kilometers south of Oamaru, when I noticed a sign on the road promising a bowl of seafood chowder at the local tavern of Moeraki.  Moeraki, the tourist brochures informed me, is known for its boulders sitting on a beach: no mention of the nearby town or tavern. Stuff the boulders, I thought, just give me that soup. We detoured off the main route and pulled up at the Moeraki tavern only to find it well and truly closed. Chiuso. We knocked and banged a few times in the hope that someone might magically appear but it remained locked. Seats up. Lights out. I felt really cheated. My taste buds, alert and eager, now grieved as they slowly considered the inevitable exchange- a big bowl of fishy chowder was about to become a mundane home-made cheese sandwich in the back of the van.

Seaview from Fleurs
Seaview at Moeraki

At this point, still hoping for a loaves and fishes miracle, I peered down towards the sea and noted a rather large group of cars gathered around what looked like an industrial tin shed. It was a Wednesday and around 1.30 pm- a funeral perhaps, or maybe a fishing co-op? or a party? There were no other signs of life in this deserted holiday town.

Decor at Fleurs

We headed down a narrow one way road towards the tin shedded promontory and, lo and behold, we discovered the fabulous and very famous little restaurant, Fleur’s Place, sitting right on the edge of the sea. It was busy, mostly with young Asian travellers who were obviously in the know. I hadn’t heard about Fleurs, making the discovery all the more serendipitous.

Upstairs at Fleurs Place, Moeraki, New Zealand.
Upstairs at Fleurs Place, Moeraki, New Zealand.

On entering, I felt very much at home. The wood lined interior, which utilised recycled materials, windows and staircases and lots of quirky decor, contained an upstairs mezzanine, reminding me of my old home and those of all my friends. Old hippy houses, hand-built idiosyncratic places that I have come to miss. Then I noticed the chalked sign offering freshly caught fish daily. It was a hallelujah moment. A table for two please.

Fleur buys fish from the lpacla fisherman
Fleur buys fish from the local fisherman daily.
Fleurs Place
Fleurs Place, fishy metal sculpture above the bar.
Quirky decor at Fleurs Place
Recycled decor at Fleurs Place

We chose an inside table- the last one available, although the upstairs section, with its few tables looking out to sea, was also very inviting.

Fleurs Place
Fleurs Place, stairway to the mezzanine dining area.

We shared a platter consisting of a generous serve of smoked eel pâté, some smoked salmon slices, a beetroot chutney, croutons and assorted gherkins and caperberries. It was very good indeed.

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A generous serve of chowder at Fleur’s Place.

We followed this with seafood chowder. It was not the chowder of my imagining, but rather one made from a rich tomato and  home- made fish stock. Studded with local clams, mussels, fish chunks and scallops, it was a generous bowl and came with plenty of bread.

An empty bowl of chowder, Fleurs Place, Moeraki.
An empty bowl of chowder, Fleurs Place, Moeraki.

There were some lovely desserts on offer, including slow poached quinces, but we were ready to hit the road again. It was only much later that I found out a little more about Fleur and her life as a chef at Oliver’s Restaurant in Clyde, Central Otago, as well as the comments by Rick Stein. I recommend this place highly although beware, most main course fish dishes are costly, around NZ $40 or so, but then the sizing is generous. Fresh fish includes blue cod, John Dory, moki, blue nose, gurnard, sole, flounder, groper, and crayfish. Regional organic growers supply most of the other ingredients, including unique New Zealand vegetable varieties and the wines come from Central Otago.

You can find out more about Fleur’s restaurant here

http://media.newzealand.com/en/story-ideas/new-zealand-chef-fleur-sullivan/

and I highly recommend this fascinating interview, which includes a wonderful story about the whales visiting again. 

http://www.dumbofeather.com/conversation/fleur-sullivan-is-a-restauranteur/

Salmoriglio- The Sicilian Dressing

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Spiedini di salmone alla griglia con salmoriglio. – Grilled salmon kebabs with salmoriglio dressing.

One of my most vivid memories of Palermo is its famous dressing, Salmoriglio, probably because it is so easy to recreate, especially during late Spring when the patch of oregano is at its peak. When I first tried this in a restaurant Palermo, it came drizzled over a thinly cut fillet of pesce spada, or swordfish, along with contorni, a platter of simply grilled vegetables According to Marisa Raniolo Wilkins, in her cookbook, Sicilian Seafood Cooking, the name comes from its three main ingredients – salt (sale), lemon (limone), and oregano (origano).

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Salmoriglio  (or Salmorigano) Dressing.

