“A moustache is like a skeleton key that opens doors to social circumstance.“
I don’t know what the above means, or even what it has to do with this post but it was said on the day of the happy occasion of the wedding and moustache insights are auspicious.
This all began at a Dumas talk and dinner for 16 I did at regional food champion Taste of Balingup, which was pretty much as good a mix of fun and nonsense I could have hoped for. One of the friend guests (as opposed to complete stranger guests) asked if I did wedding and if I could do cocktail food for her wedding in Pemberton and I said ‘sure!’ and banged up my bona fides. Normal people might ask a details question like ‘how many people?’ They probably also ask questions like ‘is this thing on?’ or ‘it this pan hot?’ and the like. So it turned out to be 130 and while I’d say I was anxious and wildly out of my depth, I also get anxious making what I’ve trumped up to be ‘a nice sandwich’.
I’m also not an especially good and organised self-motivator so my self improvement strategy is to commit to something out of my league, and do it. Anyway the only way I could get through this is with my smarts and what it would require was strategy and tactics – something you don’t forget when you’ve spent 5 years in the jungles of Afghanistan fighting Maoist rebels.
First thing – staff of me and maybe somebody else.
So – couldn’t be faffing around with ovens, fryers, or carrying around lots of trays.
Second thing – I imagine a hungry mob devouring everything in seconds in a great fury of feasting and then turning on me.
So would require some kind of choke point and delaying device. Essentially funnelling a wall of guests into a smaller space – essentially what we refer to as a ‘kill zone.’
What I eventually come up with was a series of tasty foods in jars that I could prep in advance and then, basically, when I could there, just crack open some lids. Prep was also key as the budget can be hauled in nicely if you cook things from scratch. It takes more time, but the results are there.
Very handy was the use of a professional kitchen at a lovely winery in a lovely place. I don’t know if they want to associate their kitchen with my faffing about but lets just say ‘mislaid body of water’. Professional kitchens, as well as making you feel all professional like, are great because they have big hot ovens, lots of wipeable stainless steel, big sinks and everything is hanging up or out in the open so you don’t spend half your time searching through kitchen draws for where somebody’s put the ladle. Lots of tea towels too.
Also very handy was help from a somebody who knows what they’re doing and daughter and a home ec student on the morning and during the day. You can never underestimate the value of being able to ask someone to do something and having people there so you don’t ‘lose your shit’ and ‘start sobbing uncontrollably.’ Also handy if someone forgot to put two soft eskies full of sauces and jellies in his car when moving over to the venue.
Well, very well, if I might say so myself. Nobody died and the food was well-received, eaten, complimented on, and some said they ‘loved me’. The food lasted through the hour or so of drinks and this was because people could come over and leisurely help themselves to little bits of food. Food that was carried around on trays (pfffft so old school) – the gougeres – was scarfed down in short order.
The wedding as a whole, I couldn’t fault (apart from the short 80s pop dance set) – the weather was gorgeous, the avacado farm it was on looked stunning, the lovely couple more so, the flash mob ceremony was inspired, they played Franz Ferdinand, there was meat and cake, the company delightful, the booze didn’t run out and the bus left at 2am.
Food notes below.
Smoked and Cured Salmon in a Jar
Salmon. I’ve you haven’t had, or aren’t planning to have, a child of your own then four freshly filletted 1kg slabs of salmon is as much a source of home arrival pride as one could ask for. If you’ve used a knife, you’ve never enjoyed it so much as seeing thin orange and white strips peeling off under the gentle pressure of a yanagibocho. If you’ve eaten salmon off a shiny gold bit of cardboard and not coated in light but complex flavoured olive oil, then my condolences.
The salmon was the inspiration for the whole jar strategy, having seen salmon in a jar in French Saveur a couple of years back. I couldn’t find the copy but I did find this recipe on the internets.
Half the salmon was ever so lightly smoked with soaked hickory bark in a smoker box in my lidded barbecue. Basically just keep the smoke ticking along for 15 minutes or so to infuse, but not cook, the salmon. After that it’s on to the gravlaxing.
For the gravlax part, I combined a few things but this recipe is pretty much it + some juniper berries, which end up make it more gin cured.
