Cast Off! Sustainability Festival

castoff53_1And so we find ourselves back in the Woy, NSW, and I’m starting think this is becoming quite the groovy place to be. Two organisations seem to be contributing mightily to Woy Woy’s foodie ascendancy – the Gnostic ’empire’ and The Fisherman’s Wharf.castoff31

It’s the latter spearheading Cast Off!, on its second outing for highlighting sustainability in the region. Especially, naturally enough, of fish. But also, importantly from my point of view, obviously, as it’s an Australian do – beer, wine and cider.

Spread out all along the wharf at Woy Woy, and across into Fisherman’s Wharf itself, on a bright and sunny Autumn day, the rows of cheerful stalls ran, mostly representing local produce and enterprises, as well as one or two from further afield.

I was surprised to see that New Zealand had a showing from Cloudy Bay Clams, selling what looked like a seafood curry in a giant paella tray:

The ‘Malaysian sauce’ didn’t taste that authentic to me, but I can’t argue that the seafood – mussels, prawns and two distinctly different types of clam – wasn’t pretty damn tasty. They insisted this was still sustainable seafood, despite being flown across to Oz, vacuum packed. Well, if they say so.

Other seafood offerings from further afield included some lovely, tender octopus all the way from Fremantle, served up by Avoca locals bombini:

Contented customers wallowed nearby in gaily striped deck chairs, soaking up the sun and possibly the cocktails from this chap, of Bar Toto, Ettalong, fame:

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Though we noticed another bar from Ettalong mixing up the drinks nearby, from Gusto. No wonder everyone looked so relaxed.cast2

Whilst on the subject of drinking for relaxment (do believe that’s a new word, there; you’re welcome) we are lucky enough to have not one, but two, artisan breweries on this bit of the Central Coast. The rather fabulous six strings, of Erina, who’ve gone down the canning route (flying in the face of fashion there) and relative newcomers Block’n’Tackle, who prefer to encourage reusable mini kegs and bottles.

No surprise then perhaps that after all that booze, and watching of bands, we were feeling a tad fuzzy…

Happily there was more food; the fish tacos were good, though very wee, which probably explains why there were orders coming through of half a dozen at a time. Bit steep at $5 a pop I thought but hey ho, I’m notoriously stingy.

Plenty of other options available mind; loads of fish including albacore tuna, swordfish, paella, fish & chips, pippies and pasta, fish burgers, and many more. Coffee boost from the lovely rustic looking All Ears: 

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There were take home options too, with Six String Lemonade and Coastie Ale, jars and spice mixes, and gluten free from the No Bull Food Co:

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In the desserts corner were ice creams, churros, margarita slushies (that counts as dessert, surely?) and the rather splendid Fat Meringue, which I obviously made a beeline for. Miso ginger meringues!

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So excited was I, I almost forgot to pay. I l loved the caramel syringe – as if there was ever any chance of not eating every last sugary drop – it was still fun to inject through the crunchy outer shell.

For those bored with eating and drinking sustainably, there were cooking demonstrations lined up all afternoon long from a variety of chaps; Matt Kemp while we were wandering past, plus an information section with advice about sustainable local (Hawkesbury) fishing, just for the look of it, you know.castoff52 (2)

Finally, sated by the all afternoon nibbling, we headed round the craft and goodies stalls, checking out the lovely plants and homewares:castoff1_1 castoff1_5 castoff1_6 castoff1_2

This sort of do is a real plus for the area, well organised and well ‘stocked’ with quality vendors. Go The Woy!

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Aria: More fishy takeovers in the Woy

After my last post in late 2015, we thought we’d give the ‘Takeover’ series at Fisherman’s Wharf in Woy Woy another go.  This month, current head chef of Aria & fellow Brit, Ben Turner, takes centre stage in the restaurant kitchens.

Judging by the full house, these monthly sessions have been something of a hit. And what’s not to love; the rustic charm of bare floorboards, windows swung wide to the water views on a warm autumn evening, the quiet lapping of the water and the ducks and pelicans drifting hopefully past your table.

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Quiet before the storm


The seafood based menu was short and sweet; 4 courses starting with yellowtail scad; our waiter informing us that this is normally used as a bait fish, but here sustainably re-purposed as sashimi with a Japanese inspired dressing. It seemed a pleasant enough fish; I’ve never understood the public resistance to trying new types of seafood, taking pressure away from the Big Four. Pretty as a picture, accompanied by beetroot stained pickled onions and salty cucumber slices:IMG_0649

This vanished pretty quickly, leaving us to tuck into chunks of crisp, white baguette. Slathering the wonderfully rich butter on my bread was something of a highlight – I suspect properly cultured butter courtesy of Pepe Saya, though I wasn’t moved sufficiently to double check this. It was delicious, anyway. The pat of ‘seaweed butter’  alongside it was also delicious but not because of a particularly iodine, sea-veg flavour – to me it was more of a pleasantly cheesey overtone.

