Tuesday, 21 November 2006

My Down Under Menu

The other side of the world from meAs I reported two weeks ago, I've been developing a menu as part of my Professional Chef Diploma third-year Gastronomy project. The task at this stage was to formulate a three-course gastronomic menu suitable for service in a top hotel restaurant. Each of us was allocated a country whose cuisines we were expected to use and develop, and I got Australia.

After some pretty extensive research, I've submitted my first attempt, which I list below and expand on one item from each course. Bear in mind that I've not been able to test these combinations, so I'm working blind with only my knowledge of products, flavours and techniques to guide me. I have tried to incorporate many of the indigenous Australian products that I came across, using sensible combinations and suitable cooking techniques.

The witchetty grub - a large white wood-feeding larvaMy objective has been to draw on traditional Australian produce and cooking methods and combine these with more modern techniques and presentation styles. Achieving the right combination of flavours, textures and colours is fundamental to what I have tried to produce. I've tried to avoid "naive fusion", i.e. just throwing clever sounding ingredients together.

Advance Australian fareThat said, I don't want to simply ape the top restaurants in Sydney and Melbourne. From what I observe from looking at their websites, many of these seem to be dedicated to reproducing modern European "Michelin" haute cuisine, with the inclusion of a few locally sourced ingredients, rather than making the effort to promote a distinctive national cuisine using indigenous products and techniques.

Please comment and criticise. I'd love to hear from you, especially if you have knowledge of Australian food.

Trig's Australian Gastronomic Menu, 2006

Yam and mangosteen soup with sautéed matsutake mushroom, mia rose finger lime pulp and Australian wildfire spice

Mangrove goanna lizard tail, wrapped in banana leaf with crushed muntries and cooked “in hot ashes of acacia”, served with a plantain foam

Deep fried taro and bunya nut crusted witchetty grub on a salad of zucchini, peach and clearspring wakame with a quince dressing

Wild capsicum rubbed, sapodilla-smoked fillet of serpent eel, steamed baby asparagus wrapped in kokihi leaves with a lemon aspen sauce

Salad of tamarillo, crumbled Gippsland Blue, roasted Davidson’s plum and bamboo shoots drizzled with wild rosella gumleaf oil


Tenderloin of kangaroo rare-braised in Jester Sangiovese rosé, with char-grilled kumara sweet potato and an illawara plum relish

Fan fillet of emu marinated and roasted with Tasmanian leatherwood honey and cracked Tasmanian peppercorn, purée of yellow crookneck squash, yardlong beans with melted Jindi brie, and a Gundabluey wattleseed saksak dumpling

Aquatic trio of acacia-smoked suprème of barramundi, carpacchio of sea urchin warm-cured with tamarind and palm sugar, and freshwater yabby claw poached in reduced Botrytis Semillon, sprinkled with lemon myrtle and mountain pepper

Fillet of blue-eye travella infused with blue-leaved mallee oil and pan-fried, a raw Sydney rock oyster, crispy glass noodles on a macadamia tofu purée, ribbery and akudjura salsa and razor-thin shredded pawpaw and nashi pear

Eggplant stuffed with lentils and yellow split peas boiled in coconut water and bound in bottlebrush-flower nectar, roasted whole on hot coals


Quandong Pavlova made with ostrich egg albumen, served with a forest peppermint
Anzac biscuit

Munthari berry damper bread and butter pudding with a bittersweet sigri coffee sauce

Exotic fresh fruit platter of persimmon, passionfruit, jaboticaba, mamey sapote, jakfruit, quaribea and soursop

Friggin’ pecan pie* slice with a rainforest lime sorbet

Guava and carambola tart with natural yoghurt and a fresh rambutan in half shell

* With acknowledgement to Ben Canaider and Greg Duncan Powell

Here is my rationale for one dish from each course:

Mangrove goanna lizard tail, wrapped in banana leaf with crushed muntries and cooked “in hot ashes of acacia”, served with a plantain foam.

The goanna features in Aboriginal mythology and Australian folklore
In this dish, I chose a very traditional Aboriginal method of cooking known as "cooking in the ashes". The lizard tail needs protection from the searing heat of the cinders, for which the long-established practice of wrapping it in banana leaf offers a perfect solution.

The tail of the lizard, as with a fillet steak, is relatively tender because (unlike the legs)the tail doesn't do much physical work. This means it is best suited to a fast cookery method, although Heston probably wouldn't agree! For the same reason the tail is not the most tasty part of the animal, so it needs a flavoursome partner. The muntry is a small sour apple which, once crushed, offers the meat its sharpness during the cooking process.

I chose to serve a plantain foam with the dish to offset the sharp flavour of the muntry with the delicate flavour and light texture of whipped plantain. Serving a foam is not something I would normally consider because it goes against everything I stand for in respect of not following "current trends". However, since the aim of designing this menu was to reflect the modern style of a 5* restaurant, I saw its use as entirely fitting.

