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Archive for the ‘In the kitchen’ Category

It has been a long time off the blog; but finally, as we are gearing up for another Fat of the Land and Sea Week, I really should post the outcome of the original. All in all, a great challenge but a great success too. In part, the success can be credited with a reinvigorated wild and homegrown food passion that dragged my focus to some new collaborations and efforts away from here, but plans to ramp this up are still drifting around in the mix.

At first, I thought that going for a week eating only homegrown and wild food wouldn’t be that hard. But it was. And then it wasn’t, and it wouldn’t be a second time around. I learned a lot.

Day 1

It all started a bit shaky with me failing at my hunt and finding my bees didn’t have any honey to spare. I left our bush block empty-handed except for some quinces – the worst forage for a hungry man as they need a lot of slow cooking to make them edible. Things were looking up with a huge haul of roadside apples, at least 30kg, on the way home. Mostly crabs too tart to eat out of hand, but fine for cooking or cider (it made the lack of honey even more of a shame, because it would have given a boost to either of those options).

Opening the beehive – when there are no combs fully capped, no combs can be harvested

Opening the beehive – when there are no combs fully capped, no combs can be harvested.

The first forage was a load of quinces. We’d decided on starting from scratch on Day 1, which meant that all I had to start on was something that needs a lot of cooking.

The first forage was a load of quinces. We’d decided on starting from scratch on Day 1, which meant that all I had to start on was something that needs a lot of cooking.

Breaking fast with some roadside apples – which are typically very tart and crabby (or worm-ridden if sweet). There was one tree that had some fruit that just worked for eating out of hand, but two tart apples were about all an empty stomach could approach until dinner. There were at least 30kg of these (of which half remain prepped in my freezer for Winter pies and booze).

Breaking fast with some roadside apples – which are typically very tart and crabby (or worm-ridden if sweet). There was one tree that had some fruit that just worked for eating out of hand, but two tart apples were about all an empty stomach could approach until dinner. There were at least 30kg of these (of which half remain prepped in my freezer for Winter pies and booze).

By the end of the day, things were looking positively rosy when I got back to find others converging on my house with very large amounts of hunted goat, speared fish and a fair bit of foraged and homegrown fruit and veg. A quick hit on our garden and we got busy dividing up so we could all go off with a few days survival secured. In celebration, I feasted on fish and stewed pears; and, because it was one of my two exceptions along with olive oil, I drank wine.

Calamondins brought to the day 1 food-share. In my view, citrus is among food’s ‘critical infrastructure’, but very few are fruiting in Autumn, so these tart little kumquat-like babies were a godsend.

Calamondins brought to the day 1 food-share. In my view, citrus is among food’s ‘critical infrastructure’, but very few are fruiting in Autumn, so these tart little kumquat-like babies were a godsend.

Day 2

Day 2 started badly and got little better. Through what I assume was a virus helped along by combination of exhaustion, being underfed and drinking too much wine, I was practically bed-ridden. I had been up in the night vomiting stewed pears and fish. All I know is that it wasn’t the food – it is not that often that 7 other people are signed on to eating the exact same stuff as you, and they were were all fine. I awoke with no options other than stewed pears and fish as a ready-to-eat meal and couldn’t face either. What’s more I was faced with the prospect of cleaning a very sizeable haul of fish and getting it in the freezer before it went off. That did not go well. If you have never gutted a surgeonfish, which I hadn’t, do not do it on a weak stomach. While the flesh is reputedly perfectly palatable, the gutting is disgusting. It was more of a tainted retch than a full vomit I’d have to say, but with that, I had no real desire to eat any fish at all. Things stayed that way for the rest of the week – I forced down one piece of kingfish ceviche on day 7, but that was it. This was unfortunate, given that there was lot of fish in my freezer.

Halfway through fish cleaning; normally something I enjoy, but not when wracked by nausea and when surgeonfish (not pictured) are involved.

Halfway through fish cleaning; normally something I enjoy, but not when wracked by nausea and when surgeonfish (not pictured) are involved.

Day 3

Day 3 found me still in pretty bad shape. I had slept 13 hours, but still felt like more. Or some caffeine. With milk in it. With cheese and butter also off the table, I realised how much I like dairy. There was also another forager down with a virus or something. I wasn’t the only one struggling. And another who had to cancel his fishing trip for the day because I was too ill to take to the waves. I’d managed to get a rabbit, some goat and half a roadkill wood duck in the slow cooker the night before and I managed to dig up and clean a kilo or two of edible canna (Queensland arrowroot) in the morning; it joined the meat with some herbs and I figured I had dinner for four – including the man down.