Second from the menu was ocean trout, one of my favourite types of fish. The Petuna trout has featured in previous takeovers here, and comes with an impressive list of Australian famous chef fans.

Initially this looked to be another raw fish dish, but transpired to be sous-vide cooked (sous-vided? Someone help me with my French please??) and then served chilled; I have to confess I was hard pressed to tell the difference between that and sashimi in texture but we enjoyed it a lot anyway. Turns out apple goes terribly well with dill – who knew?IMG_0677

The powdery white stuff there (above) was allegedly horseradish, treated in some exciting modern way to become entirely tasteless. Pretty though, no?

I guess in a foreign kitchen with a full house to serve, it’s easier to have a batch of dishes you can make up in advance, hence the two cold courses perhaps. And indeed, the dishes did come out without that irritating wait between courses, as you often get in these set dinners.

The main, seared sea mullet, had a deliciously crunchy skin, just the right side of too browned, with a hint of gelatinous that I quite like. Adorned with blobs of spritzzy citrus, it brightened up the dish no end. My fairly dull photo, below (the light was going and by gosh if I still haven’t gotten round to reading the instruction manual for the camera) doesn’t bring out the vibrancy of the green powdered wasabi – again, modernity rendering it tasteless – but the fish was  perfectly correctly cooked even if lacking a teeny bit in presentation. ‘Mussel butter’ leant it a nice saltiness – and by the way, joy of joys, a whole meal that wasn’t oversalted! – though possibly made the mussels a little less tender than they could have been. IMG_0683

I loathe reading reviews of meals where the main complaint runs along the lines of “the dishes were so tiny we had to eat somewhere else afterwards”, where value for money is determined by how easy it is for the diner to do up their buttons post repast. Having said that: whilst they were being generous with the protein, there was a distinct lack of carbohydrates. Though a paleo diet pleaser, if it weren’t for the second round of bread we ordered, we would genuinely have been a bit peckish. Not to mention a bit more tiddly, seeing as the matched wines were a terribly reasonable $30 extra per head…

Finally, with apologies for more shocking photography, the dessert was an awesome rich, blob of dulce de leche, with a scattering of crunchy candied pecans and a smear (what modern meal would be complete without a smear, after all) of sweetened pumpkin that even Mr C, a notorious shier awayer from squash of all sorts, enjoyed.IMG_0684

Personally, I wasn’t convinced that the coconut sorbet went that well with the rest of the dish, but it did go ever so well with the accompanying dessert wine, a Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise from La Pigeade.

Another successful Takeover, and who wouldn’t love top city chefs rocking up on your doorstep, after all?

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Hopeful diner

Contact the restaurant for details of upcoming Takeovers:

The Boulevard, Woy Woy NSW 2256
(02) 4341 1171

Fishy Take Overs

Well, been a quiet year here on LeftHandedChopsticks, because conversely, it’s been a hectic one for me personally. But there’s still been food adventures, here and abroad. Part of what I’ve been working on is a series of experiments with kimchi, of which hopefully more later in the year.

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More recently, I’ve been delighted to see those excellent chaps (and chapesses) at Woy Woy Fisherman’s Wharf (WWFW) have been inviting guest chefs to a short residency at their place, allowing us Coasties to eat out big city style and still be able to walk home. Well, nearly walk home.

Previously they’ve been graced by chefs from such leading lights as Momofuko Seibo, Longrain, and Pilu at Freshwater. This weekend was the turn of Troy Rhodes Brown of Muse fame, all the way from the Hunter Valley.

Muse, currently boasting 2 SMH Good Food Guide Hats, consistently gets good reviews from punters, and we could certainly see glimmers of that on Saturday. The ambience was there (they’d rolled out the actual linen napkins rather than paper towels!), the candles were twinkling, the view over the water as good as ever & our waiter was knowledgeable, attentive and generally awesome. All of which is, of course, WWFW rather than Troy/Muse themselves, though when I mentioned my food intolerance, they were more than happy to accommodate it, despite it being a major part of the dish in question. All the more disappointing therefore that the food itself, though excellently cooked, largely came out on the bland side. Our expectations were fairly high here and, whilst it wasn’t actually bad in any sense (and it must be tough working in someone else’s kitchen) it’s just that my socks were not really much moved, let alone knocked off.

