A Frank Canvas ~ Drawing flavours from the heart

Sydney is blessed with some of the freshest seafood money can buy.
But a beautiful ingredient we can always add to our cooking pot is a good dose of love.

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Throughout our cooking lives, Mysaucepan and I have drawn inspiration from reading cookbooks, using the freshest of seasonal produce, listening to and observing our mothers and grandmothers in the kitchen.

Fancy restaurants may capture the imagination of fine dining but some of our fondest food memories come from humble, age-old family recipes. The ingredients are simple yet their freshness combine to produce the most heart-warming meals we so fondly love.

And I believe there is an intangible element in the heart of every family recipe that makes it so special. We can cook with the best and most expensive of ingredients but when our senses are connected with their flavours, the results are often magical.

Just as I play the piano with my heart, cooking is no different. Following a recipe to a tee is like reading the musical manuscript as you play. The flavours may flow like the music but the food can also taste mundane just as the music may sound robotic.

When ingredients are at their best, they deserve respect and the way to honour this obligation is by cooking from the heart. Touch and smell the freshness to imagine its transformation into beautiful aromas and flavours. Just like a pianist who interprets the works of the great composers, the most revered of Michelin-starred chefs in the world are mere conduits in bringing out the best in each ingredient to create something special.

With this in mind, we want share with you some recipes we have cooked, not just with the freshest of ingredients as it seems, but also with our hearts.

Flavours from the heart

Fresh scampi

Fresh scampi

It’s an early Saturday morning and Mysaucepan and I are in the Sydney Fish Market to check out the fresh seafood.

The freshness of these scampi is unmistakable just by looking at the vibrant shades of red and orange on their gleaming glass-like shell. A razor sharp horn between two beedy black eyes protrudes from its head shell. They are not cheap and at $70.00 a kilogram, these beautiful crustaceans cost about $6 each.

We grab our load of seafood and head home to spend a blissful afternoon in the kitchen to prepare dinner for friends this evening.

2011 Louise Jardot Chablis

2011 Louise Jardot Chablis

KC & Molly brings a 2011 Louise Jardot Chablis while Drama Queen arrives with a bunch of beautiful stargazer lilies.

This chablis has citrusy aromas with pear flavours on the palate. Oak is subtle and the finish is crisp and dry.

Chawanmushi, tomato water, sea urchin, roe

Chawanmushi, tomato water, sea urchin, roe

Chawanmushi, tomato water, sea urchin, roe

I have drawn inspiration for a chawanmushi from our dinner at LuMi Bar & Dining where head chef Federico Zanellato re-created the Japanese chawanmushi with an Italian slant using tomato water, diced tomato, parmesan and tiny strips of fresh basil.

I have delicately steamed these chawanmushi ramekins in a large pan at the lowest possible heat level. Just as love sometimes does, delicate egg custard calls for patience because gentle steaming is the only way to ensure a custard sets softly. Because love can never be rushed, steaming at a higher heat may cook faster but will also solidify egg custard, rendering its texture more like a fritata.

Once chilled, I add a little decadence with fresh sea urchin and flying fish roe.

I resist garnishing this chawanmushi with finely diced chives and/or bonito flakes for sake of presentation. One thing I have learnt from my late grandmother‘s recipes is food may not necessarily need to look good for it to taste good.

It’s a simple gesture but my suggestion is to eat this chawanmushi slowly by scooping with a teaspoon or Chinese porcelain spoon. Put on calming music and whether its breakfast, lunch, dinner or an afternoon picnic by the water’s edge, you will feel the love of your cooking just as much as you will enjoy the velvety smoothness of egg custard caressed by flavours from the sea.

Deep sea bream, scampi and octopus sashimi

Adding sauce vierge to fresh scampi, deep sea bream and octopus

Adding sauce vierge to fresh scampi, deep sea bream and octopus

We had lunch at beautiful Cottage Point Inn a couple of weeks ago and were mesmerized by head chef Guillaume Zika‘s beautiful entree of line-caught snapper carpaccio.

Chef Zika used a white peach sauce vierge to add more sweetness to finely bits of diced strawberries and finger lime, adding a tangy, popping finish to each sliver of fresh fish.

Here at home, we are using a lemon sauce vierge dressing that adds a tangy edge to sweet strawberry and combines well with basil and crunchy bits of diced zucchini.

Deep sea bream, scampi and octopus sashimi

Deep sea bream, scampi and octopus sashimi

We decide on three types of seafood to give contrast to its raw freshness ~ sashimi of deep sea bream, scampi and octopus.

The flesh of deep sea bream is firm in contrast with sweet and silky soft scampi. Octopus adds a gentle chew while tangy lemon sauce vierge, fragrance of fresh basil and bursts of sweet strawberry bring this entire dish to life. I retain the scampi heads and empty body shells as decoratives.

We had just as much fun creating this dish as our friends thoroughly enjoyed its flavours. Thanks chef Zika for the inspiration!

Prawn toast with mayonnaise, coriander and mint

Lacing Japanese kewpie mayo on deep fried prawn toast with sesame seeds

Lacing Japanese kewpie mayo on deep fried prawn toast with sesame seeds

Prawn toast is a big favourite when we were kids.

When Mysaucepan and I first tasted Dan Hong‘s creation at Mr. Wong, we were keen to re-create this recipe at home from his cookbook Mr. Hong.

Garnishing prawn toast with spearmint, coriander and shallots

Garnishing prawn toast with spearmint, coriander and shallots

Hong is a talented chef, combining his Vietnamese heritage with exposure as a chef in cosmopolitan Sydney and food odysseys around the world.

French influences in Vietnam may have inspired the use of thick baguette slices laced with kewpie mayonnaise and a creamy prawn mousse deep fried to a crisp and crunchy golden brown.

