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Archive for March, 2012

Wagyu, Chang, The Whole Hog and Elvis

Sunday, March 18th, 2012

Elvis and Ben's 7-hour lamb


Wagyu, Chang, The Whole Hog and Elvis

The title may seem a bit of a mouthful, and frankly, it was! Neil Perry, Australia’s favourite food hero (and mine!) was holding court at the Fire MasterClass, part of the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival recently and his job was to inform the audience about Wagyu beef, and hopefully, for the sake of the breeders who hovered in the background, to convince us that it is worth its heavy price tag. It’s certainly different, stronger in taste, perhaps more meaty if that’s a thing, with a smoother texture but not buttery soft like fillet. Visibly you can see streaks of fat running through the meat when it is chilled – known as marbling- but as the meat warms up and cooks the marbling is absorbed into the muscle and gives the meat its tenderness and flavour. Steaks are best cooked medium-rare to allow time for the fat to melt –  if you can still see the fat, you’ll  taste it (for instance, if cooking a steak rare), which is not the aim because it will taste fatty. There is no shrinkage, and with the price, that’s a blessing. Don’t throw your hands up in horror – just yet. The fat is monounsaturated, or what is known as ‘healthy’ fat, so you can eat a little as part of a healthy diet. Perry strongly advised to get yourself a good butcher, and that about the only thing we should buy from supermarkets is toilet paper. He’s not far off the mark!

David Chang from Momofuku restaurants – one has just opened up in Sydney – was reasonably quiet on the day, but a relevant quote is, “If you don’t cook a beautiful piece of meat right, you’re an asshole.’ His jerk with allspice and chilli was memorable, so he’s definitely not in that category!

Right, next, Ed Mitchell from North Carolina…he’s been barbecuing whole hogs since he was 15 (looks like he’s been eating them, too!). He was a hoot, likeable, obviously loving what he does, dropping gems of wisdom, and deserved of the name Pit Master. First get you hog – it better be fed on acorns, peanuts, apple and other fruit, all natural food, he insists. He marinates hardwood such as oak or chicory in water, salt and pepper overnight to use around the grill. He butterflies the hog with a cleaver, and cooks it skin up or down. Everything is cooked, from ‘the rootle to the tootle’, he explains, ‘and we even bottle the squeal’, (you’ve got to be pretty thick-skinned to attend these classes), but the ethos is, nothing is wasted. His flavourings include cayenne, salt, sugar, apple cider vinegar, crushed red pepper and maybe a little onion or garlic powder, and this mixed with water is sprayed over the hog. He’s all for starting hogs over a high heat, to get the cooking momentum under way (other barbecue masters cook hogs more slowly for a longer period), bu he reckons he can judge the cooking time better this way and there is no fear of a hog not being cooked evenly, or in time. Once the flames start, he gives a good spray which helps the skin become crisp.

Elvis Abrahanowicz and Ben Milgate – with 48 tattoos between them – have opened two of Sydney’s hottest restaurants: Spanish Bodega and Argentinean Porteno. Their 8-hour woodfired lamb says it all. Just look at those pics!!!


Sweet Smoke

Sunday, March 11th, 2012

Strike A Light

Who would have thought tree prunings could produce such delicious flavours in barbecued food? Lennox Hastie, recently of Ex Asador Etxebarri, Atxondo, Spain, took us for a trot through the woods at the FIRE MasterClass in Melbourne this weekend, extolling the virtues of applewood, grapevine clippings and lemonwood as fuel, with the proviso that the wood be thoroughly dried over a period of months. The wood should make a good snap when broken, he says. Don’t use wet wood because although it smokes easily, it creates harsh flavours. What you want is slow burning, seasoned (weather-dried) wood that provides an even heat, as well as aromatics and flavour. And forget the sizzle.

Lennox’s style is slow and sweet, allowing the food to take on the flavours of the wood without blackening.

This autumn gather up any tree or vine prunings and let them air-dry before the weather turns. Come summer, use readily available wood such as pine for kindling, but cook over your lovingly dried fruit woods for flavour. You’ll taste the difference.

FIRE MasterClass Friday 9th March

Melbourne Food & Wine Festival

Collingwood Children’s Farm Abbotsford Melbourne


Artisan Butcher

Saturday, March 10th, 2012

A Day of FIRE

Dario Cecchini, artisan butcher from Tuscany, reminded us that our preoccupation with premium tender meats such as fillet coupled with the attitude that ‘the rest (of the carcass) is not my problem’ needs to be addressed. In the past all parts of an animal were treated equally, nothing was wasted. Broth was a saviour, lovingly prepared and tended, made from bones and offcuts. It fed many and was served for several meals.  As he butchered a side of beef and chatted about the food from his native Tuscany, describing it as ‘unadulterated’, Guy Grossi translated. Dario then boned a shank and prepared it for roasting, Cecchini style. In Tuscany many places are far from the coast making salt in times gone by a precious commodity. This tradition sees him mixing Sicilian sea salt with herbs and spices, to make the salt go further, he says; thyme, bay leaf, sage, coriander and juniper, and fennel pollen, to aid digestion. A generous amount of marrow was arranged in the middle of the opened out shank, then the shank was tied up, surrounded with onions and anointed with a glass of olive oil. During 3 hours’ cooking in a moderate oven the marrow melted keeping the meat succulent. Just before serving, a Tuscan trick, a good splash of Vin santo.

FIRE MasterClass Friday 9th March

Melbourne Food & Wine Festival

Collingwood Children’s Farm Abbotsford Melbourne

Dario and the beast

Baby Johnny’s first radish in fine company

Friday, March 9th, 2012

I’m not sure that something described on the menu as PIGS NIPPLES would appeal to everyone, but it certainly intrigued me. To be fair, the menu was shaping up into a culinary adventure, with more than a dozen tastes and textures on each small plate. But don’t think BIG food, shrink it all down, deconstruct, reduce, grate, fluff or foam, and present as microdots, squirts, smears, tiny tumbles, mini cubes and baby crumbles. Like works of art, of course, but it’s food, so tuck in you must. Dunk, slurp, run the finger over the plate. It’s that good. Lift up the wafer of pork crackling, munch to a shattering in your ears, Asian spices tingling the back of your nose. A bed of richest, sticky velvety potato puree. Thin shards of dehydrated carrot barely bathed in the deep-fryer until taught. Milk powder, reduced, caramelised, finished off in beurre noisette, like a scattering of crushed biscuits on the edge of the plate. Crumbled black pudding, meaty, lightly salty. Dense nuggets of fondant parsnip. A whippet of a radish a toddler could grow seemingly just a garnish, but its mustard-hot bite cleans the richness.

And the nipple. Where is it? Like a button of sweetish fat belly pork, panko-crumbed and deep-fried, it’s hidden in the middle of the melange. A discrete bite and its gone.

An exceptional dish, and just one on the menu at The Press Club, Melbourne.

Chef George Calombaris

Address 72 Flinders Street Melbourne