  • 4 tablespoons fresh oregano leaves
  • 1 scant tablespoons sea salt flakes
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 8 tablespoons EV olive oil
  • black pepper

Pound the oregano leaves with the salt in a mortar and pestle. When it forms a paste, add the lemon juice, then the oil and grind in some black pepper. Store in a jar and see how many ways you can use it over a week. As a cold sauce, it is best applied to hot food and then smell all the elements of the ingredients come alive.

 

 

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Drizzled over a Pizza Romana

 

 

 

 

Rainforest Markets of the Deep North

Along the coastal road through Far North Queensland, markets and roadside farm stalls provide a bounty of produce. It’s always a risk leaving a big town, with its safe supermarket and air-conditioned aisles of familiarity, to head off into the wilds in the hope of finding fresher, less uniform produce along the way. It is a risk worth taking.

Papaya for a song
Papaya for a song

Heading north from Cairns, the main source of fresh tropical bounty is the Saturday Mossman market. North of Mossman, the supplies are minimal so time your visit well. The Mossman market is an eclectic mix of old Australian of the Devonshire tea variety, new Thai farmers, old hippy and earnest organic growers. I purchased freshly crushed pineapple juice, bags of cherry tomatoes, Thai herbs and spices such as fresh stem ginger, kaffir lime leaves, and chilli as well as tropical fruits, papaya, mandarins, and large hands of lady finger bananas, the latter courteously ripening two at a time as we travel along in our camper van.  Some children had a tiny stall with limes and sweet basil, and a late arrival brought along a table of freshly pulled purple shallots.

Never too old to Busk. Mossman Market, Far North Queensland.
Never too old to busk. Mossman Market, Far North Queensland.

Heading south from Cairns, roadside stalls begin to appear after Innisfail, with a few farm stalls along the way to Mission Beach and mandarin stalls in the misty hills near the Tully River. In the winter months, look for long green Thai eggplant, tomatoes, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, and chilli, as well as passionfruit, bananas, papaya, pineapple, limes, mandarin, and  bags of small avocados. The fruits end up in our daily Sunshine Pine Salad, named after our dear friend Sunshine Pine from Taraxville, a girl who loves orange!

Sunshine Pine Salad
Sunshine Pine Salad

The Sunday Market at Mission beach is another excellent source of freshly grown produce. I was delighted to find a fragrant bouquet of fresh curry leaves, carambola (star fruit) and a bag of baby sweet potato.

Carambola and Passionfruit
Carambola and Passionfruit

Fresh seafood is available at Cardwell.  Moreton Bay bugs taste as sweet as crayfish, and the local Spangled Emperor fish has firm, white flesh, perfect for a lunchtime BBQ. This fish is caught only in the Coral Sea and is worth a trip up north just to taste it.

Our road trip down the east coast of Queensland, from Cape Tribulation to Coolangatta, is a research journey as well as a holiday. While pubs and restaurants supply reasonably priced meals, most of these are deep-fried, standardised and bland.  Sadly, that’s country food. With a bit of forward planning and local knowledge, it’s possible to eat extremely well along the way. Pull up in your car, grab a picnic table, and eat with a view in the warm open air. Food never tasted so good.

View of Dunk Island from Mission beach, Far North Queensland, Australia.
View of Dunk Island from Mission beach, Far North Queensland, Australia.

 

Swordfish Inspired by the Mezzogiorno

The Mezzogiorno, a term used to describe Southern Italy, is “hot, dry and sea-girt, wracked by earthquake and eruption.” It is “the furthest part of Italy from Europe and the nearest to the rest of the world.” So opens Peter Robb’s Midnight in Sicily, a chilling look at the role of the Mafia in Sicily at the end of the 20th century.¹ It’s odd, but when I see Pesce Spada or swordfish for sale at the fishmongers, I think of Midnight in Sicily and then I recall Palermo. These three things are always interconnected in my mind- fish, book, place. Before visiting Palermo in 2000, I had never eaten this species of fish. I do now, but only rarely, when the pale pink slices look seasonally tempting and I know the fish monger well enough to ask him to slice the steak horizontally into two much thinner slices. I like my swordfish really thin, a little like a large flattened schnitzel. They are then fried quickly and briefly and served in the Palermitano way, that is in salmoriglio, with a mere dribble of a sauce made from finely chopped oregano, parsley, garlic, capers, lemon zest and olive oil. In winter when fresh oregano is on the wane, I make a robust sauce of pounded rosemary, garlic, lemon zest, salt and olive oil.  Served with a neat pile of lightly cooked spinach, a wedge of lemon and a few waxy potatoes, I’m back to Palermo again.