Yes, I know this is a matter of taste; purely subjective & so on, but there we have it. With the exception of the dessert and the more gutsy Squid and King Brown Mushroom Noodles dish; easily the best of the evening for our table (as well as at least the one next to us, judging by their reactions), I came away wanting a bit more pizzazz. That squid though; local, Hawkesbury Squid shredded alongside the mushrooms to form thin, perfectly cooked noodles, dressed with a custard of miso and sake and topped by a (faintly sinister looking) black tapioca crisp, coloured by squid ink. Blobs of yuzu and ginger gels along with pretty pink garlic flowers zazzed up the flavour further.IMG_2693 IMG_2696

sans disturbing looking wafer

Other dishes of the set menu included a week-long marinated tuna – with a seaweed & ginger/garlic crust that neither of us could actually detect – which tasted…mildly of tuna. Medium rare and with an oddly crumbly surface texture, presumably from whatever it was marinated in for all that time. Much was made of the 9 hours roasted truss tomato which in my case was very salty, not very tender and off-puttingly refrigerator cold alongside the otherwise warm dish. Mr C ate it for me, which had the benefit of his being able to compare and contrast – mine was both colder and saltier than his so I guess that was just one of those plating up errors. Along with the rather tough piece of fennel.IMG_2699

The other appetizers fared slightly better, with the ocean trout rillettes coming out in cutesey little pots, differing on each table and paired with the only carbohydrate of the evening, some rather nice warm sourdough. IMG_2685The rillette itself was nice enough – apparently teamed with New Zealand wasabi, though again, neither of us were aware of it. I couldn’t help thinking it would have been stronger if the trout had been smoked perhaps; as it was I was having a hard job working out what kind of fish it was. Ditto the kingfish tartare – could’ve been any white fish. Looked a picture though. IMG_2689I wanted it to be more zingy, and from the looks of the write up, it should have been – pickled choko, shaved eschallots, shao hsing reduction, coriander, lime and spinach – absolutely none of which we could identify.  By the time it was wrapped in the baby cos leaves, it basically disappeared flavour wise. It’s a rum do when your dish is overpowered by lettuce.IMG_2691

I did like those little crunchy bits of what I’m sure were porky crackling, though it wasn’t mentioned in the summary.

Let me not give you the impression it was all dull, heavens no.

The share plate dessert, Coconut Cloud, was a perfection of frozen coconut cream offset beautifully by the tart mulberries, with tiny crunches from the black coconut sugar crystals and a bit of body from the coconut water sago pearls. IMG_2703IMG_2705Liberally sprinkled with flowers, it looked gorgeous – and huge, but strangely disappeared everso very quickly. Mr C displaying his more Labrador qualities whilst I was distracted by trying to get my camera to operate in the low light, I suspect.

We didn’t have the matched wines, though these were a very reasonable additional $30 (did say it wasn’t quite a walk); instead I had the rather splendid Victorian (but French style) La Sirene’s Saison, which I’ll be having again just as soon as I return. Which of course I shall. It may not sound like it from our grouches here (oh & did I mention the wait between the courses really was a touch on the lengthy side?) but we’re actually pretty keen to support any small business in the region keen to try out something new; and I do believe these guys are worth supporting.

So vive la guest chefs! Next up is the turn of Merivale’s Mr Wong – 4th & 5th December. Get in quick, Coasties….

Woy Woy Take Over, Woy Woy Fisherman’s Wharf, The Boulevard, Woy Woy

$80 per head plus drinks

Smoky Gluten Free Salt & Pepper Squid

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Last time, we looked at cleaning squid – or calamari – and this time I’m sharing my easy Smoky Salt & Pepper Squid, which serves 4 as a starter.

I’ve served this with a nam jim dipping sauce.

Ingredients

  • 2 medium squid, cleaned
  • 4 heaped tablespoons tapioca flour (you could use ordinary wheat flour, but it won’t be as light)
  • 1 heaped teaspoon salt (I have used smoked salt),
  • 2 tablespoons freshly cracked black pepper,
  • 1 teaspoon smoked chilli/paprika
  • Plain Oil for deep frying, I used basic vegetable oil

Dipping sauce

  • 2 tablespoons nam jim (or you could use sweet chilli sauce)
  • 1 tablespoon Fish Sauce
  • 2 tablespoons Lime juice

Start by cleaning the squid, see this post for more details. Continue reading

Hawkesbury River Squid – the full colour guide to cleaning squid and calamari

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Here I’m going to show you how to clean squid / calamari, and follow up next time with a simple recipe for Salt & Pepper Squid.

