I learned a lot about raw fish from Masaaki Saito, a past co-worker and good friend, from whom I still purchase my sashimi and chef knives at Kitchen Saito. When I worked with Masaaki at Fins Seafood Restaurant he was more than happy to share his skills and knowledge about raw fish. Executive head chef and owner of Fins, Steven Snow, and previous head chef, Phil Woolsten, helped sculpt my artistry with raw fish. These great chefs allowed me create my own style that uses local ingredients and acknowledges the basics of beautiful food: multiple textures, visually and aromatically pleasing and, most of all, it must taste good! I like to play around fusing together different cultures but not go so far that the flavours become confused or muddled.
Most people of the world have their own way of preparing raw fish, it having been so abundant over millennia. The Polynesians make ota ika salad from raw fish, lemon juice, fresh herbs and coconut cream. Peruvians prepare ceviche made from chunks of raw fish marinated in lime juice, onion and chili. Italians prepare carpaccio, which consists of fresh tuna or sword fish sliced thinly, laid out on a plate then dressed. Hawaiians prepare poke salad made from cubed fish marinated in sea salt, chili, sesame-seed oil and their own limu seaweed. The Nords prepare gravlax made from raw salmon cured in salt, sugar and dill. And don’t forget the Japanese with their sashimi of sliced raw seafood, traditionally eaten with soy and wasabi.
There are many other ways to prepare and eat raw fish. Why not adopt a fusion of techniques to create your own style?
Throughout my travels I have been exposed to an array of different cultures and flavours. In this dish I have fused them together to create a unique Lord Howe experience.
Nannygai Carpaccio with Wasabi Air and Thai Basil Flowers
Taken from The Stranded Chef by Dennis Tierney.
This dish is a real taste of Lord Howe Island and uses fresh, crisp and simple flavours. The star of this dish is the fish Nannygai, which are a beautiful bright red colour, sometimes referred to as red fish. They are more commonly caught in deep waters from 100 to 500 metres. Nannygai are known for their sweet firm flesh with small flakes. When handling Nannygai don’t be fooled by their beauty. They are incredibly spiky and sharp and will easily cut through skin, so handle with caution and care. Nannygai are caught fresh in the depths of the island's crystal clear surrounding waters. The Thai basil is handpicked from the garden and the wasabi air gives a sharp heat that finishes on the palate almost as fast as it started.
250g sashimi grade nannygai
100ml lemon juice
tempura batter (see basics page xx)
40g wasabi paste
Murray River pink salt flakes for seasoning
Pinch of table salt
Thai basil flowers and leaves for garnish
6g Soy lecithin
Blend lemon juice, water, wasabi paste, soy lecithin and a pinch of table salt in a blender until all ingredients have dissolved and foam has formed on the top. Leave in the blender.
Slice Nannygai 2mm thick with a sashimi knife or alternatively use a sharp knife. Fan out raw fish on each plate and season with Murray River pink salt flakes. Lastly, re-blend the mixture in the blender until a very aerated foam has formed on top and let stand for 2 minutes. Using a spoon scoop the foam and place on top of the sliced Nannygai. Serve immediately.
Throughout my career, I have mostly worked in seafood restaurants and now have an extensive repertoire of seafood dishes of different styles. When I cook I use the freshest seafood and complement it with the freshest seasonal ingredients. Steven Snow’s general rule is that for every hour seafood is off ice, one day’s life is gone. Fresh fish doesn’t have a strong fishy smell, like you get in some fish markets. When it’s fresh it’s more subtle, the gills are bright red, not brown, and the scales are intact, not peeling away. The eyes will be bright and clear, not sunken, and there will be no visual indents, which will age and bruise the fish. The skin looks bright and glossy. Basically, the fish should still look alive.
In Australia, we can really celebrate seafood because it’s so fresh and accessible, yet it’s generally reserved for special occasions because it costs quite a lot of money. In other parts of the world, over-fishing and rising water temperatures really limit the availability of fresh seafood.
Lord Howe’s tiny fishing industry hardly impacts the environment due to there being no commercial fishing. Our sustainable methods include no netting, no spear fishing and no trapping. We catch our fish on a line or use our bare hands! Even when I free-dive for crayfish I am only allowed to catch them on one breath without a spear or breathing apparatus. I love serving something that I caught myself.
Growing up on a small hobby farm gave me a huge passion for and understanding of fresh produce. For me, fresh equals flavoursome. Fresh food seems to look brighter on the plate and holds a crisper, crunchier texture. There is nothing better than eating homegrown free-range eggs, succulent local meats and garden-fresh vegetables and fruit.
But while working on Lord Howe Island, on occasions I’ve been really stuck. We change the menu everyday so it is impossible to plan too far ahead. Sometimes my vegetable order arrives on the ship from Port Macquarie but it hasn’t lasted the 36-hour voyage. At worst it has to be binned, at best, used straight away. Sometimes my order isn’t even sent and my supplier forgets to tell me. (That’s a very long wait for the next ship in two weeks!) Sometimes, without warning, island-grown vegetables arrive on my doorstep. They seem to have a longer shelf life than produce from the mainland.
Once I had to create a dessert based on cool room supplies of local citrus. I just went with it, finding many different ways to create a textured assiette of citrus – flourless orange and lemon cake, orange blossom sorbet, orange and lemon foam, candied orange peel, verjuice and lemonade fruit jelly crystals, orange and tangelo spheres, and orange wafers. I had fun with that one! At other times I’ve walked into a basically empty cool room and had to come up with a three-course dinner, breakfast and lunch for my guests plus feed 15 staff. It’s at this point that I call all the restaurants, lodges and farmers on the island to see if they have anything I can borrow or purchase. Everyone in the community helps out where they can. It is quite common to owe someone 20 kilos of flour, 10 kilos of sugar, 15 cucumbers, 10 tomatoes and 4 litres of cream …
Desserts are a lot of fun because I can really play with flavours and textures. I like to create desserts full of surprise and excitement that leave people wondering, ‘How did he do that?’ Indeed, without giving away all of my secrets, some of the ways I achieve memorable last courses, include using food extracts to make different textures like spherification, airs, dusts, powders and gels. Picture biting into a bubble of liquid and flavour exploding into your mouth or a syrup standing up on your plate on its own. These are just some of the sensations you can create using molecular gastronomy. I also create garnishes by dehydrating fruits into wafers or use interesting uncommon ingredients, such as tonka bean, fresh coconut or bush foods, like the finger limes and Davison plums that I grew up with.
If you take the time, use love and imagination when preparing deserts you will end up with a beautiful artistic product. It’s like this with my recipe for triple chocolate tort with soft caramel, espresso crema cotta, vincotto sphere and chocolate truffle. This dish provides an element of surprise when you cut the chocolate tort to find soft caramel oozing out. Coupled with biting into the vincotto sphere as it explodes delightfully in your mouth and the espresso crema cotta filled egg, the entertainment lasts and lasts.