Give a man a fish, you feed him for a day and it will taste so bad he’ll never eat raw fish again. Teach a man to cook fish and you give him a lifetime of showing off at dinner parties.
After he’s sourced the ingredients.
I’ve got enough stuff, so when another birthday rolled around it was very smart of my daughter to give me a voucher for a class at the Sydney Seafood School.
I’ve written before about this excellent institution at the Sydney Fish Market, but I can’t praise it highly enough. It’s open to anybody who cares to spend an evening or an afternoon learning to cook two or three fabulous dishes. For locals and visitors it’s time and money very well spent.
The guest teachers last night were Daniel Puskas and James Parry of Sixpenny restaurant, which happens to be close to where we live. Award-winning Daniel and James have impressive pedigrees as chefs at Oscillate Wildly, Sepia, Rockpool and, in James’ case, experience at the famous Noma in Copenhagen.
Sixpenny specialises in local produce, much of it grown at Parry’s family farm in Bowral. The use of sweet potato leaves, wild spinach ‘It grows as a weed on the farm’ and lardo (pig fat) with the seafood was a revelation.
Organisation at the Sydney Seafood School is superb.
About fifty of us sat in the small lecture theatre and for an hour or so we watched, listened and added personal notes to the recipe sheets supplied. A few of us recorded the experience on our smartphones.
The demonstration over, the doors at the side of the hall opened onto the kitchen. All that top of the range equipment looked slightly intimidating, but once I had my black apron strapped I felt ready for the challenge.
In groups of five we worked feverishly at the kitchen benches attempting to reproduce the dishes. My team was patient with the dummy who screwed up (sorry all, my hand slipped on the vinegar), and grateful for the assistance of those who seemed more competent.
Then we filed through into the restaurant area to put our creations to the taste test, with an accompanying glass of wine.
Here’s what we’d come up with:
Yabbies, Cucumber, Buttermilk and Lemon Flavoured Herbs.
It’s not an obvious choice to put buttermilk into a seafood salad, but it works. I’m not sure where to find buttermilk, though the notes say we can make our own by heating ordinary milk with a little lemon juice, then skimming off the fat and keeping the whey.
Yabbies (freshwater crayfish for non-Australians) taste fine, though they are hard work for a bit of prawn. I loved the mixed Lebanese and pickled cucumber salad however. I’ll certainly make that again.
Mullet Wrapped in Lardo with Sweet Potato Leaves and Trout Roe Vinaigrette.
This was the star turn for me, particularly given the humble ingredients. The lardo (thinly sliced pig fat) added a smoky flavour to a simple, relatively cheap fish, while the sweet potato leaves (I never knew you could eat them) tasted somewhere between spinach and, well, sweet potato. The trout roe vinaigrette with chives, tarragon, olive oil, rice bran oil and white balsamic was wonderful.
I’ve managed to get lardo (thanks, AC Butchery in Leichhardt) but still haven’t found sweet potato leaves or trout roe. If anyone knows where to find them in Sydney, let me know.
Wild spinach, also known as fat hen or lambs’ quarters is really nothing like spinach. James tells us it grows everywhere, as a weed, but I’m not sure I’d recognise it again. English spinach would be a fair substitute.
Classes at the Sydney Seafood School cost from $80.
So for half the price of a dinner in a top restaurant we’d eaten one of the better meals of our lives, and we should be able to reproduce at least an approximation of it any time we choose.
I’ve bought more mullet and lardo and will be trying to impress Mevrouw T tonight.
Thanks Daniel and James – I look forward to visiting Sixpenny. And thanks Tim, Raj, Kate and Steve for pooling your ignorance and sharing your skills, enthusiasm and company.