Day 1 had brought in some hunted goat and (of all things) a roadkill wood duck, and the Day 2 hunting party came through with rabbit. Food was clearly not lacking in either quality or quantity, there was just a bit of lifestyle habit and illness to shift before it could become easy.

Day 1 had brought in some hunted goat and (of all things) a roadkill wood duck, and the Day 2 hunting party came through with rabbit. Food was clearly not lacking in either quality or quantity, there was just a bit of lifestyle habit and illness to shift before it could become easy.

A harvest of Queensland arrowroot for carbs (supplemented cursorily with some sorghum and maize that had seeded from chook food when their bedding is re-used as fertile mulch) and the stew became hearty as well as fancy.

A harvest of Queensland arrowroot for carbs (supplemented cursorily with some sorghum and maize that had seeded from chook food when their bedding is re-used as fertile mulch) and the stew became hearty as well as fancy.

This was probably the first meal after I had properly embraced the FOTLAS idea properly – a delicious mixed game stew with garden starchy bits, parsley, chilli and Thai basil.

This was probably the first meal after I had properly embraced the FOTLAS idea properly – a delicious mixed game stew with garden starchy bits, parsley, chilli and Thai basil.

I delivered some stew to a couple of others en route to trade some fish for some bunya nuts. A mate was house-sitting an empty mansion with a bunya pine in it and just happened to send an email expressing his surprise at the size of the pinecones that were falling. Great big bombs laden with carbs – just what we were after! Things were looking up again. But we had lost one forager to the temptation of boardroom catering – and then there were seven.

Bunya nuts in abundance, the famed feast food of the Bundjalung people. From this point on (about halfway) it became clear that hunger would only be a consequence of not finding the time to do the huge of amount of processing involved with a lot of wild food.

Bunya nuts in abundance, the famed feast food of the Bundjalung people. From this point on (about halfway) it became clear that hunger would only be a consequence of not finding the time to do the huge of amount of processing involved with a lot of wild food.

Day 4

I discovered bunya nuts. I had tried them before on a trip where we gathered some from a park in Wellington (NSW) en route to a few weeks in the bush, back before the internet was on phones, and worked out that they are not quite right uncooked, hard as rock overcooked and delicious when done just right. A tricky feat for novices with only a campfire to work with. Now with online suggestion and fancy new oven, we nailed it – 25 minutes at 200 degrees C. Figuring pine nuts were a pesto ingredient and with plentiful basil, pasta pesto was reinvented with a basil sauce over roast bunya nuts playing the part of gnocchi. I was back in good health and back on track.

Bunyas used like gnocchi with a basil sauce – pasta pesto without the pasta.

Bunyas used like gnocchi with a basil sauce – pasta pesto without the pasta.

Day 5

I was loving it! After doing the school run, I popped by the sea and had a dive for sea snails, picked up some sea lettuce and returned home. I set them aside (to become sous vide tenderised nuggets on skewers at the final feast) and replaced them with someone’s abalone from the previous weekend and some bunya nuts done with my favourite Thai combo of chilli and Thai basil (plus sea lettuce). Another forager had traded with a neighbour for some hunted venison – I took the time to give a backstrap fillet 8 hours sous vide with oil and a lot of herbs and had my first crack at ‘forager’s bread’. It was a recipe that I was later unable to recreate; a sheer luck combo of boiled Queensland arrowroot, leached acorns and bunyas, blended, flattened into rounds in a tortilla press and pan-fried (I’ve lost the picture and don’t know how to get it off Instagram, but it’s here). With tender venison in a perfect nutty flatbread following the abalone and chilli basil bunyas, I wasn’t just subsisting by the end of the day but laying a happy head down after two of my finest meals in memory.

An early morning snorkel and forage.

An early morning snorkel and forage.

Chilli basil stir-fried bunya nuts and abalone.

Chilli basil stir-fried bunya nuts and abalone.

Day 6

Having dug up a rather meagre harvest of kumara in the shady, sandy side garden on Day 1, I got around to snooping underground in the sunny front bed. 10kg of tubers came up easily from just a quarter of the bed. A pang of guilt that some others would have liked to know about this bonanza earlier was assuaged by knowing that the offer to come digging had been declined by all. I lunched on chilli basil super stew of rabbit, venison, goat, duck, bunya, arrowroot and roadside pears. Dinner came as huge roast kumara with bunya pesto (using native spinach, rocket and amaranth with the basil) topped with chilli and chives. For the first time of the week I was actually stuffed at the end of the day.

