Wednesday, May 18, 2011

RECIPE: Cured Fish

Bad pun: This cured fish is so ill! HAHAHHAHAHHAHAHHAHA (repeat x 1,000,000)(ed: no fucking way am I going to do that)

I used flathead. It tasted good. I also tried with another fish (gemfish?) and it wasn't as good. Salmon would go well. I think perch would too.

I covered approx 300g of flathead fillets with the juice of an orange, the zest of an orange, the juice of a lemon, the zest of a lemon, a tablespoon of capers, a few sprigs of thyme, a handful of roughly chopped dill, a bit of black pepper, a shot of gin (o hai Hendrick's) and a handful of salt. I made sure the whole fish was covered, wrapped it up VERY well, put it on a plate and left it fridgeally for 3 days.

After 3 days the outside of the fish was white. It looked "cooked". I sliced it thinly and put it on a plate. I gave that a very good drizzle of olive oil, the juice of half a lemon, a pinch of salt, a little pepper and a little bit of fresh thyme.

Eaten with slightly warm bread it was amazing.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

RECIPE: How To Get Perfect Roast Vegetables

A lot of the recipes that I put on this site require a bit of prerequisite knowledge and extrapolation. When you start cooking, one of the hardest things to overcome is vagueness, so I want to try and put some of the simpler recipes that I know up here. Firstly for my memory, and secondly so I don't scare of people that are just learning to cook.

Roasting vegetables was one of the first things that I learned to cook well. And while many of the things that I first learned well and then improved on as my skills grew, my technique for roasting vegetables has remained pretty much unchanged.

Before starting to roast vegetables you need to prepare them. The prep will be the same regardless of what method you decide to use.

For sweet potatoes, should peel away all of the skin.
For potatoes, cut out any bad looking bits.
For carrots, it's your call. I usually peel them if the carrots look "rough" but just wash them if not.
For pumpkin, I generally take the skin off, but it isn't necessary.
For parsnip, I recommend peeling.
For garlic, I prefer to take the skin off and just keep the clove/edible bits.
For tomatoes, onions, green beans, just wash and leave untouched.
For beetroot, I prefer to peel.

If the vege is large it will take longer to cook. Consider cutting it in halves or quarters if you want to reduce cooking time. If you are cooking multiple vegetables at once, try and keep everything roughly the same size (no need to be pedantic).

And always wash after cutting.

Okay, there are two ways to get perfectly roasted vegetables. Each way has it's pros and cons.


The Par-Boil Then Roast Method

Note: par-boiling refers to when you boil something to the point of being cooked or almost cooked as the first step in the cooking process.

This method is best used for the heavier root vege like potato, carrot, sweet potato, pumpkin, parsnip and beetroot. It's unsuitable for soft vegetables like tomato, green beans and onion because they don't need to be softened before roasting. While you may feel that garlic isn't suitable, a quick par-boil beforehand will mellow the flavour so you'll get a more mellow end product.

The big pro of this method is that the vegetables will be incredibly crisp on the outside and creamy on the inside. It's also a little more foolproof because you do all of the cooking during the first stage, so undercooked vege easily avoidable, as well as the potential to overcook (and dry out) that is there in the other method. It's also the faster of the two methods.

The cons are that you'll be faced with more washing up from this method (a large pot and a colander) and there are a couple more steps (albeit easy steps). Also, I'm not a nutritionist but I'm pretty sure that when you par-boil vege before roasting that you're boiling away the vitamins and minerals in the vege.

1. Put all of your vege into a pot large enough to hold them. Cover with cold water and add a tablespoon or so of salt.

2. Bring it to the boil and cook until the vegetables are cooked. Best way to test this is to get a butter knife and poke it into the middle of a large or thick piece.

3. Turn your oven to around 220c. Put your roasting pan inside.

4. Once the vegetable feels soft and doesn't resist the knife, drain it in a colander. Give it a good shake to get rid of the water and "rough up" the vegetables a bit. The less perfect the vege, the crunchier they'll get.

