Sydney Fish Market

12 dried red chili pods
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 cup minced onion
4 cloves minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 Tbsp. cumin
3 cups peeled, chopped tomatoes
Fresh cilantro
Using gloves, wash the chili pods and remove all the seeds and the "veins" or fibers that hold the seeds. Put into a saucepan with 2 cups of water and bring to a boil. Then simmer for 15 minutes. Pour into a blender and whirl until well blended. While the chilis are simmering, you can heat the olive oil in a saucepan. Simmer the onion and garlic until onion is transparent, then add seasonings and cook another 5 minutes. Add tomatoes and cook another 5 minutes. Transfer to a food processor and puree for a smooth sauce. Transfer back to the saucepan simmer over low to keep sauce warm while you prepare the rellenos.
For rellenos:
4 green chilis, preferably New Mexican Sandia, or Poblanos
Monterey Jack, cut in sticks 1/2"x1/2"x 1" less than the length of the chili
1 eggs
1 cup or more panko (Japanese bread crumbs)
4 Tbsp. oil
Roast the chilis on the grill or under the broiler, turning as they blacken so the whole skin is puffed up and charred. Run under cool water and peel off the skin. Carefully make a slit in the side of each chili and with a sharp knife, cut the top of the fibers that hold the seeds. Carefully remove all the seeds and dry the chilis on paper towels.
Stuff each chili with a stick of cheese. Whisk the eggs until blended. Put the panko in a shallow bowl. Heat the oil in a frying pan, roll each chili in the egg, then in the panko to coat each one and place them in the oil. Fry over medium heat until browned on one side then flip to the other and cook until browned. Serve with the warm sauce and a glass of the 2004 Chateau Julien Syrah.

For a panoramic view of Sydney from atop the Sydney Bridge from BridgeClimb:

We were out on the street at the crack of dawn yesterday looking for a taxi to take us to our 6:55 am Sydney Fish Market tour. We found a genial driver who had 15 minutes before his next pickup who agreed to take us. That sounded great, except he didn't really have time to squeeze in the trip, so he drove like a maniac, lurching and swerving through traffic, cursing at the other drivers as we flopped around in the back seat like fish out of water. "Get out of the way, you bloody donkey", he yelled, "What? Are you driving to the sanitarium?".  It was half funny, half terrifying! Anyway, it was worth the hair-raising trip to get the backstage look at the second largest fish market in the world. A bit of perspective, though: in one day of the world's largest fish market (Tsukiji in Tokyo), more fish is auctioned than in two weeks in Sydney. Still, a thousand crates of seafood is sold per hour--crates of barramundi, tuna, dory, crabs, yabbies and more. The auctioning is in the Dutch style (which they have been using for generations in the tulip market). Seafood is brought in, assessed by the Market experts who set a price for each lot. Instead of lots starting low and being bid up, each lot starts at $3 per kilo over the assessed price and comes down, with the price displayed on a large screen with a circular "clock" counting downwards. As the price comes down, the buyers jump in at the price they want to buy. The next lot of the same seafood starts at $1 above the price the preceding lot. If the buyer waits too long, the seafood will sell out; if the buyer jumps in too early, they pay a higher price. We got to go down on the floor where the "whalers" move crates in to be inspected and out to the waiting trucks of the buyers. We saw "by-catch" fish like leather jackets which used to be thrown out by fishermen and are now salable food fish. In the old day, fishermen just took from the sea what they wanted and tossed out the rest. But, overfishing and overpopulation has meant the ocean systems are stressed and many fish are on the verge of extinction. More species are being utilized instead of being wasted. Also, Australia has taken a strong lead in the sustainability issue by instituting guidelines for the harvesting of its seafood. The use of 'by-catch' is one of the ways they control waste--by-catch used to be tossed out, now all seafood netted or caught on lines must be landed on the boat and used for human or pet food. Quotas are set for each species and fishermen have to buy a license for their portion of each type of harvest. Safeguards have been put in place, for example, eastern rock lobster females cannot be harvested when they have eggs; in Queensland, they cannot be harvested at all.  Also, each and every crate of seafood is inspected by Fish Market experts and graded. In the US, sadly, our seafood is inspected and graded in a very random, sporadic fashion, plus much of our seafood is from China where the quality control is questionable. Read this chilling USDA report: "Imports From China and Food Safety Issues". The premiere quality of seafood in Australia is striking--even fast food venues serve top quality fish. I had a "take away" plate from what looked like a fast food place at the Circular Quay called aptly, Quay Seafood, of barramundi with french fries. It was one of the best pieces of fish I've ever had, so fresh, just lightly dusted with flour and grilled perfectly. It was pricey, as everything in Sydney seems to be--$20, but it could have fed two people easily.

