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

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!


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


Onion Marmalade

IMG_9832I know, right? Marmalade. Onion. Sounds weird. Think chutney, though, and all of a sudden it’s hotdogs, sharp cheddar & crisp crackers, alongside chops, grilled cheese toasties….the list is endless. Why is it called marmalade? No idea. Maybe because it’s very sugary, or because the lovely thin strands of sweetly pickled onions look like curls of orange rind in marmalade. Who knows. Whatever; it’s delicious with just about anything. Though maybe not ice cream. Mind you it is quite sweet….IMG_9823

A glut of organic onions having hit the Chopsticks kitchen recently, it was time to wheel out an old recipe of mine for Onion Marmalade (..thinking chutney still?) which, according to my scrawled notes, I once used in 2002. It’s in imperial measures because it’s an old recipe. I have made a concession to modernity in brackets in the ingredients list only, because I am, ultimately, a lazy cow. Deal with it. So here we go.


  • 4 pounds (1.8kg) onions, peeled
  • 1.5 pints (845ml) good cider vinegar
  • 2 pounds (900g) raw organic sugar (it doesn’t have to be raw organic but heck, the onions were good quality, why shouldn’t the sugar be?)
  •  3 tablespoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon mustard seeds
  • 10 cloves
  • 10 star anise
  • 3 sticks cinnamon
  • 6 cardomom pods
  • 2 dried chillies (go crazy if you like it hot)
  • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns


1) Chop your onions. This is a bucketload so I recommend using a processor with one of those slicing attachments if you have it; that way if you cut your onion in half like so:

IMG_9825and feed it sideways into your processor chute, you end up with lovely long slices a la marmalade strips. Pretty. It makes not one jot of difference to the taste though so hack ’em up however you see fit.

2) Place sliced onions and all the other ingredients into a large saucepan. The vinegar never looks enough here, and I always end up adding more. In this case, 1.3 pints, which I then have to boil off. I never learn. 1 pint would have done here.IMG_9824 IMG_9826

3) Bring to the boil, stirring steadily to dissolve the sugar.IMG_9827

See? Suddenly there is enough liquid.

4) Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 1 – 1.5 hours, or until it looks more like this:IMG_9829

5) Ladle carefully into sterilised jars and label when cold. You can pick out the larger spices first if you like.

6) Put the jars somewhere cool and dark for at least a month to pickle. Longer if you can. If you open one and it tastes like pickled onions, leave the rest another month at least. And I guess treat the jar you opened as…pickled onions!


Fresh cucumber ‘kimchee’

IMG_9291I know that kimchee comes in many flavours, and chinese cabbage is not a pre-requisite, but, lovely though this pickle is, I suspect if you presented it to a die hard, Korean, pickle fan they may snicker lightly. It’s a fridge pickle really, doesn’t have time to ferment as a true kimchee should, and it doesn’t use the proper korean dried chilli peppers. But, whatever, it’s a cracker of a fresh, zingy, lightly chillied relish.

Give it a go, I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.

I have only very slightly adapted this recipe, and the real credit needs to go to Australian House and Garden magazine, of all places.



  • 4 or 5 small lebanese cucumbers
  • 1/4 cup medium grain sea salt
  • 4 stalks of kale (I used a mix of homegrown kale and mustard greens, and I prefer there to be more cucumber than greens)

Pickling mix

  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • fresh chillies to your taste – we used about 3 hot and one milder, but hey, chilli is such a subjective thing.
  • 2 tablespoons purreed/grated ginger
  • 4 large cloves garlic
  • 1 tablespoon korean gochujang chilli paste (or you could use chilli powder if you really can’t find it)

First, peel and cut the cucumbers into quarters and slice thinly – about coin wide works well. Lay them in a colander and work the salt in. Leave for at least 30 minutes.IMG_9286

Strip the stalks from the kale and slice thinly. I like to mix them in with the salting cucumbers for the last 5 minutes.IMG_9289

Bring to the boil all the remaining ingredients, stirring, simmer for a minute or two then allow to cool.IMG_9284

Rinse the veggies well under running water until the saltiness is much reduced. They’ll have reduced in volume as the water has been drawn from them. Drain well.

Pack into a container and pour over the pickling liquid, pressing down to submerge fully.IMG_9290 Leave at least overnight before using. I like to give it a bit of a turn whenever I take some out. Keeps in the fridge for a week or two.

Awesome Chilli Ginger Crab Sauce


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


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.
_MG_3443 - Version 2

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!

It’s August, it must be…Marmalade Day!


marm1It’s the annual marmalade making weekend in the house of chopsticks; a day of scrubbing, juicing, chopping and boiling, followed by a few hours of boiling sugar, sterilising jars, and hey presto! A year’s worth of yummy preserves!