Day 7

Feast day. Up at 7 am to start the coals and rig up a whole goat on a spit on top of them, 3 kilos of kumara stitched up inside it. I try, unsuccessfully, to recreate the pliable forager’s flatbread, but nonetheless get some fried flatbread through with the help of the Squeeze. Fish arrives in perfect order – freshly speared kingfish. Home-made wine, shop-bought beer, vodka with foraged mint / lemon myrtle / stevia syrup and we settle into celebrating our success and laughing over the struggles.

Most of the Fat of the Land and Sea Week crew - a finer bunch of fishers, foragers, hunters and growers may never have assembled!

Most of the Fat of the Land and Sea Week crew – a finer bunch of fishers, foragers, hunters and growers may never have assembled! (photo credit: @mostlyfish)

Fat of the Land and Sea Week Spring is coming!

Plans are now confirmed for Fat of the Land and Sea Week Spring 2015. Sunday 11 – Saturday 17 October. To make it more accessible, especially for people with limited wild and homegrown resources or limited time while still working through the week full-time, we’ll be tweaking the rules. In some form or other, pretty much anyone can get involved. Dates to be confirmed, but we welcome anyone and everyone to come aboard.

FOTLAS 2015 Rules:

  1. Wild and homegrown food every day for a week. This may be that something is wild or homegrown every day or in every meal or, at the full-on end of the spectrum, that everything is.
  2. You can nominate some specific ingredients as exceptions. As many as you like for whatever reason. This would usually be things that are central to your cooking (olive oil, some seasonings), personal health regime (yoghurt, turmeric, oat bran, your weird kale-based kombucha, whatever), small pleasures in life (coffee, wine, chocolate) or a staple to keep you from starving (rice, potatoes, bread) while you make the challenge about what goes with it.
  3. You may require of yourself that it is all gathered within the week or you may allow yourself to get a start stockpiling some wild and home-grown food beforehand. That might be just the previous Saturday or that you start stocking the larder and freezer now (I’ll be allowing larder use so I can keep a better handle on the day job).
  4. Trading, gifting and generally doing the week in collaboration with friends or strangers is encouraged. It is a week to celebrate and a week to make you think about your own personal engagement with food and your place in a food network. Making it local means people can do things like drop in for something someone else has lots of (like fish or greens) midweek or make a dish and drop it around to others.
  5. It runs from a Sunday to a Saturday; and on that Saturday, there should be a feast!

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Green tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum)

Green tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum)

As much as one may like the idea of treading a fairly harmonious path in a life that seeks to engage with other plants and animals, any vegetable grower is typically involved in some spiteful battle or other with insects throughout the year. Not all of them, but certainly a loathed few. At the moment, it being summer in Sydney, my most recent nemeses have been Queensland fruit fly (Bactrocera tryoni). They have put an end to my tomato crop (Solanum lycopersicum).

This year, there will be no big canning session filling jars of passata and no big colourful salads of tomato chunks strewn with basil leaves and light salty white cheese. Fruit fly has hit my two big frames of tomatoes hard and I have cut them down (even the cherry tomatoes). For the big toms, it was an ambitious idea from the outset, with neither pesticide nor organic control (I just can’t go for the poison of the former or the expense and effort of the latter) or dumb luck to aid me.

I first thought I was admitting defeat, but with a kilo of green tomatoes per sacrificed plant, I have found that I am able to take some solace in the idea that, to some extent, I am simply quitting while ahead. Cleaned up, through cutting out the infested fruit or parts thereof, I have at least salvaged the wherewithal for enough green tomato chutney to last a year (and a tomato hot sauce which isn’t too far off a mix of this chutney and previously described recipes for plum ketchup, crab apple jelly, and chilli jam, with a big bunch of extra chillies for good measure).

The lesson learned for next year: Plant early varieties of tomatoes; as early as possible; only small cherries and cherry romas; hope from some ripe ones before new year; and then on the first of January, harvest the lot and make another batch of chutney.

