Friday, May 25, 2012

Fish and Oyster Pie

Fish and Oyster Pie seems a good candidate for Sydney's signature dish.

From the 1860s onwards, Sydney newspapers, clubs and boat operators organised fishing excursions to Camp Cove, Watsons Bay and overnight to the Heads. (This ad for a Snapper Fishing Excursion, tickets 20s including lunch and bait, is from the Sydney Morning Herald of 24 April 1880.)

And Sydney's rock oysters are justifiably famous.

Fish and Oyster Pie recipes appear in newspapers from Sydney to Cairns to Perth, especially in the 1920s and 30s. They all use leftover cooked fish and they are practically identical: 500g fish and 1 or 2 dozen oysters layered in a pie dish, nutmeg and parsley, a cup or two of white sauce poured over, topped with mashed potatoes or rough puff pastry and cooked for 20 minutes.

So the recipe below is not an authentic 1920s Fish and Oyster Pie recipe - for that you'd need to cook the fish first and substitute white sauce or sauce soubise for the onion-cream mixture. (Sauce soubise, according to Boulestin, is white sauce to which is added two large onions cooked in half milk, half water, with a little salt and nutmeg, and then sieved or pureed.)

This Fish and Oyster Pie is based on the Boathouse Restaurant in Glebe's Snapper Pie - but with oysters. And without the white truffle oil which, frankly, seems an affectation designed solely to justify charging $48 for a main.

Since this recipe calls for 750g snapper fillets and 1 or 2 dozen oysters, it's worth making a real fish stock: 1 onion, 1 carrot and 1 celery stalk, finely chopped and sauteed in butter, fresh herbs, snapper heads and bones or a small whole snapper (scaled, gutted and cleaned) and 500 ml white white and 500 ml water, simmered for 35-40 minutes and strained through a fine sieve.

A more economical version of this dish can be made with 500g fresh snapper and half a dozen small potatoes, only just cooked, and no oysters. And the leftovers can be made into small pies - see photo.

Fish and Oyster Pie
750g snapper fillets, bones removed and cut into bite-size chunks
12-24 Sydney rock oysters
1 sheet ready rolled puff pastry, preferably Pampas butter puff pastry
1-2 tbsp olive oil
4 medium onions, 3 sliced and 1 finely diced
375 ml fish stock, preferably home-made
200 ml cream
25g butter
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 egg yolk, whisked with a few drops of water
salt, pepper

Pre-heat oven to 220 degrees.

Saute three sliced onions in olive oil on a low heat for 15-20 minutes, until soft but not browned. Pour off excess oil. Stir in the fish stock, simmer until reduced by half, about 15 minutes. Stir in the cream, simmer gently until the mixture has reduced by half to the consistency of slightly thickened cream. (Mine was a bit too thin.) Add nutmeg, season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside to cool.

In a small pan, saute the remaining onion, diced, in butter until soft, season with salt and pepper, add this to the onion-cream sauce.

Invert pie dish onto the sheet of puff pastry and cut a round of pastry 2 cm larger than the circumference of the dish. Rest the pastry on a damp tea-towel while arranging the pie.

Pour a little sauce into the pie dish. Put in a layer of snapper, then a layer of oysters; lightly season with salt and pepper; put in another layer of fish and so on until the dish is filled. Pour the remaining sauce over the fish and oysters, to cover.

Brush the rim of the pie dish with a little melted butter, place the pastry on top and press lightly, brush the top with beaten egg yolk, and cook 20 minutes until pastry is puffed and golden. Serve with mashed potato and/or a green vegetable. Serves 4.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Colour Scheme

The basic colour scheme for the 1920s - and the 1930s - kitchen was blue and white. Blue was the colour of the sky. White was "hygienic" and "pure".

In 1920 an Adelaide manufacturer of self-raising flour offered a model kitchen as a prize in their cooking competition. The "tastefully selected furnishings are chiefly in white enamel," reported the Adelaide Register, while the lino had a blue-and-white pattern and the dresser was white with a blue border (30 March 1920).