Duck Liver Paté
Pretty much this recipe from Vogue Entertaining without the slightly gauche gold leaf; the addition of some chicken livers; and the replacement of vinocotto with some sherry to deglaze the pan. Four kilograms of it – good grief. Terrible to get into jars when hot – goes everywhere.
The bread that went with it was par-baked baguettes and they’re great. 15 minutes at 180C with a bowl of water in the oven for some moisture and they’re beautifully crisp and hot. The alternative was taking baguettes up with me and having them two days old for the wedding so, no.
Albany Oysters with Champagne and Virgin Mary Jelly
Albany oysters are small and sweet and I had 13 dozen delivered to my home. They’re still alive when delivered and keep well in the fridge with a wet towel over them. They’re designed to live a while when the tide drops down. This does mean they’re alive when you shuck them, which is a little sad. But given they don’t write books about shagging lots of younger lady oysters as a way of dealing with their own impending mortality, I don’t think they dwell on it too much.
Make sure you use a tea towel to hold the oyster down so the shucker doesn’t go through your hand. Force should be required as really all you’re doing is severing a couple of tendons at the pointy end. Albany oysters seem a bit trickier to open and it’s not just operator error. Not a big deal with a dozen but with 13 dozen, it did add up. Given them half an hour to open up a bit out of the fridge.
A trick I learnt is if you don’t want to spend all the event shucking oysters. Shuck, them and tip the oyster and the juices into a container. Pop in the fridge and then just pop some oysters and collected juice back into the shell. It avoid oysters sitting around drying out on an open shell and as an added bonus, grit settles to the bottom.
The jelly is just dry sparkling white with gelatine and the other mix up a virgin mary. 3 titanium leaves of gelatine per 500ml of each. No need to heat the wine or the virgin mary but do soak the leaves for a few minutes in cold water. Then put them in a small amount of hot water to dissolve before stirring through, allowing to set and cutting into small cubes.
Marron with Shaved Fennel, Chilli and Garlic
Marron, if you, don’t know, are freshwater crustaceans about 8 inches long, tip to tail. They have claws on the ends of their legs and beautiful, sweet, delicate flesh. Pemberton is famous for them. These were freshly caught, purged, cooked and shelled and delivered to me. Sweet.
These were a worry because if you cook something that’s a local specialty, you can only really fuck it up. So a light touch. A dozen or so marron. A big mason jar with olive oil. A few crushed cloves of garlic. A red chilli and half a finely shaved fennel bulb. Just doled it out to smaller jars at the wedding.
Enormously popular and well received – may have been out of towners but chalking it up as a win.
Cherry Tomatoes stuffed with White Anchovies
Nothing graceful about making these. Hull and stuff with a quarter to a half of a white anchovy. Coat in some of the white anchovy marinade. Interesting because they look like the peppers stuffed with goats cheese but aren’t so ahhh surprise!
Vodka, vermouth as per usual. Soak whole green olives for a few hour. Drain and keep marinade and serve olives. Shake marinade with ice and serve to yourself with twist of lemon.
Gougere with Smoked Tomato Sauce
Recipe from the very good cookbook, Mr Wilkison’s Favourite Vegetables, from the very genuinely talented and funny chef Matt Wilkinson of Pope Joan, Melbourne fame. Buy it.
Gougeres are like savoury cheesey profiteroles. The fantastic thing about them is that they freeze very well. Bake, pop on a tray with greaseproof paper and covered with clingfilm, and then once they’re frozen, pop them in a zip lock bag. When you’re ready, just put them frozen on a tray, eggwash them, sprinkle some parmesan and cook until golden in a 180C oven.
I smoked the tomatoes by soaking hickory chips and putting it at the bottom of a wok. Place a rack above the chips, place the tomatoes on the rack and cover with foil. Then heat outside on a portable burner. The tomatoes will only lightly cook but the smoke will pervade.
They’re pronounced goo zhair but will inevitable be referred to ‘cheesy puff things’
And don’t overfill your pastry bag. Ever
Celery dunked in Virgin Mary
Yeah , yeah, crudites. But they’re crunchy, clean the mouth and palate and look lovely piled in a glass with a few leaves and the green offset with the bloody mary red. I think 3 sticks were eaten. Tsk.
I bought these, aren’t I clever?
Easy and bulky carbs for the hungry. Make popcorn. Toss with truffle salt and place in large mason jar. Great and just a hint of truffles. Got through two jars.