Cleaning the infested crop – some were untouched, some crawling with larvae…

Cleaning the infested crop – some were untouched, some crawling with larvae…

… but it all cleaned up into a sizable haul

… but it all cleaned up into a sizable haul

Recipe

This recipe is a mix of fairly standard green tomato chutney recipes from Australia and New Zealand (and very probably Britain and elsewhere). It is scaled to 1kg of green tomatoes in terms of ingredients to be easily adjusted. The big room for movement is with chillies and garlic – if you like them, you could increase fivefold.

Ingredients

Green tomatoes (g)                                1000

Onions (g)                                             200

Cooking apples (g)                                 200

Sugar (Demerara / muscovado) (g)          200

Vinegar (malt / cider / wine) (ml)              450

Salt (Tblsp)                                           1

Sultanas (g)                                           100

Garlic (cloves)                                       5

Chillies (hot, medium sized)                    2

Ginger (grated fresh) (g)                          12

Spice (all spice, turmeric, coriander) (g)   11

Process

Heave it all in a pot and simmer, uncovered and free to reduce, for an hour or two. Ladle into scalded jars. If after getting most of the chutney out, the last couple of jars worth seem a bit runny, pile in a heap of chillies and garlic and keep cooking it down for a darker, fiery version. They say to leave it for a few weeks to meld, but I would call that optional.

Part of a year’s supply of green tomato chutney

Part of a year’s supply of green tomato chutney

Green tomato chutney (with some plum and green tom hot sauce as well) and eggs

Green tomato chutney (with some plum and green tom hot sauce as well) and eggs

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Purslane (Portulaca oleracea)

Purslane (Portulaca oleracea)

Purslane (Portulaca oleracea) is a summer ‘weed’ that is found through much of the world. Central Australian Aboriginal people used to (and a very few occasionally still do) wait for it to seed and pile it up in mounds; after some good dry desert heat, the withered plants can be pulled off to reveal a concentration of the tiny but nutritious seeds below. Throughout northern India and through to the Middle East, it is not just a foraged ‘welcome weed’ (or ‘volunteer plant’), it is even grown as a crop for its leaves (as it once was through a lot of Europe as well). Purslane is said to have the highest omega 3s of any vegetable and is a sure contender for that increasingly tedious epithet of ‘superfood’. This status, as well as being common in Central Mexican cuisine (where it is known as verdolagas) is said to be getting it increasingly on the food list rather than just the weed list in America. But across most of Australia it is simply a plant; one of those green things in the ground; neither worth eradicating nor using. It will be gone by winter after all.

Nonetheless, right now in mid-summer, purslane is doing very well across a good part of Australia. Basically, if you are looking for it, it is everywhere; the challenge is really only to find some growing in soil that you can trust. This particular harvest was essentially a matter of opportunism – which to my mind is utterly fundamental to foraging (in any sense). I was doing a survey in one of the back blocks of one of western Sydney’s old Olympic venues. I had already decided to do a saag for dinner and to stop off at one the small Indian food shops (which abound in much of Sydney’s west) to buy spices

I gather that saag basically means ‘greens’ (in Punjabi, Urdu and/or Hindi), and by inference, in the kitchen, it is a curry thereof. There was also some volunteer native spinach (Tetragonia tetragoniodes) doing so well under the citrus that I needed to cut it back whether for eating or not. Then there was some silverbeet (chard; Beta vulgaris subsp. cicla) that was close to giving up in the summer heat and our sandy soil (in which I would probably be better to intentionally grow purslane at this time of year); and also sow thistle (Sonchus oleraceus) that is getting by as a welcome enough ‘weed’ in the shade of intentional crops. Amaranth, with each passing week of summer, is also making more of an appearance. But it is the purslane, a genuine north Indian favourite, that is the forage that started the ball rolling.

Sow thistle or puha (Sonchus oleraceus)

Sow thistle or puha (Sonchus oleraceus)

Native spinach (Tetragonia tetragoniodes)

Native spinach (Tetragonia tetragoniodes)

It doesn’t matter too much which green, and perhaps the more the better (purslane, spinach, chard / silver beet, mustard greens, kale, amaranth, fat hen, mallow, chickweed, native spinach, beetroot tops, cress, sow thistle, etc, etc)

It doesn’t matter too much which green, and perhaps the more the better (purslane, spinach, chard / silver beet, mustard greens, kale, amaranth, fat hen, mallow, chickweed, native spinach, beetroot tops, cress, sow thistle, etc, etc)

The recipe is wonderfully simple and suits just about any green you can lay your hands on, foraged, grown or bought.