5. Take your roasting pan out of the oven, cover with some baking paper and put the vege on. Drizzle everything with a neutral oil (tasteless) like grapeseed oil, salt and pepper. You can also add herbs like thyme, rosemary and oregano. Spices like cumin, paprika and sumac also go well. If you're using any vege that wasn't par-boiled (tomato, onion, etc) then add it now.

6. Give everything a mix so all of the vege is coated in the oil/herbs/spices.

7. Put it in the oven and cook until golden brown. It will take around an hour, but check every 25 minutes or so and give the pan a good shake/mix so all sides of the vege is roasted.

The end result will be crunchy and fluffy.

The second method is...

The Straight Roast

I find myself using this method most of the time, simply because it's less effort and there is less to clean up at the end.

It works pretty much for all vegetables, but if you're using a mix of vegetables that need more cooking (ie potato and pumpkin) and vege that just needs some browning (tomato, onion, garlic) then you need to consider adding it in stages.

So the big pro is that there is less effort involved and less cleaning at the end. Also, because you aren't boiling away any nutrients, I think this option is healthier. I find that this method will give you a creamy inside to the vege, whereas the first method gives you a fluffy inside.

The con is that the results aren't quite as good as the first method. If you overcook the vegetables here then they can dry out. Also, if you undercook the vege then it will be hard and inedible.

1. Get your oven tray and cover with baking paper. Put your vege. As I mentioned above, if you are cooking a mix of things that will take a long time and a short time, then add the quick vege later on.

2. Cover with grapeseed oil or a similar tasteless oil (sunflower), salt, pepper and similar spices and herbs as I mentioned in point #5 above. Mix so everything is coated. Put into a 170c oven.

3. The denser vege like potatoes, pumpkin, etc will take around 2 hours to cook, but it depends on your oven. I recommend checking after an hour and then around every 25 mins after that. Each time you check, mix the vege around so every side is perfectly roasted. Vege like tomatoes will only take around 30 mins. But get to know your oven and cook by feel and you'll be fine.

4. The end result will be a dark golden colour. But it's essential that you try a larger piece of the vege to ensure that it is creamy in the middle.

And there you go. Two ways to roast vege with two different outcomes. Hopefully two easy to follow recipes that will let you master roasted vege if you haven't already.

I want this post to be as easy to follow as possible. So if you believe that it isn't, let me know in the comments what parts need more detail.

Also, if you want advise on any other vegetables that I haven't mentioned, let me know.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

BEER: Beers of the Week

3rd Place - Feral Brewing Co "Fanta Pants" Red Ale

The Local Taphouse (of Darlinghurst and St Kilda fame) is normally one of the best places to go for a drink. A comfortable place, friendly staff, good food and, most importantly, a spectacular selection of beers, both on tap and in the fridge. Every now and again, though, they do something a little special. Read: their SpecTAPulars, where they invite 20 different brewers to provide something interesting for the day. And now they've come up with the tap takeover. First up is Feral Brewing from the Swan Valley in WA, who have answered the call and provided 20 different beers to fill up the taps at the Taphouse.

While not many of the beers blew me away, there was one that impressed to no end, "Fanta Pants". Dark mahogany red with a bitter, malty nose. It sips beautifully. It benefits greatly from being tapped on the day because the freshness gives it a real spark. Add to that the huge, bitter, hoppy beginning and the perfect amount of sweetness through the middle and on the end, and you have a great beer.


2nd Place - Russian River "Pliny the Elder" DIPA (Double/Imperial Pale Ale)

So my favourite bottle shop, Platinum Liquor has gotten in a MASSIVE shipment of beer from America's West Coast. And to the victor come the spoils. A beer that sits second on the Beer Advocate list and (when I checked) eighteenth on the Rate Beer list. You know this is going to be serious.

I might not be an IPA fanboy like the rest of the world, but as soon as I give this a sniff I know I'm going to like it. Caramelised orange is how I'd best describe it. With a bit of vanilla thrown in. And that's exactly how it tastes. But with something different added in. I can't put my finger on it, but it's awesome. It's like the beer equivalent of MSG that I'm tasting.