Dan Hong's prawn toast

Dan Hong's prawn toast with mayonnaise, coriander and mint

Garnished with a trio of spearmint, coriander, shallots, then drizzled with the tangy-sweet pungency of nuoc cham, this must surely be the king of all prawn toast recipes.

Grilled king prawns with herb butter

Fresh king prawns

Fresh king prawns

I marvel in amazement whenever I see these fresh king prawns in Sydney Fish Market.

They are ginormous and smell like the sea. So fresh and wholesome, I could not find a single dark blemish on their heads as hard as I try.

Fresh king prawns stuffed with herb butter

Fresh king prawns stuffed with herb butter

Herb butter occupies a very special place in our freezer and we have a ready supply at any time because of its sheer versatility. We use herb butter for grilling fresh whole fish, rib-eye steaks, tossing a spaghetti vongole with a splash of chardonnay or simply slather into a baguette to make garlic bread.

I slit these prawns lengthwise along the head and body with kitchen scissors and stuff them with a pinch of salt, pepper and generous scoops of herb butter. Drizzle some extra virgin olive oil over these bad boys and they are ready for the oven.

Grilled king prawns with herb butter

Grilled king prawns with herb butter

After just ten minutes at  200 degrees Celsius, these bad boys are sizzling with fragrant aromas of parsley and butter.

Verticle tasting of Grosset Polish Hill riesling

2007 & 2012 Polish Hill Grosset Riesling

2007 & 2012 Polish Hill Grosset siesling

Thelonius and Monk brought a 2002 & 2007 Polish Hill Grosset riesling respectively to complement the seafood though a verticle tasting is obviously inevitable.

These wines are some of the best interpretations of the riesling varietal that Australia produces each year.

The 2007 has lemony notes with a dry and tight finish that lingers on. It’s a beautiful drop for seafood though it conjures images of Darth Vader for its steely mouth-feel and a hollow middle palate.

Baby barramundi, lemon thyme sambal

Baby barramundi, lemon thyme sambal

Baby barramundi, lemon thyme sambal with crispy ginger

After marinating a couple of baby barramundi with sambal belachan, fresh slices of lemon and thyme, I toss them into the oven for about twenty minutes.

Garnished with a squeeze of lemon juice, shallots, coriander and a clump of crispy deep fried ginger, I believe barramundi cooked this style will touch the heart of every food seafood lover with a penchant for exotic Asian flavours.

The Recipes ~ Flavours from the heart

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Deep sea bream, scampi and octopus sashimi

Deep sea bream, scampi and octopus sashimi

These recipes combine the inspiration of talented chefs and a dose of our own love and creativity in the kitchen. We believe fresh ingredients speak for themselves so we are careful to not over-cook or use too many different ingredients.

Their vibrant colours speak volumes of their freshness and, hopefully, the love from our hearts too.

So dear readers, how do you like to cook, following recipes to a tee or do you prefer Jamie Oliver’s style of a sprinkle of this and a dash of that with no apparent heed to uniformity?

The deep sea bream and octopus sashimi were purchased from Peter’s Seafood whilst green king prawns, scampi sashimi and baby barramundi were purchased from Nicholas Seafood. Both outlets are located within Sydney Fish Market.

Sydney Fish Market
Locked Bag 247
Bank street, Pyrmont 2009
New South Wales

Tel: +61 2 9004 1100

Trading hours: Every day from 7am – 4pm except Christmas Day

Go to www.sydneyfishmarket.com.au for find out more about trading hours, auction times and other events.

Peter’s Seafood
Shop 4, Sydney Fish Market

Tel: +61 2 9552 2555

Nicholas Seafood
Shop 6, Sydney Fish Market

Tel: +61 2 9660 4255

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15 Responses to A Frank Canvas ~ Drawing flavours from the heart

  1. What an incredible day of shopping, cooking, eating, drinking and laughing. Every single dish is well, like everything else you two do – perfect.

  2. Simply damn delicious n stunning presentation….

  3. Raymund says:

    Holy Moly! Look at the size of those prawns and that plate of Deep sea bream, scampi and octopus sashimi looks like a work of art

  4. This all looks so good, food from the heart always tastes different to ‘functional’ food.

  5. One of my favourite places in the WORLD – the Sydney Fish Markets – when we lived in Sydney we shopped there every week – lovely post – thank you.

    • Chopinand says:

      Dear Rachel,

      We love the Sydney Fish Market too though fresh seafood is so plentiful all over the city these days.

  6. Row says:

    Wow, this is a fabulous meal with incredibly fresh, top-notch ingredients! Bravo! :)

  7. I am literally speechless. When I saw the first pic of your sashimi platter, I had to pause to inspect it closely, I was fascinated by it.

    Every single component of this carefully thought out feast so lovingly prepared is stunning. I honestly have no other words.

    Oh, except I WISH I WAS THERE!!! :)

    PS love that you draw inspiration from your fave restaurants!

    • Chopinand says:

      Dear Nagi,

      Thanks for your kind words.

      We are lucky to have such beautiful ingredients to cook with, so every time we come across exciting dishes at restaurants, they inspire us to try and replicate them at home.

  8. Hotly Spiced says:

    I wish I could play the piano; unfortunately I just have no talent for it. That’s the best looking prawn toast I’ve ever seen xx

  9. Save me from licking my computer screen. Fantastic post! So want the deep sea bream, scampi and octopus sashimi plate. It’s so colourful!

  10. If we are talking seafood and Sydney Fish Market, you have my undivided attention. I have almost forgotten how gorgeous and big the prawns are back home and those fresh scampi are absolutely perfect! I loved all your dishes, I still can’t decide which one would be my favorite but the deep sea bream, scampi and octopus sashimi looks amazing. I am in love with this dish.

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