In 1925, in Melbourne, James McEwan & Co constructed a model kitchen in their Elizabeth St store "with an eye to comfort, hygiene and good cooking". The Argus reported that the kitchen "presents the clean appearance which blue and white tiles and linoleum give" (3 Dec p.7).

In 1930 the Hobart Mercury published the illustration above of a woman in a tiny modern kitchen: "The table, chairs, the tiny [meat] safe that stands in one corner, and the compact cabinet are blue stippled with cream to give them a dappled effect. The cream ceiling comes down to meet the blue walls in a fairly deep frieze. The gas stove shows the same effect of mottled blue and white as the furniture. There are blue and white cambric curtains at the window...". Even the unseen crockery and kitchen clock (both featuring windmills) are blue-and-white and the pots and kettle "in mottled enamel matched the stove exactly".

An English woman designer, Mrs Darcy Braddell, designed a "weekend cottage" with a blue-and-white kitchen colour scheme for the English pavilion at the International Exhibition in Paris in 1937. "Here brightness is achieved and hygiene is encouraged by an extensive use of white", the Sydney Morning Herald reported (13 Sep 1938, p 6S). The walls were cream. The cork tiles on the floor were blue and white. The dresser was blue and white. The Herald article was reprinted, with variations and various reporters' own additions, around the country.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Curried Pork with Apples and Sultanas

This recipe for a traditional Australian curry is from the Sydney Morning Herald's Household Notes column on 28 February 1928. It's a sweet curry made from leftover roast pork, with curry powder and cayenne for flavour and heat and lemon juice for sharpness. Other newspaper recipes for more authentic-sounding Indian curries called for chillies, ginger, almonds, chutney and even coconut milk, which was made by steeping dessicated coconut in hot water and squeezing the "milk" through muslin. 

Like pies, curries used the leftover roast to make another meal. From the number of recipes in the women's columns, curry reached peaks of popularity in the depression years of the 1890s and 1930s. 

This recipe makes a surprisingly good curry - not the same as a curry cooked from scratch, but still good.

Curried Pork with Apples and Sultanas

250g cold cooked pork
250g cooking apples, peeled and cored
1 onion, finely sliced
1 tomato, skinned and chopped
50g butter
1 tablespoon plain flour
1 tablespoon Keen's Traditional curry power
350ml chicken or vegetable stock (or water)
50g sultanas
1 teaspoon caster sugar
1 teaspoon lemon juice
salt, pepper, cayenne

Cut the apples and pork into large dice.

Fry the onion and apples in butter until soft, add the tomato and cook, stirring, for a minute or two. Remove the vegetables, reserving the butter.

Mix the flour and curry powder, stir into the butter and cook for a few minutes.

Gradually add the stock, and bring to the boil. Add the fried onion, apple and tomato mixture; simmer 20 minutes. Allow to cool slightly; stir in the meat, sultanas, castor sugar and lemon juice, and salt pepper and cayenne to taste. Thoroughly reheat until boiling, and serve in a border of well-cooked rice. Serves 4.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Ice Man Calls Once

Phryne Fisher's house in Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries may be a 1880s boom style Italianate mansion, but the kitchen is about as modern as you could get in 1928.

The interiors, "from bedroom to parlour and dining room to kitchen", were built in the ABC's Gordon St studios, says Essie Davis in the Miss Fisher and All That Jazz page of the ABC TV Blog.

Phryne's kitchen is large and light-filled, with hygienically-clean white walls, a scrubbed kitchen table and a Frigidaire refrigerator. 

The Frigidaire was ultra modern. The first ads for electric refrigerators appeared in the Argus in the early 1920s, but these large refrigerated cabinets were designed for cafes, hotels, stations and large country houses. It was only from about 1927 onwards that the Frigidaire was marketed to ordinary people living in the suburbs.

"This modern 'Ice Man' calls once ---- [~ but the Ice stays always]", ran this ad depicting a muscular young man with the Frigidaire logo on his American-style cap and a block of ice encasing a small refrigerator across his shoulder (Argus, 12 January 1927). The smaller illustration below of the Frigidaire itself shows a remarkably modern-looking refrigerator - a rectangular box with the motor hidden behind a grille at the bottom and the door open to display three or four shelves and two small ice-making compartments.