While I get the feeling that this is a bit overrated (it's not the second best beer in the world, sorry), it is still excellent.


1st Place - Green Flash Double Stout

I first tasted this beer in a smallish pub in New York called Pony Bar. For the two weeks I spent in New York, I finished nearly every night in the place. Why? Hands down, no doubt about it, unquestionably, the best selection of beer I'd ever seen, having never really gotten involved in the craft beer "scene". They had around a dozen taps and as soon as a beer ran out they'd add a new one. Of all the beers I tried at this place, this was the second. And it was the best.

I love my stouts, but, fuck me, this is exceptionally drinkable. The bottle advertises "big, bold and complex" and that is the perfect way to describe this beer. Totally malt driven and, at 8.8% abv, it's as strong as it is sessionable. But there's a complexity to it that I find totally addictive.

Apparently the boys at Platinum only got in 4 x 4 packs of this beer. I have bad news for you. I'm going to buy every single one. It's exceptional. It's the best sessionable stout I've ever tasted.


Wednesday, May 04, 2011


I remember Tetsuya's two or three years ago. You would utter the word and everyone knew what you were talking about. You weren't talking about a mere restaurant: you were talking about a Sydney institution. An institution that stood for luxury; for excellence; for refinement; for the ultimate in Sydney--nay Australian--nay Australasian--fine dining. And it had been like that for years.

Put simply, Tetsuya's put Sydney (and Australian) food on the map. Sure, there were heaps of other great chefs and restaurants that helped champion the cause. But everyone knew Tetsuya's. It was the pinnacle.

The moment I started thinking about doing any "fine dining", Tetsuya's entered my thoughts. It was number one on the wishlist. I barely even bothered about wishlists, but Tetsuya's was the top spot. At times the wishlist existed solely because I couldn't get Tetsuya's out of my head. But it wasn't that easy to get it out of my head.

Well, that's a lie. The simple way of exorcising the thought was the dine at Tetsuya's. But it was never that easy. The tremendous waits for tables were known by everyone. I tried once, offering to take the next free booking, but was told the next free booking was in eight months time. For a midweek dinner. That wouldn't do. No one--I don't care who it is--can make me book eight fucking months in advance. For anything.

So I went elsewhere. I suffered almost no waits going to places like Quay, Marque, Bentley, Flying Fish, Galileo at it's peak, Omega before it shut, Becasse, Sepia, .est, Rockpool Bar & Grill, Oscillate Wildly. I went to New York and ate at the best restaurants I could; restaurants regarded as the best in the world. I went to Melbourne and did the same. Then across Europe and went... a tad overkill.

Still. I could never shake Tets.

Along the way, though, Tetsuya's has been going on it's own journey. From the unrivalled top of the Australian dining scene, Tetsuya's is now in question. Peter Gilmore's Quay has emerged as the new Australasian favourite. Competitors that were never in competition before are now being mentioned before Tets. Right or wrong, meaningful or not, it lost a hat in the Good Food Guide, arguably the most influential restaurant guide in the state. The same guide where, three years earlier, it was restaurant of the year. Alongside that, the general public had increased it's awareness of food, had begun growing increasingly more savvy and, with that, demanding. The times. They are. A changing.

The rumours were that waits for midweek tables were down to just a couple of weeks. I rang on a Wednesday and was giving a Tuesday booking. Forget about a six month wait. Six days. Only six days. Sweet dreams are made of some sort of weird brain chemical and also this.

I went through those gates--those gates that I'd walked past dozens of times, hoping to catch a glimpse of anything that would give away what it was like inside--with no expectations. My previously high expectations had been balanced to nothingness by the general ambivalence that people seemed to be feeling for the restaurant these days. In short, I went through expecting nothing. I was a clean slate.

You're assaulted with service. Straight away. It's deafening. That's the only way to describe it. Except, perhaps, shock and awe. Staff are everywhere, doing everything. Opening doors (a two man job, apparently), parking cars, watching people parking cars, taking names, watching the process of taking names. The Experience is what they call it.