Fan fillet of emu marinated and roasted with Tasmanian leatherwood honey and cracked Tasmanian peppercorn, purée of yellow crookneck squash, yardlong beans with melted Jindi brie, and a Gundabluey wattleseed saksak dumpling.

You'd look mad, if you were about to be cookedAfter some detailed research on the biology of the emu, the world's second largest bird after its relative the ostrich, I found that the "fan fillet" is the best cut.

After reading that emu meat responds especially well to sweet marinades such as honey, I knew immediately what to pair with it. Tasmanian leatherwood honey is an unblended and extremely fragrant product that derives both its name and its spicy aroma from the indigenous leatherwood plant. When the bees polinate this shrub, its unique flavour is transferred into the honey produced. It is said of this gourmet product that it is an acquired taste - some people swear by it while others swear about it.

The dumpling is a traditional dish from Papua New Guinea and provides a source of carbohydrate in the dish. I've looked at various types of acacia and chosen one that I think will provide a wattleseed to flavour this dumpling perfectly.

Quandong Pavlova made with ostrich egg albumen, served with a forest peppermint Anzac biscuit.

Anna Pavlova in Melbourne, 1926 or 1929

I chose the classic Pavlova as one of my fruit-based desserts simply because it is steeped in antipodean history. It is claimed by both Australia and New Zealand that the Pavlova was invented in their homeland. One thing that has been established is that it was first made especially for ballet dancer Anna Pavlova by a chef in a hotel in which she was staying. I decided that such a famous and controversial dish earned a place in my menu.

I chose to use quandong in this recipe to introduce another flavour into an otherwise relatively bland dish of meringue and whipped cream. I read about the quandong and subsequently found that it is in popular use among the top self-proclaimed modern bush-tucker enthusiasts. To add further gastronomic authenticity to this indigenous combination, I thought it would be interesting and original to use ostrich egg whites to make the meringue. Although this would of course be considerably more expensive, it adds a touch of luxury.

The Anzac biscuit I chose to garnish this dish with is very famous down under, commemorating an event that is "probably Australia's most important national occasion". These biscuits, made from rolled oats and coconut need to be complimented with another flavour. For this I chose forest peppermint, a spice with a menthol and lemon eucalyptus aroma. I thought this would add extra dimension to this dessert and nicely round off the flavours of the dish.


Andrew said...

now I'm no expert mate - and it does sound amazing - but would not a reduction of a botrytis semillon be too sweet for a fish?

Trig said...

Andrew - you are definitely more of an expert than I am and I defer to your judgement on wines. However, the key to this debate rests with a comma.

It's only the yabby claw that is poached in the reduced sweet wine, not the fish itself. I found other recipes for crayfish and other crustaceans cooked in sherry, so I guess a sweet wine should be OK. I haven't tried it though.

One thing I'm sure about is that we can definitely challenge the old meat=red, fish=white argument. I've cooked salmon steak in a red wine reduction and it tasted great.


Trig said...

Sorry for any confusion here. When I said "not the fish itself" I meant the barramundi, not the yabby of course. The yabby is a crayfish and relative of the lobster.

Nora B. said...

Hi Trig, I think your menu sounds like it was very well thought through. I think of Australian cuisine to be something that has combined the best of European and Asian cuizine (sorry for being very vague) and it also takes into account seasonal produce. As for the red=meat & white=seafood pairing, i agree with what you said. I don't follow that anymore and look more of the acidity/sweetness of the food and match it with the most appropriate wine to complement it, no matter if it's white or red.

Trig said...

Nora B - thanks for your comment. I agree with you that Australian haute cusisine has up to now been a fusion of European and Asian influences, but the point is that Australian native produce and techniques are now being rediscovered and marketed. And this is leading to a truly national cuisine quite different from anything else in the world. If I was Australian myself, which I'm not, I'd be very proud of this.

I'll be posting my Australian Gastronomy Project report in sections soon and I'd be really keen to hear what you think of it.

Emily said...

Hi there,
I stumbled across this site as I was looking up Blue-Eyed Travella (the best fish in the world I found out yesterday),and couldn't help but look through your Australian menu. And yes, it's true, we don't have much of a local menu, it's more wannabe European or Asian.

As an Aussie, I have to say, I love seeing the Pavlova in there, one of my all time favourite things, but chuck some fruit on top too,to set off the biscuit (mangosteens are wonderfully sweet and despite the name don't taste anything like mangos,which is kind of confusing). You don't often see tropical fruits used in dishes in our restaurants sadly, so it's great that you're including it.

The goanna tail sounds really good, but it's actually the best part of the animal, as they use their tails to store fat, and can give you a good swipe with it too. I think the traditional way of cooking it is to seal the meat on the fire first, but the acacia would give it a lovely flavour.

But anyway, I think it all looks brilliant, keep up the good work.

Trig said...

Emily - thanks for this encouragement. It's really good to hear from an Australian who obviously knows their indigenous produce. Have a look at my Gastronomy Report (parts 1 and 2 are now published) and let me know what you think of my thesis, which is basically that the failure to overcome racial division in Australia is the single largest factor in the inhibition of a modern national cuisine.

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