Phryne would have been one of the few who could afford a new Frigidaire at £92 10s. For the less well off there was the option of buying "Frigidaire equipment for converting any good ordinary ice-chest into an Electric Refrigerator" for £64. The average wage for a female clerk in Melbourne in 1930 was £145 13s 9d.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Roast Pork with Sage and Onion Stuffing and Apple Sauce

"Hot roast pork, with sage and onion stuffing, apple sauce, and thin gravy makes a very good meal." For the 1920s dinner guest, pork was a welcome change from beef and mutton, but the Sydney Morning Herald's Household Notes writer cautioned that it should not be served on consecutive days, as being a rich food it was liable to upset weak digestions.

Pork was well-cooked, with no pinkness, and constantly basted "so that each scored line of crackling comes apart from the next". If the crackling became too brown, it was covered with greased baking paper.

For cooking time, allow 25 minutes per 500g.

Roast Pork with Sage and Onion Stuffing and Apple Sauce

1.25 k pork loin
25g butter
1 onion, finely chopped
4-6 sage leaves, finely chopped
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
1 egg yolk, beaten
2 cooking apples, preferably Golden Delicious or Granny Smith
Salt, pepper

Ask the butcher to bone the meat and score the crackling, but not to roll it. Allow the meat to reach room temperature while making the sage and onion stuffing. 

Saute the onion in butter until soft and golden, stir in the sage leaves and allow to cool. Mix in the breadcrumbs and beaten egg yolk. Season liberally with salt and pepper. 

Spread the stuffing onto the pork, roll and tie with string. Rub oil and salt into the crackling. In a pre-heated oven, roast at 220 degrees for 15 minutes, reduce to 190 degrees and cook for a further 45-50 minutes, basting often. 

To make the apple sauce, peel, core and chop the apples; barely cover with water; cook on a low heat until soft. Whip into a puree.

The gravy is simply a little water added to the pan juices, and reduced. I poured off the pan juices into a glass, put it in the freezer for a few minutes and spooned off the fat before returning the juices to the baking dish and adding a glass of water with a little salt and pepper. Serve with apple sauce, roast potatoes and a green vegetable. Serves 4.

White Vegetable Soup

Vegetable soups and clear bouillons make a regular appearance as the first course for dinner at Phryne's St Kilda mansion. 

The recipe for this "inexpensive and quickly-made white vegetable soup" is from Household Notes in the Sydney Morning Herald on 5 May 1928. I'm not sure about boiling the vegetables for 40 minutes and  thickening the finished product with flour though. Instead I've updated the cooking time to 20-30 minutes and enriched it with a little cream.

White Vegetable Soup

3 large potatoes
1 white turnip
1 parsnip
1 onion
1 small head celery
25g butter
4 cups water
1 small blade of mace
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon pepper
1 cup milk
50ml cream

Peel the vegetables and cut up in small pieces. Melt the butter in a saucepan; add vegetables, and cook, stirring, until all the butter is absorbed. Add salt, pepper, sugar, mace, and water; simmer till vegetables are soft enough to rub through a sieve (20-30 minutes cooking should be sufficient).  

Sieve (or puree) the soup; add milk and return to the saucepan. Add cream; let it come to the boil. Serve in a warmed tureen and bowls. Serves 6.

Episode 13 - Memses' Curse

The final episode of the series is not based on any Kerry Greenwood novel, but it will - presumably - complete the narrative arc of the introduced back-story of the abduction of Phryne's sister by the abominable Murdoch Foyle. 

The ABC-TV website gives this synopsis: "Murdoch Foyle is at large and has been connected with the mysterious death of Albert Monkton, antique dealer. In investigating the murder, Phryne discovers Murdoch Foyle’s involvement in a bizarre reincarnation cult, inspired by Ancient Egypt". 

Has Foyle mummified Phryne's missing sister? And does he plan to make a pair of matching female book-ends?