They run you through the menu and I suppose it's okay. I feel a bit stifled. Oddly, it feels out of place. Because the restaurant itself feels a little dated. It doesn't feel like a restaurant in 2011. Or maybe because it seems like it actually would hurt them to crack a joke. I think it would hurt me too.

We start with a cucumber soup with yoghurt and (I think) sea cucumber. It's great. Fresh. Lively. A great start. The oysters, dressed in vinegar and ginger, are too, if a little overdressed. Yellowfin tuna sashimi with shishito and garlic chips next and it tastes great, although you need to get your ratios right because the charred shishito tries to overpower every bite.

Scampi with bean curd and junsai is a cracker of a dish. Different textures of "wobble", different subtle flavours. Paired with a fruity, slightly acidic riesling, the whole dish is totally spot on. It's a wow moment. Yeah, one o' dem.

The signature dish is up next. Confit ocean trout, nowadays a fixture on hundreds of menus across Australia. It's paired here with apple, konbu and celery. But mostly with apple. The matchsticks of apple that sit under the fish do compliment the dish in terms of flavour, but said matchsticks don't seem to compliment the texture of the dish. I put a chunk of beautifully cooked and seasoned trout in my mouth and find myself constantly chewing through sticks of apple after the trout has been procssed.

On the side is a green leaf salad that I have to say is a little overdressed. The pool of dressing left in the bowl with attest to that. It's also a side that would be suited to one of the red meat dishes further down the menu. The strong dressing and slightly bitter leaves of the salad totally destroys the subtle flavour of the ocean trout, which was already swimming upstream to escape the wrath of the apple julienne.

Cod with blackbean and bacon passes without too much fanfare--the cod is either an odd texture or slightly over. But then the shredded, braised oxtail with lotus root and sea cucumber arrives and the fanfare returns. The sea cucumber here plays a textural role similar to the fat of the meat. But it's the bit of bite in the lotus root that pushes this dish along. Solid.

Then the roasted breast of quail wrapped in, I think, pancetta with pine mushrooms and what is apparently lardo (according to the take home menu). Paired with a pinot noir made for Tetsuya's by Bass Phillip, one of my favourite pinot noir makers, the dish is spectacular. The quail is juicy, flavoursome and perfect. With the delicious pine mushrooms and lardo (or whatever else it is) it has the perfect balance. I mention to my dining companion that I could eat a lot of this, but I'm being reserved. I would happily eat a bucket of this with my hands if I had a bottle or two of the wine on the side. It's the dish of the night and part of me knows it.

Lamb with eggplant next and it's good enough. The eggplant again feels like it's playing the "fat" of the dish, which is smart.

Dessert time and we kick off with a grape sorbet which is good but adds little and a warm tarte tatin, which feels related to a creme brulee. The matched botrytis reisling feels too strong for a subdued dish. And it still does for the next dish, musk melon in sauternes with black pepper, which just tastes like honeydew with a little black pepper.

Finally, a chocolate pave. It's simple but delicious, matched to a nice tokay from Seppeltsfield. Until the chai mochi as a quasi-petit four (or petit one).

Now. A couple of the dishes I may have missed an element, because the take home menu they gave us at the end was wrong. We didn't ask for it; it was part of the "experience". If we hadn't have been given the menu, the "experience" (TM?) wouldn't have been affected at all, but after giving us a menu with a couple of incorrect dishes? Forget about it. (no, we didn't go off menu at all)

Before leaving I take one last look at the spectacular Japanese garden the table overlooks and try to sum up the meal. The service was good in that every need was taken care of. But it was lacking a bit of fun; a bit of personality. Anyone can repeat the same thing table after table, night after night.

The matching wines could have been better. Some courses could have been better. Some details could have been better.

My meal was good. There is no denying that. No dish was bad and there were some really, really great dishes. But if I compare this to other restaurants I've been to across the world (or even Sydney)... there is a tangible difference between the truly "great" restaurants to Tetsuya's. In every element.