Pece Spada con Salsa di Rosmarino
Pesce Spada con Salsa di Rosmarino

With the rest of my piece of Swordfish, as one slice is always too much for one meal, I concoct a little Spaghetti Puttanesca. There is much debate about the origin of this dish with its amusing name involving a prostitute. It seems that it was invented in the 1960s, not by the busy whore or puttana of the title, but by a restaurateur on Ischia, who, short of ingredients, threw this dish together, in response to some customers who demanded  ‘Facci una puttanata qualsiasi.’ (make whatever rubbish you have).² Some essentials are garlic, some canned chopped tomato, but not too much juice which makes the pasta swim, a few chopped capers and black olives, parsley or basil, and anchovies. Sometimes I start my version with one finely chopped onion cooked down in olive oil, then I add the chopped garlic, and then small cubes of swordfish. When these components are just cooked, the odds and ends are added in order, then in goes the cooked pasta for a quick toss around in the sauce, then the chosen fresh herb. In the spirit of the original, it is thrown together. I am a working girl too, in cucina e nell’orto!

Spaghetti Putanesca con Pesce Spada
Spaghetti Putanesca con Pesce Spada

These two fish meals for two were based on 450 gr piece of swordfish (AU$11.00). After it was sliced thinly, the first meal was portioned at of around 135 gr each, and the rest went into the pasta dish the following day. Supermarket pre-cut portions of fish are too large, usually around 220 gr per piece. Fishmongers will usually oblige and cut your fish the way you like it which is another good reason to avoid supermarkets and stores with pre-packaged plastic wrapped food.

  • ¹ Midnight in Sicily, Peter Robb 1996
  • ² https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spaghetti_alla_puttanesca

Chinese Fish Fry. Everyone’s Friday Favourite.

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Have I mentioned before how much I love fish? These days, the onus is still on the purchaser and consumer of fish, both for home cooking or when ordering fish in restaurants, to ask a lot of questions. As fish lovers, we need to protect our endangered species and to eat more fish that are considered sustainable. Ms Sandra, aka the best cook in Melbourne, of Please Pass the Recipe, informed me of the sustainable seafood guide phone app- a handy thing to have on your phone when shopping for fish. http://www.sustainableseafood.org.au/pages/download-the-free-app.html. I also like this site, Good Fish, Bad Fish http://goodfishbadfish.com.au/ which is a very user-friendly site for home research within Australia.

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I love mussels and squid and fortunately, both these seafoods are highly sustainable, but not everyone fancies these two species, especially the little visitors and some of the grown ups too!  When it comes to a sustainable, sweet tasting fish, that everyone in the family adores, I can’t go past flathead. If prepared as part of a Chinese banquet, a little goes a long way.

Kids love this uncomplicated dish.
Kids love this uncomplicated dish.

For this recipe, choose a fish in your area that is boneless when filleted and not too strong in taste and of course, sustainable.  If buying fish whole, a better choice really, have the fishmonger fillet it, then ask for the head and carcass to make some excellent fish stock to freeze, then you have the basis for some wonderful fish risotto or seafood paella or seafood soup. A fish can go a long way.

This recipe comes from China the Beautiful Cookbook, 1986. I have only ever made this single recipe from the book. The recipe has done the rounds of my extended family and I hope it suits yours too. It uses commonly found pantry ingredients so, once you have the fish, you’re up and running.

Zhua Chao Yu – Grasping and Frying.  A fried fish dish from Beijing. ( Quantity for two if served with another dish, such as stir fried bok choi)

  • 315g white fresh fish fillets
  • 1 cup cornflour
  • oil, preferably peanut oil for frying.

Sauce

  • 2 spring onions, finely chopped
  • 2 slices ginger, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon light soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon brown vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons Shaoxing rice wine
  • pinch salt/pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
  • extra spring onion for garnish.

NOTE- I often double the sauce ingredients for a richer, thicker coating.  The first two ingredients will be stir fired. Pre- mix the rest in a large cup to speed up the last stage of cooking.

Method

  1. Cut the fish into long thin strips. Mix the cornflour with enough cold water to make a paste. ( you could use tapioca flour or rice flour for the coating)
  2. Heat the oil in a wok to smoking point the reduce the heat. Dip the fish slices into the cornflour paste and deep fry 8 pieces at a time for around 2 minutes until golden and crisp  and cooked through.  Lift out and drain  on paper towel and keep warm while making sauce.
First stage of the dish- fry the fish in a light paste of cornstarch and water.
First stage of the dish- fry the fish in a light paste of cornstarch and water.

Making the Sauce.

Very finely chop the spring onion and ginger. Heat the wok and add a little of the used oil, then stir fry the onion- ginger mixture for about 45 seconds then add the rest of the pre-mixed sauce ingredients and heat through. when the sauce begins to thicken, slide in the fried fish and stir fry, turning the fish carefully until coated with all the sauce.

second stage of cooking
second stage of cooking

Serve at once, add more spring onion, as part of a banquet or with rice.

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For Rachael and Louise, who used to make this often.