Recipe:

Start by toasting the whole spices – mine were whole cumin seeds, coriander seeds and a light touch of peppercorns, fenugreek and cardamom seeds which went into the mortar with dried chillies once toasted to fragrant and then joined by powdered turmeric. You can add whatever else blows your hair back among cinnamon, cloves, ginger, fenugreek leaves, etc – only giving whole seeds the toasting though.

Next, lightly sautee some onions in butter (ghee if you can) or oil and then pile the garlic, spices and chopped greens in and stir on low heat until wilted to a decent tender that should coincide with golden brown onions and garlic that isn’t burning to sticky and/or bitter (10 minutes or so), adding small amounts of liquid if required. I am also inclined to add some precooked chickpeas (kind of like canned ones but tastier because they are slow cooked in stock) – which probably makes it chana saag.

The handy thing with saag, is that with some cubed cheese you have saag paneer (using actual paneer (a style of Indian cheese)) if you have it, otherwise cottage cheese, or queso fresco (or fetta if you give mind to it being salted while paneer isn’t), but in any case not your everyday fatty yellow cheese); with some cubed meat you have saag gosht; and with hard boiled egg you have anda saag. In our house of both vegetarians and ominivores, with saag we can meet our different dietary inclinations with additions at the end rather than with entirely separate dishes. While there is something of an assumption that you would serve it over rice, the addition of the chickpeas or something else to bulk it up makes this optional. A side serve of good chutney (or salsa verde) is a good touch.

Australian forager’s saag: The roo, cubed and cooked sous vide at around 70 degrees with butter and herbs for the better part of a day is browned off and stirred in for the meat eaters (saag gosht), while the vegos still get a good feed from cheese (saag paneer) and/or chickpeas (chana saag). I don’t know what to call it when it is all in there…

Australian forager’s saag: The roo, cubed and cooked sous vide at around 70 degrees with butter and herbs for the better part of a day is browned off and stirred in for the meat eaters (saag gosht), while the vegos still get a good feed from cheese (saag paneer) and/or chickpeas (chana saag). I don’t know what to call it when it is all in there…

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Wild plums (Prunus domestica)

Wild plums (Prunus domestica)

Outside Jugiong, just as portrayed in the famous Australian folk tune, a track does actually wind back past an old fashioned shack and joins the road to Gundagai (the four-lane Hume Highway these days). The Murrumbidgee is indeed flowing and what happens to be growing, as matter of interest to me, are wild plums (Prunus domestica).

If you are on country roads along the eastern Australian range or slopes almost anywhere from New South Wales to Tasmania, January is the month for foraging wild plums. Of your common roadside fruit forages, the autumn fruits of blackberries won’t be right for another month or so and the apples perhaps another month after that. Plums are the summer thing. They can be red, yellow or something in between, or even that dark purplish burgundy like bullaces in Britain (often ripening later though). From whence they hail, among the named varieties of orchard-grown fruit, and whether from European or Asian stock, is a mystery to me; but as feral wildings, they have undoubtedly departed somewhat from domestic form. For one thing, they are a lot smaller than you might expect and you might pass them in the car thinking they are some kind of unknown inedible berry rather than the familiar drupe (botanically speaking) of the most common of stone fruits. Their prominence along roadsides suggests an initial origin as pips thrown out of passing car windows. But there are areas, like the road out of Jugiong, where their abundance suggests that they are some generations past being a travellers snack, and almost certainly instead dispersed by birds or even simply just rolling a little further down the hill from mum.

YellowPlums

RedPlums

With them, you can of course make a lovely plum jam, which has traditionally been my go-to response. They are pretty much like your shop-bought plum, but smaller and much more blessed with the sharp acidity in the skin which some of us love. But we are kind of full up with jams and jellies and don’t really get through that much of it anyway. So it’s plum sauce. Not the Chinese one that goes with Peking duck, but a more an Australianised British traditional stalwart of days gone by – much like the ditty Along the Road to Gundagai. This one is pretty loyal to Stephanie Alexander’s take on it. A well-tested standard recipe is worth it in this case if only to make sure you get something pourable that isn’t too runny – vary the flavours if you like, but not the solids to liquids ratio. It is a vinegar/sweet/savoury/fruit acid sauce that works as a topping for close to anything. Basically it is all that the ubiquitous tomato sauce/ketchup is, but better.

