December in Sydney is a wonderful time of the year: the weather is superb (lending itself to alfresco dining and barbeques), people are in good spirits, and the produce at this time of the year is amazing. Although there are many people around the globe who find the idea of spending Christmas and New Years Eve in warm weather strange (my Dutch husband is one of them!) I wouldn’t have it any other way.
So when Foodbuzz announced its latest 24, 24, 24 competition 3 weeks ago, I seized the opportunity to design my ultimate NYE dinner incorporating everything great about this time of the year.
What I came up with was a 10-course seafood degustation menu with matching Australian wines, the food being cooked on the barbeque and the meal enjoyed al fresco. Even though I entertain regularly, I have never undertaken a sit-down meal of this complexity before. But my love of cooking and passion for great food and wine and eating meant I was up for the challenge!
The location of this extravaganza was my home on Sydney’s Northern Beaches. My husband Paul and I live with our 2 cats and 2 dogs in a lovely home which backs onto a bushland reserve. We have a large outside deck, which is perfect for entertaining and captures the views of the valley. Many different species of birds can be found in our garden, and regularly visit the bird-feeder on our deck. We also have many possums which visit regularly!
Due to the magnitude of the meal, the group was a intimate one. Unfortunately we had a late cancellation, making the group smaller than I would have liked but the show must go on! The invitees all have a strong culinary appreciation (a pre-requisite) and were:
Guy and Jo – my brother & his wife
Austin – my 2 year old nephew
Peter and Rosemary – Good friends and neighbours of ours, who live 3 doors up
Ainsley and Missi – our 2 dogs
Myself and Paul
(Our 2 cats Trixie and Bluey were not invited, as we do not allow them outside due to the abundant wildlife).
The flavours in the menu were largely Asian-influenced, which is perfect for our warm climate at this time of the year. The wines selected to match each course were all Australian. Many were sourced from the Hunter Valley, which is the closest wine-growing region to Sydney and Paul and I visit regularly to add to our wine collection.
The day started with a trip to the Sydney Fish Market, about a 25 minute drive across the Sydney Harbour Bridge. It was a picture perfect day, and the harbour was sparkling as we crossed the bridge. NYE is the second busiest day of the year for the Sydney Fish Market (Christmas Eve being the busiest) and the place was buzzing! What a fabulous selection of seafood – we are so fortunate in Sydney to have such an abundance and selection. I found everything I needed pretty quickly, and the staff were helpful despite the huge crowds. Next it was off to the local greengrocers – Green Street Grocers – to buy fruit and veg. The quality of their produce is consistently good, which is why I choose to shop there.
FOOD PREPARATION AND RECIPES:
With such a lot of food to prepare, the food preparation started the previous day, with the majority of the food preparation done on the day prior to the guests arriving. Naturally, the cooking of most of the seafood took place on the evening, the barbequing adding theatrics to the evening. Here are a number of the recipes, with the photos telling the story:
Sydney Rock Oysters with Japanese Dressing
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons mirin
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
18 shucked Sydney rock oysters
To garnish: finely sliced shallots
1. Combine the soy sauce, mirin and sesame oil together in a small bowl.
When ready to serve:
2. Spoon the dressing over the oysters. Garnish with the shallots.
Home-Smoked Rum-Soaked Tasmanian Salmon with Mango Salsa:
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup coarse salt
1/2 tablespoon black pepper
3. Drain the salmon fillets and pat dry with paper towels. Discard the rum and clean the baking dish.
4. Combine the sugar, salt and black pepper in a bowl (the cure).
5. Spread one third of the cure over the bottom of the baking dish. Lay the salmon on top and sprinkle the remaining cure on top.
6. Cover with plastic food wrap and let cure in the refrigerator for 4 hours (the cure will draw out liquid from the salmon).
7. Rinse the cure from the salmon with cold running water and pat dry with paper towels.
8. Prepare barbecue to a low heat (105 degrees C)
9. Add 1 1/2 cups of apple wood to the barbeque.
10. Place salmon on the barbeque and smoke for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
11. Test fish for readiness by feeling whether its firm and breaks into clean flakes.
When ready to serve:
12. Serve the salmon with Mango Salsa.
Spiced Moreton Bay Bug Tails
60g butter, melted
2 tablespoons lime juice
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 teaspoon finely grated lime rind
1 tablespoon coriander seeds, roasted then crushed in a mortar and pestle
½ teaspoon sea salt
8 green Moreton Bay bugs (ask the fishmonger to cut them in half & clean them for you)