This year we tried a batch with some cardamom seeds just to see how that would work out. They’re the little black blobs in the jar above.

Durian – an illustrated guide (thankfully, not scratch ‘n’ sniff)

So – I’ve been on holiday for a couple of weeks looking after relatives from blighty, making our own entertainment in the unseasonably warm surrounds of the Central Coast.


Food wise, once we’d hit lovely new restaurant the Box on the Water at Ettalong a couple of times (great brekkie, great dinner, great coffee, though kiosk lunch slightly more variable – fish’n’chips basically ok, but my salad entirely devoid of any dressing) and gone the usual scenic café route (Point Café at Killcare a case in point) it was back to good ol’ home cooking. Laksa with home made laksa paste a la Christine Mansfield, pressure cooked rendang, Christmas in July (natch). And, on request from the Olds, a durian.


Now, I’m not unfamiliar with durian. It’s stinkiness goes before it, usually literally, albeit this particular example (from a grocer in Chatswood) was actually remarkably bland smelling – until opened – though there were a few sidelong looks on the train as it commuted its way back along the North Shore line.

But with there just being the two of us, and durian being so big, and Mr C being an anglo, well….let’s just say it’s not a regular on our fruity 2 a day roster. In fact, basically I’ve never actually opened one myself before.

They look menacing right? A weaponisable, medieval mace of a fruit. No idea where to start? Well allow me to assist!

Start with either hand protectors (oven gloves would be good) or hold it with a newspaper as we did. Those spines mean business!

Take a good look at the fruit. You’ll see that there are actually sections in the shell, kinda giant segment lines in between the spines. Follow these to the point of the fruit and insert a large, sharp knife there. Follow the line of one of the spines down – the skin is tough so use your muscle power. ???????????????????????????????

Repeat with the next segment line – and when you get to the end, stick the knife into your cut and twist. The segments will pop open – OK, so pop is maybe an exaggeration, you probably will need to get your finger tips in and pull out your first durian segment:


The custardy goodness revealed!


Keep going until you’ve sectioned the whole fruit – it doesn’t keep that well so you may as well cut it all up at once.

Next, use a spoon to scoop out the soft, yellowish flesh, which will contain a dark brown, inedible seed. Discard the seeds.???????????????????????????????

While you’re at it, discard the shell too – unless you need to inflict injury upon someone, in which case throwing would be an option. ???????????????????????????????You’ll be left with a plateful of unedifying looking custardy mush (here pictured still with the seeds in amongst):


According to the Olds, this one was a bit over ripe.

Next step: ignore the smell and tuck in! It’s going to be messy – this isn’t a first date food. Fingers – or cutlery if you have the patience. Enjoy the custard like texture, the faint savoury-ness of it. Think soft cooked scrambled eggs, crossed with….well actually I don’t know what. It’s its own thing. You love it, or hate it. It’s a Marmite fruit.

Lemon & Lime Marmalade

IMG_8416A friend from Berry, NSW, has had a huge crop of lemons and limes this year, and I was lucky enough to share in the bounty with a small sackful. The limes had ripened beyond green and were – apart from the size – almost indistinguishable from the lemons. Their unwaxed skins help fill the kitchen with their clean, fresh smell. Citrus is one of my favourite scents. Continue reading

Dried Out

Regular readers will know that one of my abiding themes is the preservation of freshly grown gluts of crops. I love a loaded larder. Loaded Larder. Even the sound of it makes me happy.

This year has been the year of the chilli. I planted loads last year, seeds from my brother’s garden from the year before that. Most of them failed to launch, so I bought a habanero plant (Unknowing fool! I know now that it’s the second hottest chilli in the world, but I didn’t when I was standing in the garden centre, oh no.) This has resulted in harissas, chilli jams and pickles that to my palate are barely edible unless eaten in homeopathic quantities, and a freezer full of napalm globes to be used under extreme caution. Continue reading

Almond and Basil Pesto

The autumn garden. Already the summer is over, autumn has rushed by and in 2 weeks it will be winter. It’s time to clear out the remains of the pumpkin vines, which have spread their sprawling limbs all across the lawn, and reveal the leggy, uncut grass and weeds beneath, to cull the bolted lettuce and pick the ripening chillies. Oh so many chillies! My aubergines have been chugging away steadily, providing us with grilled, pickled, baked and fried dishes, mousaka, baba ganoush and sandwich fillers. I plagued everyone with my aubergine photos and recipes last year, so this year I have only one image, just because I can’t help myself. Continue reading