2 medium squid usually does well for 4 people for a starter sized dish. I personally think a main course size of this would be overdoing a good thing!

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These chaps are local, Hawkesbury River squiddies, beautifully fresh – see the bright clear eyes – and the fishmonger assured me that you don’t need to de-skin them, but the same instructions would apply to any squid. Continue reading

Fishermen’s Wharf, Woy Woy

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Fishermen’s Wharf has a surprisingly varied beer menu. This totally gets my vote. Woy Woy is utterly devoid of decent drinking holes – actually, holes is a better description of what there is – so forking out to eat good seafood in order to drink beer with a water view doesn’t seem too much of a hardship. Sitting out on the Wharf itself you could be forgiven for thinking you’re actually somewhere rather nicer than, well, Woy Woy. The view is of Brisbane Water, Pelican Island and pelicans – lots of pelicans, some of them roosting mere feet away, eyeing up you, and more specifically, your fish based meal._MG_4484

A pelican…

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Pelican Island, as seen from your table….

There’s actually 3 parts to the ‘Wharf: it’s a multifunctional wet fish/takeaway chippie & cafe/fish restaurant and seems to be pretty popular, particularly since recent accolades. The restaurant is at the back, approached via a side passageway (look up as you walk along, to see curious (hopeful?) pelicans looking down at you from their perches on the roof), and is kitted out bare boards/casual/rustic stylee._MG_4495

Rustic Stylee…..We’re not sure why…

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The restaurant wharf extension

We’d had fish’n’chips from the takeaway before; reasonable stuff (still looking for an Australian equivalent of my beloved chippie in Aldeburgh, in the UK, with its amazing chips and beef dripping fried batter), but – and this might be my imagination – the chips are actually better from the restaurant than from the café out front. And I’m sure it’s the same kitchen. Is there a chip class system in place? Do they hold back the good stuff for the classier types round the back??_MG_4512

Fish of the day – $19.50

For these chips are really pretty good – approaching a glassy crunch on the outside, nice levels of those yummy, slightly browner, more translucent bits – only a fraction more fluffy action on the inside could make them any better. Practically a 9/10. Portion sizes decent too – I had 4 pieces of gurnard in my generic fish of the day and chips (“fry only” – like you’d want them grilled. Pah!) – $19.50. Mr C was cock-a-hoop with 2 fair sized blue swimmers in his crab hot pot special – $28, and though I think we could taste generic sweet chilli sauce making up the basis of the sauce, it was augmented with spring onions and other spicing to make it good enough for me to be chip dunking most of the evening._MG_4504

Blue swimmers, chilli crab

He’s previously had a lightly tarragon flavoured cream sauce with juicy clams plus a snapper & scallop ceviche during another visit – so that’s twice now he’s chosen better than me.  Not that my fish wasn’t well executed – crispy batter top and bottom, fish perfectly cooked through but not over on the thinner parts. I just wanted what he had. Again.

And then there’s the beer. A range of bottled from as far away as Mexico, California & Japan (2 types of rice beer!!) and as nearby as Erina (Six String Brewery, whose easy drinking Hefeweizen I rather took to), with home grown classics in between (Lord Nelson, Stone & Wood, Mountain Goat, Montieths from NZ). Something for everyone, just in time for summer.

I foresee many more visits….

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Awesome Chilli Ginger Crab Sauce


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Following on from my ‘how to humanely kill a crab’ post here, I promised y’all my crab sauce. So here it is.

Ingredients for 1kg of crab in the shell, in pieces (serves 2):

  • 3 large garlic cloves
  • Thumb sized piece of ginger, peeled
  • 2 long red chillies (more if you like really hot)
  • 50g onion
  • sesame oil for frying

For the sauce

  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 3 tablespoons sweet chilli sauce
  • 60ml Chinese Shaoxing wine
  • 2 tablespoons tomato puree
  • 1 tablespoon tomato ketchup
  • 1 tablespoon tamarind puree

Method

Mix all the sauce ingredients into a bowl and stir well.

