It’s 6am on Saturday morning, the alarm is playing, and guess what? bizarrely I am eager to get up. You see it is the fortnightly sojourn to the food markets here in Melbourne, and that means seafood, fish, meat and an infinite option of cheeses, charcuterie meats, breads, wines and anything else you can throw your hungry stick at. If someone had have told me in the past that I would be excited about getting up early and going food shopping, I would have said in my best cockney accent ‘you’rrrre ‘avin a larf me old china plate’, or something of that nature. But times have changed, mindsets have changed, and I am indeed chomping at the bit.
This last Saturday was a little special as we were having guests to dinner, which meant shopping early for fresh produce at the markets, cooking all day in the kitchen and then eating great food (one hopes on one’s ability) and downing a few glasses of the old jumping grape. I had already planned an outline of the dinner, and this did include a magnificent charcuterie starter from my other half. I had always wanted to cook fish with vanilla butter, and a great way (according to H. Blumenthal) is with sea bass. However, sea bass is not available (well I’ve not found it yet) here in Melbourne, so that was going to be the first chase of the day – a great tasting fish that would be complemented by the butter. And it is for things like this that I am so excited to get to the markets so early in the morning – it’s the thrill of the chase, to find that thing that you have never had before, the thing that if you arrived too late you would not see again for some time. Usually at the markets you can tell exactly what has been caught in ample supply that morning, as all mongers are displaying the same fish or seafood – Atlantic salmon, Queensland banana prawns, barramundi, Coffin Bay oysters – magnificent produce, but usually in abundance every week. No, what I go for is to find out which fishmonger has managed to get that little gem, that something that everyone else didn’t get. And this Saturday I found it – Red Emperor. According to the wily old fishmonger “this is one of Australia’s greatest eating fish and is caught amongst the coral reefs”.
That sold me. Also, I had never eaten or filleted it before, so it looked and sounded ideal – and there were only 4 of them in the whole market. About 6 weeks ago I had a similar experience, but this time with sea urchins – they do not look like they are meant for human (or any other living thing) consumption – black spikes on the exterior and an orange coloured mushy mousse-like interior. They were for me the discovery of the year – I adore oysters, and this urchin was like a concentrated and intensely creamy oyster. Only one purveyor had them and they haven’t been seen since (the urchins not the purveyor).
So back to the dinner – I had the fish. I then procured some beautiful little quail and quail’s eggs, some lean and tender kangaroo, a bitey cheese from England –Gloucestershire Blue, some fantastic rhubarb, huge red Fuji apples, prosciutto, Spanish sopressa and a few other essential ingredients. A happy boy I was, indeed. As I said in the blog post Taking the PTH, the thrill of the chase is then accentuated with creatively working out what to do with this marvellous food. That’s what the next two weeks are for. But I highly recommend going and buying something that you’ve never eaten or bought before and go home and cook, eat and indulge yourself. As they say, variety is the spice of life.
The dinner by the way was a roaring success. I made chicken liver pate and nashi pear chutney to accompany the charcuterie plate of prosciutto, Spanish sopressa, the tenderest buffalo mozzarella, large caper berries and a selection of bread. This was then followed by the Red Emperor (I second the fishmongers astuteness in saying it was a great eating fish) with vanilla butter, duck fat chips (in disc shapes) and chilli broccoli. For desert I embarked on a Raymond Blanc classic, which was process heavy but truly wonderful, even if I say so myself; a vanilla soufflé presented in a carved out baked apple, caramelised apple balls and rhubarb sorbet, all on a calvados sabayon. Magic.