To serve: lime wedges
1. In a small jug, whisk together butter, lime juice, garlic, lime rind, coriander and salt.
When ready to serve:
2. Preheat a barbeque to high heat.
3. Brush bugs with butter mixture. Barbecue for 3-5 minutes each side, or until golden and cooked through.
4. Serve Balmain bugs with lime wedges.
Ingredients (serves 4 as an entree or 6 as part of a degustation menu):
400g piece of sashimi-grade tuna
2 teaspoons black peppercorns
2 teaspoons Sichuan pepper
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
2 teaspoons sesame seeds
1 tablespoon peanut oil
Macadamia Curry Compote:
1 tablespoon peanut oil
1 red onion, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
2 teaspoons ginger, finely grated
1 teaspoon sambal olek
1 teaspoon Asian Shrimp paste (belacan/terasi) wrapped in foil and roasted at 180°C for 10 minutes
½ cup chopped coriander leaves
50 g roasted macadamia nuts, chopped
20g brown sugar
½ cup coconut cream
To garnish: lime halves and chives
1. Dry roast the peppercorns, Sichuan peppers, salt and coriander seeds in a small frying pan over a low-medium heat for 2-3 minutes or until fragrant. Cool, then pound in a mortar and pestle until coarsely ground, add sesame seeds and combine well.
4. Cool slightly and then, while still warm, wrap in plastic food wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
5. For the macadamia curry compote: heat oil in a small frying pan, add all ingredients except sugar and coconut cream and cook for 6-8 minutes or until onion is soft. Stir in sugar and coconut cream and simmer for another 5 minutes or until thick. Remove from heat, cool and refrigerate until serving time.
6. Cut the tuna into 24 thin slices and divide among plates. Place a spoonful of curry compote in the middle and top with chives and lime halves.
The weather could not have been better for the occasion. It was warm without being too hot, no wind and a perfectly clear day and night. The guests arrived at 7:30pm, and we enjoyed a lovely sunset with visiting rainbow lorikeets.
Everyone was in good spirits, and as recommended, everyone arrived with a healthy appetite! As the courses came one by one, the guests were amazed at the diversity of the dishes and the different Asian flavours.
Oysters – “Lovely light dressing which enhances but does not dominate the beautiful flavour of the oysters”
Prawns – “Very Australian, prawns on the barbeque! The coriander pesto really complemented the flavour of the prawns”
Salmon – “A winner”
Scallops – “Divine – the Nahm Jim is delicious”
Tuna – “Really exquisite”
Fish – “Really lovely, the presentation beautiful”
Pavlova – “Lovely way to finish the meal”
MY TIPS FOR SUCCESS:
The key to successful entertaining is planning and organisation. Lists, checklists, and advance preparation will ensure your occasion is seamless and will allow you to feel like a guest at your own party, instead of a kitchen slave.
When putting together the menu, choose dishes that can be prepared ahead of time as much as possible. Remember to take into account your guests’ dietary restrictions, and know your limitations (cooking skills and available time). Keep the menu balanced (flavours, texture, colour). Make your shopping list, remembering to adjust the recipe quantities for the required number of guests. Don’t forget to check your pantry and refrigerator to determine what you already have.
Do an inventory of glassware, tableware, cutlery, serving ware, table linen and equipment. Make a list of what you need to hire, borrow or buy if necessary.
Make a timeline of all the things you need to do prior to your party. For example, purchase the groceries, press the linen, select the music, clean the house, set the table, chill the wine, buy some fresh flowers, etc.
Determine approximately how long the food preparation will take (many recipes give an indication of preparation time) and make a list of the order you will prepare the dishes, noting any dishes that can be prepared a day or two ahead. Always read each recipe in its entirely first so you know if some foods require advance preparation such as marinating. I recommend you read the article “How to read and follow a recipe”. Remember to factor in time for clearing up between each recipe.
Make a running sheet of everything that needs to be done once your guests arrive, including times. For example, pre-heat the oven at 7:00pm, put the potatoes in the oven at 7:15pm for 30 minutes, etc. This way you will know exactly what needs to be done and when, and everything will run smoothly. It is also a useful reminder if you have enjoyed a couple of glasses of wine!
Another tip which I’m glad I followed last night was to label everything. With so many sauces and marinades for the various courses, there is no way I would have determined what went with what if they weren’t labelled!
The planning, preparation and execution of a 10 course degustation menu was certainly a great experience which I enjoyed immensely. It was a huge amount of work, which was rewarded by beautiful food and appreciative guests.
Happy New Year to all of you and may 2009 be filled with lovely food and friends!