I can't see any other diners around me in the midst of euphoria. I maybe see some diners (and reviewers) that remember when Tesuya's was "the" restaurant and when the "experience" (and food) truly was world class. But the world has moved on. Just because you had a transcendental meal at Tetsuya's a couple of years ago doesn't mean it's the best now. Putting aside any emotional or histrionic attachment just makes you feel like Tetsuya' is... just another "good" fine-dining restaurant in Sydney.

RATING: Okay, may go back [?]

Tetsuya's on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

RESTAURANT: Silk Road and Uighur Cuisine

Uyghur cuisine. The food of choice of Turkics (basically, Chinese muslims) living in China. Since I first tasted it at Uighur Cuisine on Dixon St in Chinatown, I fell in love.

While Uighur Cuisine still has the best Xinjiang lamb skewers I've tasted, I've found that Silk Road is more rounded, offering some great handmade noodles dishes and some really great rendition of Szechuan dishes. Uighur Cuisine is a bit more hit and miss, with some pretty average dishes on the menu

There are two Silk Roads. The bigger (and newer) one on Thomas Street (opposite the perennial favourite, Chinese Noodle Restaurant) and one on (I think) the corner of Ultimo Road and Quay Street (basically, up the lane from the Thomas Street one).

The Xinjiang lamb skewers are essential. While I maybe have posted a recipe for the skewers and some spring rolls, it's hard to beat the original, fired over some coals, or whatever it is they fire them over (poor performance?). I find the ones on Quay/Ultimo are a bit fatty, but still quite edible.

But it's the side dishes that make the meal. The meat pancake thing is puffy and crunchy and oily and delicious. As is the chicken with Chinese buns. And the spicy tofu salad (a typical Szechuan dish). And... you get the idea. The dumplings seem to be a bit frozen and reheated, so keep your wits about you and order things that don't seem "standard" and you'll totally win at eating.

RATING: Will constantly return to [?]

Silk Road Chinese Halal Restaurant on Urbanspoon Silk Road on Urbanspoon Uighur Cuisine on Urbanspoon

Sunday, May 01, 2011


In a long line of girls that I would describe as simultaneously "interesting" and "attractive", she was the latest one.

As smart as she was handsome, she possessed an inherent ability to analyse situations and be all... "meta" about shit.

Finally we were at the stage where it wasn't weird or presumptuous to ask the person to the other person's place for what can only be described as "a date" (TM).

I decided to make ragu.

Ragu is an amazing dish. But it's the sort of thing that doesn't try to be. A meat sauce for pasta that has as many variations as it does people attempting to make it.

My attempting to make it contains thusly:
- 1 cacchiatori
- 3 pork and fennel sausages, with filling squeezed out so they're like meatballs
- 250g of whatever mince looks good
- 250g of diced whatever meat looks nice and fatty
- 50g of smoked speck
- 1 large onion, diced
- 1 carrot, diced
- 2 celery stalks, diced
- Either 8 tomatoes peeled and diced, or 2 tins of tomatoes
- Half a bulb of garlic, roasted in the oven
- Half a bottle of a fruity wine
- 1.5 litres of a weakish vegetable stock
- 1 teaspoon of fennel seeds, ground
- A solid grating of nutmeg
- A couple of basil leaves, a few sage leaves and a small grab of parsley chopped fairly finely
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Neutral oil to good it in

I cook that according to a normal stew recipe sort of thing, add it to some pasta (papardelle or penne are my favourites) and top it with some freshly chopped parsley and a good grating or shaving of parmigianno reggiano and I'm done.

It's just so perfect.

The ragu on it's own is like an amazing stew that would be great enough on it's own. But then you add good pasta and you add good cheese and it becomes one of the best dishes around. And all you did was stew together some meats that looked good and some seasonal vegetables. It's peasant food. It shouldn't be this great, but it is. And if you add some crusty bread, a simple garden salad on the side and a solid red wine... enough said.

She noticed that I was more interesting with the ragu than I was her, so she left (not until after finishing her bowl, I should add).

I think I'll be forever single. Because never have I ever felt as much for a woman as I have for a good ragu.