Then, a little inspiration stikes, and…
Blue-Eye Trevalla, porcini broth, kohlrabi and amaranth salad with mustard lemon dressing, dill, tarragon
The porcini works well with the Trevalla, and the tarragon works particularly well with everything.
Braised pork ribs, cauliflower cream, Port-poached prunes, orange zest
A slight modification of this
dish, where the pork is the rib meat, the cream uses sour cream, and the prunes are poached in Port-style wine. I do like the rib meat with it.
Oak-smoked lamb, pickled cucumber, roast potato discs, griddled spring onion, oregano purée, red wine jus
Smoky, meaty, browned/Maillard, green, herbal never fails.
And sometimes you need a hiatus, to enjoy simplicity, executed well…
Like infusing lamb burgers (ground Australian lamb shoulder has enough fat and flavour – no need for anything else!) over aromatic flames of Bay Laurel…
Lamb burgers infused with flamed Bay Laurel branches
Especially if they’re served with slow fried onion or home-made mayonnaise…
Very slow fried onion
Or making bacon from scratch…
Frying home made bacon
Or simply roasting a chicken (stuffed with lemon, butter and herbs; best roasted at 180°C for 1 hour covered, then another 30 mins to crisp the skin)…
Roast chicken, roast potato, steamed brocolli
Or a simple delicious summer salad of odds and ends…
Salad of grilled capsicum (bell pepper), cucumber, goat cheese, hard boiled egg, herbs
Or Baba ganoush, with just the right amount of smokiness, garlic, olive oil, tahini, and toasted sesame seeds…
Or… before a need for more inspiration…
In 2014-2015 I conquered my last vegetable hurdle, the Brussels sprout. I can now say I enjoy eating every vegetable I know, provided it’s cooked appropriately.
In the case of the Brussels sprout, “cooked appropriately” means cooking them in such a way that the sulphides don’t take center stage (as for cauliflower, cabbage, turnip…). In other words, don’t overcook them, or they’ll stink.
My personal epiphany with the Brussels sprout occurred in late 2014 at Hungry Duck restaurant (Berry, NSW, Australia). I’m not sure exactly what the chef did – it invariably involved char frying/grilling the sprouts with bacon, but I suspect a stock was also involved at some point.
In the winter of 2015, I’ve replicated the treatment, and thus been loving the Brussels Sprout – they can be surprisingly sweet when treated well.
Trim, cut in half, blanche in boiling water for 1 to 2 minutes, then briefly pan fry in oil/bacon fat on high heat. Some char is desirable.
The version making the rounds these days invariably includes bacon, but the above approach works just as well for their incorporation in any dish.
Brussels sprouts and bacon
Almond meal works surprisingly well as a flour dusting/batter substitute.
Scotch Egg: quail egg, sausage meat, almond meal. Fried in coconut oil.
And if your sour chef-to-be happens to be essentially unavailable for cooking (even if available for dinner), reduce the number of diners, go a little more casual, and remain focussed on execution.
In the throes of the autumn of 2014 (May), I came to the primary realisation that doing seven courses for nine people felt like significantly more time in the kitchen than I would prefer.
The larger group of people also meant less opportunity to discuss the food (and wine) with guests, and I felt that presentation had been sacrificed slightly for required speed – nine plates take time to plate-up by only one person.
I suppose 9 people × 7 courses plus 1 amuse (or more accurately put, 23 or so components served to 9 people over 8 courses) is the point where assistance in the kitchen is required so that I don’t compromise on quality (as I’m dining too). For such an event, a fellow-dining ‘sous chef‘, to assist with plating, is probably the way to go.
However, I also realised that a smaller group (five or six diners rather than seven) remains my preference.
Smoked trout wearing choux
Pumpkin, blue cheese and walnut ravioli; crispy sage
Quail, smoked chestnuts, melted leeks, thyme
Chicken liver pâté, caramelised onions, toasted brioche
Pheasant roulade; onion, pistachio and pancetta stuffing; sauerkraut; game jus
Braised Chinese-style pork belly, Szechuan pepper toffee, apple and fennel salad
Cheese, poached pear, croutons, spiced almonds
Chocolate semifreddo, hazelnut fudge
Genuine Greek: Fasolakia, Greek feta, Greek-style toast, Greek basil
There is nothing like learning from those who have been steeped in a regional tradition.
The real food of the people is indeed rustic (what ‘everyday’ food isn’t?). It’s open to invariable interpretation (the people in that village make it differently to the people in that village, and even the people in that family make it differently to the people in that family…). It’s traditional, delicious; and perhaps, ultimately, the most rewarding food of all – and that’s saying something!
Fasolakia: Onions fried in plenty of Greek extra virgin olive oil. Deseeded and deskinned fresh tomato and passata are then added, along with garlic and (taditionally) dill (although I use fennel fronds in the absence of the former). Boiled until the beans become tender.
Feta: The ideal for me is a blend ewes and goats milk, with moderate saltiness, good acid-bite, a little creaminess, and a little flavour reminiscent of the belly fur of the goat!
Greek-style toast: Toasted white bread (baguette/pain de campagne), spinkled with dried oregano and salt, and drizzled with Greek extra virgin olive oil (definitely use a Greek EVOO – it’s fruitier and richer tasting).
Greek basil: Not traditional, but works surprisingly well with fasolakia.
Like so many dishes, this is at the concept phase of its evolution and I’m not sure it will make it any further – at least, if it does, it will seem like a completely different creature to its ancestry.
'The Sea': prawn noodle, nori, prawn cracker sand, poached oyster, oyster foam
These are Wylie Dufresne-style shrimp (prawn) noodles: ‘noodles’ made purely with puréed prawn and transglutaminase (‘meat glue’), extruded into a waterbath at 74°C.
The oyster foam is made with puréed oysters, a little milk and lecithin; and the oysters are poached in that ‘sauce’.
The concept is, I hope, self evident; and the dish certainly is evocative of the sea. But the ‘noodle’ needs more flavour, and the presentation needs more beach, it generally needs more… impact.