With no novel to provide menu ideas, tonight's dinner is white vegetable soup, tender young roast pork with sage and onion stuffing, apple sauce and gravy followed by a raspberry souffle. Apart from anything else, I want to use the leftover roast in a traditional Australian curried pork on Sunday night - complete with Keen's Curry Powder, apples and sultanas.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Venison Pie

The recipe for small mutton (or lamb) pies can be adapted for cold cooked venison. If there is insufficient sauce left over from the roast, redcurrant jelly can be added and heated gently until dissolved. No gelatine is needed.

This recipe is enough for two small individual pies. The pastry is one-quarter the quantity given for mutton (or lamb) pie and it worked so well I'm going to try it again with a full-size venison pie.

Venison Pie

200-250g cooked venison
1/2 onion, diced
salt, pepper
125g plain flour
30g butter
1/4 cup milk
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup rich gravy

Cut the venison into bite-size pieces, mix with onion; season with salt and pepper.

Sift the flour into a large bowl. In a small saucepan, melt the butter, add the milk and a dash of salt and heat until boiling. Pour milk and butter mixture onto sifted flour and work into a dough; knead well. Cut the dough into two pieces, two-thirds for the pie bases and one-third for the pie covers.

Cut the large piece of dough in two, roll out and line two small ramekins (or souffle dishes), greased with butter. Add venison mixture. Cut the smaller piece of dough in two, roll out the pie covers, cut a small hole in the centre of each and press onto the top of the pies. Brush with beaten egg yolk and pinch around the edges.

Bake pies in moderately hot oven for 30 minutes; remove from oven and pour gravy through the hole on top of each pie and cook a further 15 minutes. Allow to rest for 10 minutes. Serve with mashed potato and red cabbage. Enjoyable with Vintage Cellars Chalkboard Cabernet Sauvignon.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Roast Venison with Sauce Grand Veneur

In Boulestin's day venison was marinated to make the meat more tender and to remove excessive gaminess. He was dealing with wild deer; for farmed venison, marinating is more for flavour. Tender cuts such as fillet can be marinated for 6 hrs rather than the 12 -24 hrs for wild venison or tougher cuts of farmed meat.

Venison is served with a sharp sauce to contrast with the sweetness of the meat. Boulestin's Sauce Grand Veneur is made from the venison trimmings and flavourings cooked in vinegar, with cream and redcurrant jelly added at the end.

The meat is underdone, 9-10 minutes per 500g. Before roasting, drain off (and reserve) the marinade and pat the venison dry with kitchen towels. Boulestin's venison is larded or greased with butter before it goes in the oven, and well-basted. I pan-fried two fillets in butter, put them in the baking dish and poured the butter over.

For four people, 600g of venison fillets is sufficient.


1 onion, sliced
1 carrot, sliced
1 French shallot, chopped
1 stalk celery, sliced
bouquet (bay leaf, parsley, thyme)
2 cloves
1 cup white wine vinegar

Cook the onion, carrot, shallot and celery in a little oil for 1 minute; add the bouquet, cloves and vinegar, bring to the boil, reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Allow the marinade to cool. When cold, pass through a sieve and pour over the venison, previously seasoned with salt and pepper. Turn the venison once or twice while marinating.

Sauce Grand Veneur

Venison trimmings
1 small carrot, finely diced
1 small onion, finely diced
1 French shallot, finely diced
50g butter
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons stock (or water)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
freshly ground black pepper
125 ml cream
1 tablespoon redcurrant jelly

Brown the trimmings, onion, carrot and shallot in butter. When brown, drain off the butter, add the vinegar, the stock and the same quanitity of the liquid in which the venison has marinated. Bring to the boil, skim, reduce heat and simmer until reduced by half.

Add a little mustard, lots of freshly ground black pepper, a little more marinade, and bring to the boil for 2 minutes. Pass through a sieve, stir in the cream, bring to the boil and reduce until the sauce has the consistency of thick cream.

The sauce can be served as it is (Sauce Poivade). For Sauce Grand Veneur, at the last minute stir in one tablespoon of redcurrant jelly, roughly chopped, and cook on a low heat until dissolved.