Make sure you’ve sectioned the raw crab and cracked its claws so as to let in all the flavours:IMG_3469 - Version 2

Chop garlic, ginger, chilli and onion very finely:IMG_8968

Add a couple of tablespoons of the sesame oil to a wok and fry over a high heat until fragrant and slightly browned. IMG_3467 - Version 2Add the crab pieces, and turn with a wide spatula for a minute or so, until they just start to change colour:IMG_3472

Then add the sauce. Coat the crab thoroughly and cover the pan.

_MG_3486Lower the heat to medium and cook for 10 – 15 minutes, occasionally removing the lid to carefully turn the crab and baste it in the sauce.

Garnish with chopped spring onion and coriander, if desired. Tuck in with hands, napkins and any crab cutlery you may have. I like to poke about with a bamboo skewer for those awkward, reticent bits inside the claws.

Completed crab

I used a pair of mud crabs, but blue swimmers would be great too. This also works well for prawns!

 

‘Dealing’ with a mud crab

We’re lucky enough to have a ready supply of seafood round our parts, and occasionally there’s a crab bonanza in the local fisherman’s cooperative.

I love crab meat but I’m frankly a bit put off by all the faff of killing and cleaning them; consequently, the House of Chopsticks more frequently consumes prawns than crab. But I saw them merrily waving their claws at me this weekend, and I thought I’d give it another go.

So – how do you kill & clean a crab? Here’s my step by step illustrated guide.

Now, I’m ashamed to say I’m a tad squeamish about the killing bit. Ashamed, because I’m not vegan, and I believe one should be aware of, and take as much responsibility as possible for, the well-being and ending of the lives of animals bred or caught for food. So I should be up for a bit of killing, right? Right. Trouble is, how do I know that what I’m doing to the crab is humane? I’m not getting much feedback from it. Just the odd silent claw wave and a keen scuttling sideways towards the edge of my worktop.

I read. Most commonly touted options appear to be swift knifing through the head/torso or freezing to stun them to sleep first. I went for freezing, on the basis that hypothermia in humans reportedly causes a sense of well being before caning it, and it if works for a mammal, why not apply the same (unscientific) guidelines to a crustacean?

In the deep freeze they went, for 2 hours. On reflection, perhaps the more widely recommended half to one hour would’ve been more sensible since 2 hours was enough to actually freeze it solid, making the next bit that much harder. You live and learn.

I know this can be a bit confronting for a first timer, so here is a step by step guide to Killing your Crab:

1) Freeze for an hour or so to put it to sleep._MG_3439 - Version 2

2) Grasp your asleep/dead crab firmly, looking at its tummy. Identify the V or U shaped flap – this is technically its abdomen.
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3) Lift the flap, and pull firmly and smartly up and over so as to lift it’s top (the carapace) right off._MG_3444 - Version 2

4) Twist it smartly to separate the carapace (with its tail bit, bits of crab gut and goop) from the rest of the body.You’ll be left with the body & legs/claws._MG_3446 - Version 2

 

5) That yellow stuff is known as the mustard – it’s edible but if you’re just interested in the crab meat, you can scoop it out with the rest of the brown/black sloppy stuff in that central cavity.

6) The important bit that you must remove are the gills, also known as dead man’s fingers. Pull them off and discard.gills

7) Rinse the body under clean running water briefly to sluice any remaining guts. Now your crab is ready for the pot.IMG_3454 - Version 2

 

Follow your recipe – but most will call for sectioning, thus:

In half:halved

And quartered:IMG_3458 - Version 2

 

Finally, give the claws a whack with the back of your knife to crack them open, ready for the sauce to penetrate:IMG_3463 - Version 2

Ready for cooking!

Next time – check out my awesome easy chilli ginger sauce for crab!

Fabulous Fish – Nishiki Style

???????????????????????????????It’s not hard to see that Japan is a country that relies heavily on seafood. On our trips to Japan this has been readily apparent – not just in the sashimi either (though in the end we ate less of that than we do on a typical week in Australia).

Nowhere was this so obvious as at Nishiki Market in Kyoto. Whilst not specifically a fish market, quite a few stalls were dedicated to seafood in one form or another. Seafood is very, very popular! Read More….

Nishiki Market, Kyoto

nishikiflagI love a market. Especially a food market. When visiting another country, it’s a great way to get a handle on the local cuisine; visiting the place where everyone buys their everyday foods. Chatting to the stall holders, checking out the purchasers. Sometimes though, when on holiday, it can be a slight source of disappointment if with a particularly good market, you can’t try much, having no facilities to cook the lovely stuff you see.

Nishiki Market gets around this by selling cooked food as well as raw, and by being terribly generous with it’s free samples. Many stalls had Read More