When Lardo chef Rachel O’Sullivan went to the Australian outback, she had more than just a foodie experience. With it’s rich cultural offering and dramatic landscape Rachel was inspired not just by the food but by everything around her. Here she tells us about her bush tucker experience, unusual ingredients and how the trip inspired her own culinary cuisine as she also shares an inspired fish recipe.
What was your best experience in your trip to the Northern Territory in Australia?
That is a tough call as the NT is so vast with dramatically contrasting landscapes. I really enjoyed the cultural aspect of the Territory, which is home to the largest Aboriginal population in Australia and some of the oldest rock art in the world.
I think where culture meets an incredible dining experience is best displayed at Tali Wiru located in the sand dunes overlooking the spectacular Uluru (Ayers Rock) where dinners admire the changing colours of the rock as sun sets with a glass of champagne and canapés before sitting down to four course diner matched with premium Australian wines. The wattle seed rubbed kangaroo carpaccio with sour cherry jelly, fried capers, horseradish aioli, green apple and endive petit salad, rosemary grissini and aged balsamic was a flavour bomb. The main course of gold band snapper with citrus potato rosettes, buttered cockles, asparagus and salsa verde presented soft flavours that combined beautifully. As diner concluded all the guests gathered around a camp fire to listen to tales from a local aboriginal whilst sipping on cognac and hot chocolate.
Seafood is big in the Northern Territory, what were the differences in what was popular there and how they use it?
Barramundi is everywhere in NT and you don’t get it here in the UK. It was great to see it used in so many different ways, from simple but delicious fish’n’chips at the Cornucopia Cafe in Darwin to a wonderful curry at Hanuman called Meen Moolie where Wild Barramundi fillets are cooked in turmeric, fresh curry leaf and coconut. A great place to try barramundi is at the many food stalls Mindil Beach Markets. For those wanting to try their hand at catching one of these prized fish, I would highly recommend the catch and cook fishing experience at Wildman Wilderness Lodge in the beautiful Mary River region.
You also went on a bush tucker tour of traditional aboriginal foods, how did there use of natural ingredients impact on you?
Bob Taylor’s bush tucker tour is excellent for learning all about how simple bush tucker can be transformed into a gourmet feast over a simple log fire. Bob took us into the outback surrounding Alice Springs and showed us some great sights; he had excellent knowledge of the area and the native food growing. He then cooked the most incredible dinner over a log fire under the stars which was both delicious and nurturing. The Outback beef hot pot with sweet potatoes fritters and saltbush was wonderfully succulent and steamed Quanding Pudding with apricot wattleseed white chocolate topped with caramel and coconut sauce was an impressive finally to a very fine outback feast.
It was great to see traditional aboriginal foods being used and see how a hearty flavorsome meal can be produced in incredibly simple surroundings.
What unusual ingredients did you discover and which surprised you?
Given their abundance in the territory it is very common to see crocodile on menus. This is a surprisingly tasty white meat that is often grilled. It was great to see so much local produce being used. My favourite was the use of saltbush. I loved the way it was incorporated into Dukkah which I am already a big fan of.
The style of cooking in Australia is said to be fusion, how does this differ from your style and how did it inspire you and your cooking?
Australia is a multi cultural country with great produce giving chefs an enormous amount of scope to work with. I try to give customers at Lardo a similar experience in presenting flavor combinations using the freshest ingredients. Obviously seasonality is extremely important, and I like to just marry a couple of great flavours and textures together keeping my food quite simple but not necessarily classed under a particular type of cuisine.
What will you be bringing back to your own cuisine and kitchen from your time in the Northern Territory?
I find that I do pick up bits and pieces and different ideas and methods from different cultures whether it’s a great flavour combination or just a particular ingredient. One of the key principles that I abide to at Lardo is to offer guests beautiful fresh ingredients carefully matched to create interesting combinations; a magpie way of eating where you get to try many different wonderful flavours. I felt that the Northern Territory reflected this attitude to cuisine. Every meal was a mini adventure into new taste sensation and a few surprising ingredients that rarely disappointed.
RED GURNARD WITH SAMPHIRE, CUCUMBER & BORAGE
The rather eye catching red gurnard with it’s big head and large wings has sweet, firm flesh. Caught in large quantities in British water, it was, until recently thrown away as a by-product of fishing for other larger fish. However it is becoming increasingly popular as a more sustainable choice. Cooked simply here with a salad of cucumber, samphire and creme fraiche it provides a light but delicious summer dinner.
1/2 cucumber, cut in half lengthways and deseeded
1/2 teaspoon castor sugar
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
100 g samphire, picked and washed *
50 g cream fraiche
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
4 x 200g red gurnard, gutted and scaled
1 punnet borage flowers (optional)
1 Preheat the oven 180c (fan-forced 160c). Cut the cucumber into 1 mm slices and place in a bowl with the sugar and half the salt. Set aside for 30 minutes and pour off excess liquid. Add the samphire, juice of half a lemon and creme fraiche to the cucumber and stir well.
2 Heat the oil in a non-stick, oven-proof frying pan over a medium heat and fry the gurnard, for 2 minutes each side to get some colour on the skin. Transfer to the oven and cook for a further 5 minutes or until the fish is just cooked through. Squeeze over the remaining lemon juice and transfer to serving plates.
3 Add the samphire salad, garnish with borage flowers, if using and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Serve at once.
* Samphire, sometimes referred to, as sea asparagus grows abundantly around the shores of the British coastline. It is now commercially grown and can be bought from some fishmongers. You could substitute any other sea vegetable for samphire, if unavailable.