We marveled at the big tuna in the sashimi area--only line-caught, immediately chilled tuna can be sold as sashimi (or sushi) grade. The reason is that net-caught fish often sit on the deck of the boat for 3 hours or more as they are graded and sorted before going into the hold. Bacteria start to grow quickly in fish, so the fish is not as fresh as line-caught which can come off the hook and onto ice in less than a minute. Bluefin tuna, which may be put on the endangered species list due to overfishing, is the favored raw fish of the Japanese. It is so in demand, and now so rare, that a single bluefin can fetch upwards of $170,000. Bluefin fishermen usually have a helicopter ready to transport the fish immediately to the nearest airport where it is shipped on ice to the Tokyo Fish Market, where it arrives within 24 hours of being hauled in. Fortunately, there was sustainably harvested seafood available in the Markets' retail area and we had a seafood feast for breakfast.


Bush Tucker - Australian Wines and Food in the land of Oz

With great (unplanned) synchronicity, this week's Online Grapevine special features Australian wines, from K Wines's Marquis Philips label, in the week just before I fly "down under" to the land of Oz! Australian wines have made a big splash in the US in recent years, more about that later. But first, the most intriguing aspect of Aussie culture to me is bush tucker--"bush" meaning "the Outback" and "tucker" meaning "food". Bush tucker is the name for the huge variety of edible herbs, spices, mushrooms, fruits, flowers, vegetables, animals, birds, reptiles and insects that are native to the country and traditionally consumed by Aboriginal peoples. The list includes Witchetty grubs, bugs (relatives to crawfish), yabbies (relatives to lobsters), wattle (seed from acacia) and goanna lizards. No, I'm not a Andrew Zimmern-wannabe and I won't be eating wallabees or Witchetty grubs--though an anthropologist friend developed a fondness for them and claims they taste like Skippy peanut butter. But, I am fascinated by the diverse flora and fauna of the Land Down Under and will look forward to trying some of the endemic spices and seasonings. Aboriginal celebrity chef Mark Olive has a listing of native plants like kutjera (also called desert raisin or bush tomato) on his website, as well as recipes such as Smoked Crocodile Chicken Salad flavored with kutjera (pictured at left), sea parsley, salt bush and wattleseed. Bush tucker ingredients can be purchased online from the Bush Tucker Shop in Sydney which I hope to scout out. We also have tickets to see the Sydney Fish Market and (very difficult to obtain) reservations at Tetsuya's, so it should be a gustatory, as well as cultural, adventure!

1 cup fresh basil leaves
1 cup macadamia nuts
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
4 fillets of mahi-mahi or striped bass, deboned (1 1/2 to 2 lbs.)
1 cup breadcrumbs
salt to taste
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Put the basil, macadamia nuts, garlic and oil in a food processor and whirl until well-mixed but still chunky. Transfer to a bowl and add the Parmesan and bread crumbs and mix well. Salt to taste. Press the pesto mixture into the fish on all sides, place on a greased baking pan and bake for about 10 minutes until cooked through or the internal temperature reaches 145 degrees. Serves 4.
Pair this recipe with the 2008 Marquis Philips Holly's Blend.

According to wineaustralia.com, Australia's first vineyards were planted in 1788 in a small area near the Sydney Harbour Bridge; the country now is the world's fourth largest wine exporter. The most famous winery is Penfolds which was established 60 years ago. Their wines command prices in the tens of thousands of dollars per bottle for certain vintages, like the 1951 Penfold Grange that sold for over $50,000. Founder Max Schubert started the first vineyard in Adelaide, New South Wales, but as the company grew and was bought out twice, their portfolio and vineyard reach has grown to include the Barossa Valley (the center of Aussie wine production), famed McLaren Vale south of Adelaide, cool Clare Valley (good for Riesling and Chardonnay cultivation), Coonawarra and more--all in the South Australia wine region. The map from the Grateful Palate Imports website shows the relationship. One can see from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology map that the rainfall is heaviest in the south and east (where the continent's only mountain range runs). Winemaker for Marquis Philips, Chris Ringland wrote this of the climate: "The weather in Southern Australia is profoundly influenced by one geographical feature; there is no land mass between Australia’s southern coasts and Antarctica...This means that when the center of a high pressure cell is located over the Southern coastal wine growing regions as it approaches from the West, we experience cool, wet conditions due to cold air being directed up from the South Polar regions. As the cell progresses across South Eastern Australia to the Tasman Sea, the subsequent northerly airstream directs hot, dry air down from central and Northern Australia."
Tidbits of information on viniculture from the Australian government wine website include a claim for the oldest vineyards in the world, since they escaped the vine disease phylloxera which decimated most of the vineyards in Europe and the Americas at the turn of the century.


Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential

Vegetarian-hater, foul-mouthed, pothead, sarcastic, raconteur extraordinaire--Anthony Bourdain is everything I'm not, and I should hate him for calling vegetarians "the enemy of everything good and decent in the human spirit, and an affront to all I stand for, the pure enjoyment of food" (which, by the way, includes eating unwashed warthog rectum). But I've enjoyed his Travel Channel show because I love to travel vicariously and I am entertained by/envy his globe-trotting adventures. I was actually unaware of his controversial bad-boy-chef reputation until I read "Kitchen Confidential", a hilarious Rabelasian read about his drugging days in rat-infested New York kitchens. He's sure to have made many enemies with his tell-all-and-spare-no-one style of defamatory writing and seems to have left a wreckage of closed restaurants behind him (including Les Halles, which was closed down by the health department). Yet he's charming and he's a remarkably talented writer. I just would never eat anything that came out of his kitchen. In "Kitchen Confidential", he talks about his fingernails: "My nails, such as they are--I gnaw them in the taxi home from work--are filthy; there's dried animal blood under the cuticles, and crushed black pepper, beef fat and sea salt...My fingertips are stained with beet juice (hot borscht as soup du jour yesterday), and if I hold my fingers to my nose, I can still smell smoke salmon, chopped shallots and a hint of Morbier rind." Really--he's never heard of a nail brush and copious amounts of soap and hot water? The rats were so bad at one place he worked: "The place was owned by a very aggressive rat population, fattened up and emboldened by the easily obtained stacks of avocados left to ripen outside the walk-in each night. They ran over our feet in the kitchen, hopped out of the garbage when you approached and, worst of all, stashed their leavings in the walls and ceilings. Every once in a while, the soggy, acoustic tile ceilings would crumble, and moist avalanches of avocado pits, chewed chicken bones and half-eaten potatoes would come tumbling out on our heads." But, he was the chef! He was culpable in preparing food in that type of environment. Yet, I still plan on reading his other books to revel in his descriptive prose. If I refused to read every author's whose opinion differed from mine, or whose private life was unsavory, I'd have a minuscule reading list. One doesn't need to live or work like Anthony Bourdain or Hunter Thompson to appreciate their writing!

Adapted from Urban Tavern in San Francisco by LA Times' writer Noelle Carter.
Total preparation time: 4 1/2 hours, plus overnight refrigeration and cooling times
Servings: 6 to 8
1/2 cup fennel seeds
1/2 cup coriander seeds
2 tablespoons ginger powder
2 tablespoons ground nutmeg
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne powder
1. In a medium sauté pan heated over medium heat, toast the fennel and coriander seeds until aromatic, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and cool completely.
2. Grind the fennel and coriander seeds to a fine powder using a spice mill or coffee grinder, then combine with the ginger, nutmeg, paprika, salt, black pepper and cayenne powder to form a rub.
3. This makes a generous 1 cup rub, and you may not use all of it for the final recipe. Store the rub in an airtight jar or sealable plastic bag in a cool, dark place up to 4 to 6 weeks.

2 racks pork ribs, preferably St. Louis-style, silverskin removed
Spice rub (from above)
1 cup apple cider
2 cups chicken broth
2 cups beef broth
2 bay leaves
Salt and pepper
2 1/2 cups diced apples, about 2 apples
2 1/4 cups diced onion, about 1 onion,
Scant 1 cup diced carrots, about 2 carrots
1 1/2 cups diced celery hearts, from about 1 bunch
1. Coat the rib racks generously on each side with the spice rub. Refrigerate, uncovered, overnight to season.
2. The next day, in a large saucepan, bring the cider, chicken and beef broths and bay leaves to a boil over high heat. Remove from heat and season with salt and pepper to taste.
3. Heat the oven to the broiler setting. Place the rib racks on a rack over a rimmed baking sheet. Broil the racks until browned on each side, about 2 to 4 minutes per side, depending on the heat of the broiler.
4. Reduce the oven heat to 300 degrees. In a large roasting pan, combine the diced apples, onion, carrots and celery heart, and place the seared ribs on top (pour any drippings from the rimmed baking sheet over the ribs). Pour over the hot broth.
5. Cover the pan tightly, first with parchment paper, then with a layer of foil, creating as tight a seal as possible. Place the covered pan in the oven and braise the ribs for 3 hours.
6. Remove the pan from the oven and cool the ribs completely. Skim the fat from the pan and set the ribs aside. Strain the braising liquid (we had about 1 quart) into a saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the sauce by half.
7. To reheat the ribs, place the ribs in a roasting pan and pour the sauce over. Place the ribs in a 325-degree oven and heat until the ribs are warmed through before serving.

Pair this recipe with the 2005 Corley Proprietary Red.