At the Visit Melbourne event, chef Shaun Quade made us a dish made famous by Masterchef Australia for making the contestants cry. They cry because they have to make 15 components to present on the plate, and the famous dish was called ‘Pearl On The Ocean Floor’.
If you follow the blog enough, you know that I’m not as big on the different taste in every bite kind of food, but more in favour of wholesome and simple dishes that excite, while also being intelligent. Restaurant Lûmé’s philosophy as one of the forerunners of the fine dining bistro scene in Melbourne is to present multiple sensory experiences from the moment you take a seat at the restaurant. Engaging your palate, as well as your sense of smell, and what you see before you, definitely come into play here. When a chef like Shaun creates a dish, he or she obviously views it from the standpoint of flavour, but it also involves good intuition about how it might be received. What’s great about the chef is his ability to balance the numerous contrasting ingredients he’s working with, and present them as a cohesive whole, which takes major skills. This skill is obviously developed from tasting more of what’s available to you locally, and knowing how to treat an ingredient- be it raw, cooked or fermented.
What I thought was very interesting about his style as he plated a ‘textures of tomato’ dish was how a final flourish or a secret condiment could uplift what would seem to be a boring assemblage of fruit and foliage. He had come to Mumbai armed with an arsenal of condiments-flavour bombs as I call them- ready to play around confidently, even with Indian foods like paneer. The chef makes his gochujang from scratch, miso too with rice koji and we were lucky to taste some dark, umami-heavy crumbs he used as a garnish, which was made using seaweed sourced locally in Australia.
When we got to talking about these condiments, he was lovely enough to help me with a few recipes I could share with you guys. One is for a toasted garlic oil where the garlic is slow-fried in oil, then shocked in cold water to bring the temperature down, retaining the brown charred bits of garlic inside. The other is for a lacto-fermented strawberry vinegar, great as a natural dressing to pour over fresh tomatoes and bread- both incredibly simple to make, but go a long way when you’re playing around in your home kitchen.
To make the toasted garlic oil, take about a cup of neutral tasting oil like vegetable or sunflower oil and place over medium-high heat. Add to this 2 bunches of green garlic or spring garlic, chopped and let it start to get hot, watching as the garlic browns. You want the pieces of garlic to brown essentially, but not burn. Keep an ice water bath handy on the side and when you feel the garlic bits are nice and crispy, working quickly, take the pan off the heat and plunge it into the ice water bath to bring down the temperature of the oil. We do this because oil will continue to cook the garlic otherwise. Decant the now-cool flavoured oil along with any bits of crispy garlic and use brushed over seafood (grilled calamari or prawns, chef Shaun suggests with chilli), BBQ dishes or add to dishes that could really benefit from the lovely garlicky flavour. “If you’re making a curry, just stir the oil at the end to add a different taste”.
To make the lacto-fermented strawberry vinegar, take a sparkling clean jar. Chop up a cup of strawberries and add to the jar. Top it with water until the strawberries are completely immersed. Add in 2% to 4% of salt to the water and add a few tablespoons of sugar. What you’re after is a very pleasant balance between salt and sugar, so taste. It’s necessary that you do. Keep covered with a muslin cloth, lid-off in a cool dark place for a week during the summer months, and tasting at the end of the week. When the vinegar is ready, it will taste pleasantly sharp and acidic, while also being fruity. At this point transfer the vinegar to the refrigerator to slow down or cease the fermentation. Also, don’t worry about any healthy mold formation on top. Simply spoon it off before using the vinegar underneath which should still be perfectly good and only get better with time.