Roast Venison

600g venison, boned and trimmed
50g butter

Pan fry venison in butter until browned. Put the meat in baking dish, pour over the butter in which it has browned and roast 12-15 minutes in a hot oven. Allow to rest before carving. Boulestin's venison is served traditionally, with a puree of celery or chestnuts. Mine was served with thinly sliced roast potatoes and red cabbage. The wine was a Canobolis-Smith Alchemy from Orange.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Smoked Trout Salad with Fennel and Horseradish Cream

There was more to preserved fish than Norwegian smoked salmon in the 1920s. Australia also imported "Genuine Shetland Cod" as well as Kippers, Bloaters, Whiting Fillets, Findon Haddocks, Red Herrings, Pickled Herrings, Smoked Salmon and Dried Ling.

Homegrown smoked trout was also on the menu, with brown trout introduced into Tasmanian rivers in 1864. In 1925 the Hobart Mercury gave Tasmanian anglers instructions on How to Smoke Trout:

"Cut the fish at one side at right angles to its length through the meat in front of the tail; then split it all the way up the length of the back, including the head, and clean, leaving the belly untouched. 

Put it into brine for four or seven days, according to size - i.e. a mixture heavy enough to float an egg; then add to the brine raw sugar equal in bulk to one twentieth the salt (before immersing the fish). 

When sufficiently salted put the fish under fresh running water for one or two days, then hang up to dry in a muslin bag ("to keep flies off) in a dry place. 

When quite dry, put it to smoke in a shed with an opening in the roof for the smoke to escape, at least 12ft from the entrance where you put the sawdust for smoking. The smoke must be cold when it reaches the fish, which is hung over the opening in the roof. The sawdust should be thoroughly dry, and no resinous sawdust nor green bushes of leaves, should be put on the smoke fire."

This recipe uses Australian-produced smoked trout. Apart from smoked salmon, the only other homegrown smoked fish seems to be Brilliant Food's smoked kingfish - which I will use just as soon as golden beetroot is in season.

Smoked Trout Salad with Fennel and Horseradish Cream 

100g smoked trout
4 potatoes, preferably Nicola or Kipfer
1 bulb fennel
Rocket, watercress, upland cress and/or rinsed capers (all optional)
2 tablespoons fresh horseradish, grated
1 tbsp cream
2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

Remove any bones from trout; break into small pieces and set aside.

Boil potatoes gently in their skins until just cooked; remove, peel and cut into rounds about 5mm thick.

Top and tail fennel, remove core and outer layer if tough. Cut the fennel bulb in half lengthways; thinly slice.

Mix grated horseradish, cream, vinegar and mustard. Add salt, to taste.

On four entree plates, arrange sliced potato, fennel and salad leaves; squeeze with lemon juice. Pile smoked trout in the middle of each salad, scatter with capers and top with a dessertspoon of horseradish cream. Serves 4.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Episode 12 - Murder in the Dark

From the preview on the ABC-TV website, this week's episode bears only a glancing resemblance to the novel.

In Murder in the Dark, Phryne attends a country house soiree held by wealthy, beautiful and decadent siblings, Isabelle and Gerald Templar, whose acolytes have gathered for the Last Best Party of 1928. Over four days the party-goers enjoy a version of Tantric sex, hash smoking, polo and deer hunting. 

Phryne wasn't sure she wanted to go, but anonymous notes warning her off changed her mind. And then Isabelle and Gerald's adopted orphans are separately abducted and someone is out to kill Gerald. There's also the matter of Lin Chung's cousin being chucked in the river to avenge. Dot, too good a girl to stay, visits every day or two to refresh Phryne's wardrobe.

The food, however, is excellent, and the cook has a new American refrigerator for her sherberts and ice-creams.

In honour of the deer that escapes the hounds and Phryne's dislike of beetroot, unless in aspic, this week's menu features smoked trout salad and roast venison in a classic French sauce with potatoes and red cabbage. The dessert may be some sort of ice-cream.

I admit that part of the reason for this is that I've just returned from a weekend that included dinner at Lolli Redini in Orange, in NSW's Central West, where the menu ran to beetroot-cured trout and venison in a rich red sauce with potatoes and red cabbage. Unfortunately, I'm not up to the dessert of honey and truffle bavarois with sable biscuits, fig leaf ice-cream and caramelised fig.

Episode 11 - Blood and Circuses