Ingredients:

Per kilo of plums:

1 tsp cloves

2/3 tsp whole allspice (pimento)

2/3 tsp whole peppercorns

1.5 cups brown sugar

2 tsp salt

1tblsp grated ginger

2 cups white wine (or apple cider) vinegar

1 chilli (or lots more, or none)

Methods

Stone the plums and crack half the stones (bash with a mallet in a tea towel) and put them in a muslin bag (this give pectin to get things gelling). Tie the spices in a separate muslin bag. Put it all in a non-reactive pot and simmer for half an hour. Remove the bags, giving them a good squeeze and press the rest through a sieve, fine colander or food mill back into the rinsed pot. Simmer for as long as it takes to get the thickness you want (remembering it will thicken when cool and wants to be able to be poured like tomato ketchup). It can then go in either sterilised jars or bottles (depending on thickness).

Cooking wild plum ketchup with cracked stones and spices in a partitioned wine bag instead of muslin

Cooking wild plum ketchup with cracked stones and spices in a partitioned wine bag instead of muslin

Although many would like to see such home-made delicacies in lovely glass with some neat finishes like a square of gingham cloth on top secured with a ribbon, we figure this is more an everyday kind of condiment and went for a plastic squeeze bottle (but wouldn’t do that for any stores we planned on keeping on the shelf for long).

Wild plum ketchup: A once-a-year harvest of your everyday sauce (on yet another fish pie)

Wild plum ketchup: A once-a-year harvest of your everyday sauce (on yet another fish pie)

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Yabbies (Cherax destructor), a basic dipping sauce and mangoes – a relatively light start to the recent Christmas feasting

Yabbies (Cherax destructor), a basic dipping sauce and mangoes – a relatively light start to the recent Christmas feasting

Mangoes, croissants and prawns. Whether it is a tradition or a strong memory, I really couldn’t say, but that is Christmas morning food in my mind. A relatively light starter on a day that, by necessity, needs to anticipate some serious stuffing. And I was intent on putting it on our December 25 breakfast table last year (as in, last week). The mango stays (and to be honest, it is probably the least negotiable of all). Croissants easily give way to the Squeeze’s family tradition of chocolate pancakes. This is our family’s American side and, at their best, they do pancakes that can genuinely make a mockery of the imitations most of us Australians and Kiwis know.

But for prawns, despite doing a lot to keep myself informed and engaged on the issue, it remains all too hard to work out which particular array on a fishmonger’s iced shelf may or may not be part of an oceanic Armageddon of which I want no part. They all look like prawns and therefore like they are delicious, but how do I pick the signs of outrageous bycatch slaughter and waste or Southeast Asian wetland destruction in their empty spiny visages? In the absence of reasonable labelling requirements, an unreasonable amount of consumer effort is the answer. I understand that there are some sustainably and ethically harvested prawns out there, but practically, it becomes easier just to leave them all be.

What we call a yabby  - but in appreciation of the American pancakes (not pictured, sorry), and that we are a half-American family, let’s call these ones ‘Christmas crawdads’

What we call a yabby – but in appreciation of the American pancakes (not pictured, sorry), and that we are a half-American family, let’s call these ones ‘Christmas crawdads’

So, I have switched to foraged yabbies (Cherax destructor). Prawning with a hand net is on my list of planned foraging adventures, but until that day, yabbies are my closest accessible foraging bet. And, what is more, I prefer them. These from the NSW Southern Highlands (actually lowlands in the middle of the east, but so named for being marginally more southern and higher than Sydney). They may live in still murky water, but they still manage to taste like flowing rivers as long as the actual mud gets purged before the pot. And that is a precious taste, all too rare in dry old Australia, of what we sometimes call ‘sweetwater’.

Much like a prawn, you extract the tail meat from the shell, pull out the digestive line (“poo vein”) and dip the meat in a sauce that frequently involves mayonnaise. Unlike a prawn, you also get a couple of claws to get into – approached as you would a crab claw (cautiously if alive and with gusto if cooked).

Yabbies Cooked

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With a decent haul of summer fish, it feels good to be able to put a little more seafood on the table. My share of a recent catch included one kingfish (Seriola lalandi), three nannygai (Centroberyx affinis), two flathead (Platycephalus sp.) and a blue morwong (Nemadactylus douglasii) (something else (probably a morwong) stolen on the retrieve by a fur seal (Arctocephalus forsteri) of all things). After a little sashimi sampling of kingfish and some fresh nannygai fillets in fish burritos, attention turns to the offcuts. Time for fish head pie.

