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Our guide to the best of the region.
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There's nothing new about Nordic interiors - blond timbers, concrete surfaces, warm, mid-century charm without the twee - and thank heavens for that. It's a style that augments the beauty of everything around it, in this case, gorgeous Hobart harbour, which makes up one whole wall. What is new here, however, is the food - by veterans of Garagistes, which once dazzled diners down the road, Vue de Monde in Melbourne and Gordon Ramsay worldwide. There's a strong Asian bent, but with Tasmanian ingredients. In fact, the kitchen's love of the local verges on obsessive - coconut milk in an aromatic fish curry is replaced with Tasmanian-grown fig leaf simmered in cream to mimic the flavour. Other standouts include a gutsy red-braised lamb with gai lan and chewy cassia spaetzle, pigs' ears zingy with Sichuan pepper and a fresh, springy berry dessert. While the food is sourced locally, the generous wine list spans the planet.
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"I first cooked a version of this dish - inspired by the excellent deep-fried egg dish at Billy Kwong - while working at a restaurant in Sri Lanka," says O Tama Carey. "The lattice-like eggs are doused in a creamy turmeric curry sauce and topped with seeni sambol, a sweet-spiced caramelised onion relish. This dish is equally perfect for an indulgent breakfast as it is served as part of a larger meal." The recipe for the seeni sambol makes more than you need, but to get the right balance of spices you need to make at least this much. It keeps refrigerated for up to three weeks; use as an onion relish. The curry sauce can be made a day or two ahead.
Here we've scorched apricots on the grill and served them with torn jamon, shaved Manchego and peppery rocket leaves. Think of it as a twist on the good old melon-prosciutto routine. The mixture would also be great served on charred sourdough.
Slow Food Melbourne once hosted a dinner on a salt lake on the outskirts of Mildura. Guests arrived to a brilliantly coloured show of blues and pinks as the setting sun was reflected on the white salt lake. A table stretching 50 people long had been set up on the lakebed and was laden with salt crystals and freshly cooked yabbies. These delicious crustaceans had come from dams and farms in the area, and we ate them with just a squeeze of lemon and a delicate mayonnaise.
The common yabby belongs to a whole family of freshwater crayfish which are native to Australian rivers, creeks, dams and waterholes. These crustaceans all have a hard shell, antennae and claws for digging (although not all of them burrow) and live in fresh water. They are nocturnal and their diet is mostly vegetarian; they feed on water weeds, decaying roots and leaves, insects and occasionally meat.
Three crayfish species are farmed commercially in Australia. The common dam yabby, the one I enjoyed so much in Mildura, is native to most of Victoria and some parts of New South Wales and South Australia; it has been introduced to Western Australia, where it is considered a threat to the marron industry. It's a very hardy little creature, and in fact its scientific name, Cherax destructor, comes from the damage it is capable of doing to dam walls by burrowing. The humble yabby is capable of surviving long periods of drought by burrowing deep into the soil until it reaches the water table, where it stays moist and protected until the rains come again.
The redclaw (Cherax quadricarinatus) is native to the
north-western river systems of Queensland. Then there's the mighty
marron (Cherax cainii), which is native to the rivers of the
south-western part of Western Australia. It has also been
introduced to Kangaroo Island, where it is being farmed.
All these freshwater crayfish vary greatly in size and colour, from dull green-brown to blue to dark brown or blue-black. (They shouldn't be confused with marine rocklobsters, which are sometimes incorrectly referred to as crayfish, but which are an entirely different species.) To me, the marron is the most exciting of all these crayfish; it's also the biggest. Marron look like giant yabbies but their shells are a brilliant deep blue or a dark blue-black. They're impressive looking animals and quite beautiful.
Marron are usually sold live; I wouldn't recommend you buy dead marron because their flesh degrades very quickly. They should have a shiny shell, look lively, have all limbs attached, and have no obvious damage to their shell. I recommend that you cook them on the day you buy them - the fresher they are, the better they will taste. If you have to keep them, store them in a well-ventilated wet box in a cool part of the house - somewhere below 20 degrees - but not in the fridge.
Live marron are available in all states of Australia except
Victoria, where a Noxious Aquatic Species Permit is required for
possessing the live animals; restaurants can obtain it but
retailers can't. This is because the fisheries department is
concerned that live marron could be released into Victorian
waterways, where they would compete with the native yabby. So those
of us in Victoria can enjoy marron at their best only in
Marron have quite a delicate flavour which I consider superior even to that of the rocklobster, and I like to cook them simply. For information on killing marron and other crustaceans humanely, refer to the RSPCA guidelines. Then bring a large pot of generously salted water to the boil, lower the dead marron in and simmer them gently for eight minutes for a 200gm marron or a little more if they are bigger. Remove them and allow them to cool slightly in their shells.Serve them with a homemade mayonnaise, or a celeriac rémoulade and watercress salad, or a Thai green mango salad dressed with chilli, lime juice, fish sauce and palm sugar.
I also recommend you try cooking and serving them in the shell - they look impressive and the shell lends flavour to the meat and the sauce. Try marron in a green curry, or stir-fried with ginger, red chilli and Thai basil, or barbecued: cut them through the middle, brush them with extra-virgin olive oil and sprinkle over some fresh herbs. Grill them gently on both sides, being careful not to overcook.
For Christmas dinner with the family this year, I'll be serving marron garnished with ground toasted rice and fried shallots - gorgeous with a very special bottle of German riesling such as a classic JJ Prüm Spätlese. Merry Christmas.
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