Australian Functional Ingredients – by Vic Cherikoff

Wild fish (barramundi) with the world's best garnish

Barramundi is regarded as one of the world’s best eating fish (and a species that obviously loves life as it puts up a huge fight when caught on a line and thrills fisher-people when they go hunting).

It is a shame that most people waste the best part of this magnificent fish.

Here’s a recipe which might initially set you back but I once prepared it for US Celebrity BBQ Chef, Steven Raichlen when he dropped in for a 9am BBQ at my place. He was a little jet lagged and seafood for breakfast might have been pushing the envelope a little but he did ask me to showcase some Australian wild foods for the BBQ and seafood was my choice.

Anyway, I got a whole fresh barra and carefully gutted it removing the swim bladder and all the entrails with forensic attention. I discarded the green bits (a medical term) which included the gall bladder and I also took out the intestine as this was a farmed fish rather than wild caught.

While the fish itself was wrapped in paperbark and left to cook and infuse with smoke on the BBQ hotplate I prepared a traditional dish that was shown to me by Terry, my Aboriginal informant on one of my many trips to Belyuen and while on a camp on a pristine beach on the Cox Peninsula up in the Top End.

The way Terry showed me his version of the recipe was a little off-hand. In fact, he came back from his day’s fishing while I was away with his aunts and the other women with whom I had worked before, Maudie, Grace, Agatha and a mob of other woman from the community. Anyway, I had rolled out my swag on the beach near where Terry had camped and he pointed to this huge barra he’d speared. I said I’d bake it in paperbark and got around to setting a fire and peeling a nearby paperbark tree. Meanwhile, Terry had turned his back to me (meaning ‘I am alone here’) and begun to prepare his Fish Fry sausage cooking in the lid of my camp oven over the coals of his own fire. Clearly, he wasn’t going to share this morsel and he even rejected any of the fish flesh that I had cooked saying he was ‘plenty full’.

It took me 5 days to catch a barra of my own from the Adelaide River once I had left the coast and I then understood why he didn’t want to share.

So back to my presentation for BBQ King, Steven Raichlen: I took the entrails – the heart, liver, kidneys, stomach and all the fat and stuffed it into the swim bladder which is an integral organ in the barramundi and looks like an airport windsock. I grilled this in a small pan on the BBQ and kept cooking until the swim bladder was a rich brown from the Maillard products and starting to go crispy.

My US chef showed great interest and made all the right noises but told me early in the piece that his ‘condition’ was sensitive and he probably wouldn’t eat anything.

I could have taken the prepared ‘sausage’ that I call Fish Fries (my PC term), added a little fish or chicken stock and blended it to a puree. The next step is then to strain the sauce, continue reducing it and then finish it with some cream which is further reduced to give the sauce some body. I’d season the sauce with a little Alpine pepper and optionally, some Lemon myrtle sprinkle. However, there is no doubt that this is the supreme accompaniment for the fish it came from. It surpasses the butter sauce, the lemon or whatever that you might normally add to fish. Nothing comes close to the best natural flavour for fish and anything you add is nice but unnecessary.

So I had this little grilled sausage just finished cooking in the pan and had begun slicing it up while Steven was close, smelling in the aromatics. He didn’t need encouragement to try just a slice. After all, he’d come half way across the planet to experience my cooking. Why not? The result was a Terry Experience. I missed out on the Fish Fries Again!!!

Steven scoffed the lot and raved about the intensity of flavour and the richness, the Wow factor and his jet lag and tiredness disappeared. You really should try it yourself.

PS He also loved the paperbark smoked barra and could see how both went together as a whole package. Fish flesh, fish fries. All that was needed for perfection would have been some baked wild yams and a chilled, crisp white wine (or a light flavoured beer). Mmmm. Take me back to the Top End for some barra fishing.

Some links:
Alpine pepper
Lemon myrtle sprinkle
Paperbark

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Vic Cherikoff