Nannygai, kingfish and flathead heads

Nannygai, kingfish and flathead heads

Anything filleted (kingfish and nannygai) or beheaded before freezing (flathead) gets frames and heads thrown in the slow cooker with just enough water to cover. The tails are omitted as it turns out the dog has a penchant for crunching them down; although she’d have not got it off the pigfish (Bodianus unimaculatus) that the skipper took home, because the seal had already helped itself to it.

Once cooked, the fish heads are taken out and all the flesh is picked off and set aside; then the remains go back in the cooker along with a big bunch of herbs (thyme, sage, kaffir lime, lemon myrtle, lemon grass, Vietnamese mint, parsley and Thai basil). Once fragrant it all gets strained to become a very herby fish stock.

A lot of herbs smells at first like it might be overdoing it, but by the time it gets into the stodginess of a mornay sauce it mellows a lot

A lot of herbs smells at first like it might be overdoing it, but by the time it gets into the stodginess of a mornay sauce it mellows a lot

The concentrated stock then becomes the base of a fish and herb mornay (white sauce with cheese), has the picked flesh stirred in and allowed to cool. After an optional additional stirring through of a raw egg or two, it is topped with puff pastry and baked as fish head pot pie. Summer is here and it is a wonderful thing to live near the sea and a herb garden.

Cheese and flour turns the reduced herby fish stock into a kind of mornay sauce through which the recovered fish meat is stirred

Cheese and flour turns the reduced herby fish stock into a kind of mornay sauce through which the recovered fish meat is stirred

Topped with pastry and baked, you have a beautiful fish head pie

Topped with pastry and baked, you have a beautiful fish head pie

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I forage for sea snails (see previous posts on paua, cartrut snailsabalone and turban snails). It is a bit fiddly and they aren’t all to everyone’s taste, but I love it. For one thing I love snorkelling and so the gathering is no effort; and for another, as an archaeologist, shell middens (the remains of pre-1788 Aboriginal seaside foraging) are my specialist thing. For years, this midden-love has driven me to keep my foraged shells; piles of them in the garden and at the bush block and bags of them on the shelf in my office. But now I am using them up.

From foraged sea snails I get meat and shells

From foraged sea snails I get meat and shells

I have recently acquired chickens, six of them, and I want them to knock out an egg most days, each one obviously with a shell. So they need calcium, and I have a whole lot that turned out to be ready and waiting for them in the form of the seashells. I crush them between bricks and they eat any piece small enough to get down their gullet. My dad grew up on a chook farm and the common standard of using oyster grit that he knew 60 years ago as a lad is still in practice today; I just have a foraged version.

Shells go into chickens and shells come out of chickens

Shells go into chickens and shells come out of chickens

Then I get eggshells. Unfortunately they don’t come with the pearly nacre of a turban snail or the rainbow reflections of an abalone shell, but they are nonetheless nice and strong. While some folk will feed these back to the chooks, I have the seashells for that. So I boil, dry and crush the eggshells to feed them to the puppy instead. You see, she still just has her baby teeth and can’t really make much of a dent in a bone and meanwhile has fast growing bones of her own. So she needs calcium too. For most pups these days, this comes in the processed food, but with me feeding her on real meat and vegetables as much as I can, I need to add calcium; and some of it comes in the form of powdered egg shells.

It is a pretty good system if you ask me, and I still get the choice bits: Sea snail meat, fresh eggs and a healthy dog.

As chook owners do, we eat a lot of eggs and accumulate a lot of shells; these are boiled, oven dried (avoiding salmonella risks) and crushed

As chook owners do, we eat a lot of eggs and accumulate a lot of shells; these are boiled, oven dried (avoiding salmonella risks) and crushed

The crushed shells go with meat (plus kumara, carrots, legumes, vegetable oil, etc) into home-made dog food

The crushed shells go with meat (plus kumara, carrots, legumes, vegetable oil, etc) into home-made dog food

I’m liking the idea of sea snail mince cooked for a long time sous vide these days and put in pies with a mornay sauce; but for the sake of this post, a sea snail omelette with sour cream and hot sauce also works

I’m liking the idea of sea snail mince cooked for a long time sous vide these days and put in pies with a mornay sauce; but for the sake of this post, a sea snail omelette with sour cream and hot sauce also works

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