Saturday, August 15, 2009

A sense of place & time-a food memory

A while back when I first arrived here I worked in Woodbridge, right on the waters of the D’Entrecasteaux Channel, 50 mins south of Hobart. Out the front of the restaurant, across the expansive verdant lawns was a pier where fishing vessels would occasionally unload their catch of mainly Southern Rock Lobsters. Whilst the cargo was hauled into an idling van & the deckhands were dispatched to purchase several slabs of Draught cans, I got to go over these vessels & inspect the by-catch, usually King Crab & octopus.
Now every purchase of seafood in Tasmania must be accompanied by the required paperwork & the police are vigilant in ensuring that this is practice is observed at all times.
It is quite difficult these days to buy directly off the boat because of all the friggin’ paperwork & for all the complications many fishermen understandably don’t bother anymore. It’s a shame & kinda ironic that one can’t readily get your hands on local seafood anymore, a subject I have posted about on numerous occasions.
However I know that a few cans here & there, can present a compelling argument for the fisherman to sell directly to me at times, with all the documentation of course! There is something very exciting about standing on a bobbing boat, the sea breeze ruffling your chef’s garb, jabbing your finger toward the item that will soon be on someone’s plate that day, in this case a regal King Crab, just shy of 10kgs! This particular day I had that crab at 10.30 & had served my first portion at 12.15.
Working with such magnificent & fresh produce compels you not to ‘faff around’ with it too much. It doesn’t need kitchen trickery, restaurant slight of hand or menu gilding the lily, to let it shine.
I simply cooked the crab, picked over the meat & served it modestly with a roasted purple garlic aioli, some warm sourdough & lemon. It sold out & I was elated. Thank goodness that day we had customers who recognised & valued this particularly unique taste of the region, I hope they remember it as vividly as I do.
I could close my eyes right now & still taste those flavours, catapulting me right back to that rocking boat, the briny smell of the sea & that blustery day. A day where that dish imprinted me with a strong sense of place & time & has informed my thoughts on food & the way I cook ever since.


Rita said...

As usual, a great post on a subject I totally agree with. I was in Coles Bay many years ago and had exactly the same exchange with restaurant owners who expressed exactly that same opinion about the fresh fish scenario. They were pissed that their restaurant, being within steps of the water, was not permitted to serve the fresh fish straight out of the water/off the boat. We live in crazy times! Good job the native Tasmanians didn't have the same amount of hassle trying to exist before the Europeans invaded in days of yore!

I wish I had been notified the day you had the fresh crab on the menu - I'd have been there like a shot! I can't think of anything better than beautiful fresh crab.

Ed said...

It reminds me of the time we stayed on hinchinbrook Island. I had dreams of fresh fish. It turned out the fish was caught, frozen taken to a central market and back to the island. It must have been the worst I've ever eaten.
At Portarlington we are lucky enough to buy fresh mussels off a boat.It's a shame we can't do it with fish.

steve said...

Hi Rita-Yes it is quite a conundrum but sadly not unique to Tas. When I lived in Robe SA, famous also for its lobsters & Gummy shark it was cheaper to get the same shark (orig from Robe!) from the Adl or Melb markets including the cost of freight than it was straight from the boat! WTF!
I'm sure if the crab had been more widley known, there would have been a conga line!

Hiya Ed, nice to hear from you-That story dosnt surprise me in the least- I suspect this is why recreational fishing is reputed to be the most popular sport in Australia! Even as litle as six years ago there was a bloke selling mussels from Port Phillip Bay, down near black rock. Not sure if they are still available though.

reb said...

Sounds like that was a perfect dish Steve. It's crazy the way in which we are bound by all these unnecessary rules and regulations these days..

Michelle said...

Beautifully written post Steve...I could almost taste the crab...

And to think I was living across the road in Woodbridge at the time, if only I knew...I would have been there pronto!

steve said...

Hi Reb-I understand the need for rules that oversee possible over fishing breaches etc. however can you imagien the leverage we could get in the tourism sector if we were more encouraging of buying directly off the boats? Not only that, many of us locals would probably eat more fish, therebye keeping fisherman gainfully employed, generating more dollars in the rural dollars & keeping money in our communities.

Hi Michelle-thanks for that. Yes I was only saying the other day that I wished more people saw beyond their opposition to that building & actually ventured inside & had the chance to enjoy what we cooked

Michelle said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michelle said...

Oh we ate at PB often enough - we loved it. But I guess there was no mud crab for us hoi polloi in the front bar!

Victor said...

Steve - we have bought fresh crayfish off a fishing boat at a jetty in Margate before. That was 4years ago. We boast to our mainland friends. But not could not find the same boat the following season.

steve said...

Hi Michelle-believe me, the bar customers WERE the most important as they were so many more of them than in thne restaurant. Unfortunately thoughwe didn't offer things like the crab as we tried to keep the priced down. WjIn my time there, the most exxy dish on the bar menu was $19

Hi Victor-I remember that it might have been the lobster direct people who have sadly wound up their business some time ago