recipe

Credit: EARL CARTER

Refreshing cucumber cocktail and whipped cod roe dip

There’s a very particular kind of entertaining structured around not having people stay for too long. You want to be generous, everything should be delicious, but it should never hint at dinner. It’s the kind of thing you do when you have the neighbours over before Christmas. Of course, not my neighbours, whom I love.

When I was setting up the pub, I asked a lot of people what they would expect to eat in a pub. Nine out of 10 people said dips. It’s weird, but it’s usually about not having dinner. Some people order dips as an entree but that’s a uniquely Australian phenomenon.

Dips should never be bought – especially not vegetable-based dips. They taste of plastic and are a bit fridgey. Fridgey is a great expression, actually. We use it in the restaurant when something has been left in the fridge and the flavours have become muted. The peak of awfulness of bought dips is found in beetroot, though, with its inexplicable nut combinations. Avoid at all costs.

But fresh dips can be fantastic: wood-grilled eggplant, whipped with tahini; or a good sheep or goat’s milk yoghurt that has been hung in cheesecloth for 12 hours and seasoned with salt and olive oil and even a little garlic.

Taramasalata is great at whetting the appetite. It has quite an elusive flavour, that can be as strong or as subtle as you wish by increasing the amount of roe. The texture is also terrific: firm and creamy and great at holding on to bread or crudités. The roe we use is not dyed, it’s a kind of beige, and when it’s whipped it has a lovely creamy colour. 

I am trying to avoid bowls of olives at the moment – I’m sick of olives – but pickles are great to serve when people drop over. I’ve been making a kind of fresh pickle recently, which is great. Cut a large cucumber and bulb of fennel into batons, season with a generous pinch of salt and sugar and leave to drain for an hour. Once there is water gathering in the bottom of the bowl, pat the batons dry and dress with a few tablespoons of good quality white wine vinegar. Serve immediately.

I don’t really serve mixed drinks at home, but in the festive season it’s nice to serve a cocktail. I like the ritual and the obvious effort that goes into it. This cocktail has come out of my latest lame attempt at being healthy. I’ve purchased a cold-press juicer, through which I have managed to put every conceivable vegetable and herb. It’s been such a success that we now use it in the restaurant to press herbs to dress salads, which is delicious. In the restaurant, we press basil and sorrel and mix the juice with a little olive oil to dress tomatoes. And it’s fantastic.

Here, I’ve added gin to the health regimen. That’s what I like about cocktails, and to a lesser extent health regimens: it’s easy to tweak them and make them your own. Except for a negroni. That should never change.

Cucumber cocktail

Cucumber juice is now available at many health food stores around town. Alternatively, pulse a diced cucumber in a food processor, strain well and use this juice.

Serves 1

- 30ml Melbourne Gin Company gin 

- 60ml cucumber juice (or mixed green leaf and cucumber juice)

- 30ml fresh apple juice 

- 1 tsp lemon juice

- 10ml elderflower syrup

Pour all the ingredients into a cocktail shaker half-filled with ice, and shake to mix.

Strain into a glass filled with fresh ice.

Whipped cod roe 

Serves 6

- 100g bread, cubed and soaked in water (no crust)

- ¼ red onion, roughly chopped

- 1 garlic clove

- 60g salted cod roe paste 

- 2 tbsp lemon juice

- 5 tbsp water

- 650ml blended olive and vegetable oil

Squeeze the excess water from the bread.

In a blender, pulverise the bread first, then add the garlic, onion, cod roe, lemon juice and water. Stop occasionally and scrape down the sides of the blender to make sure everything is combined. 

With the blender running, slowly add the oil to the mixture. Try to get 300 to 350 millilitres incorporated before the mixture becomes too thick to blend properly.

At this point, scrape the mixture into a bowl and whisk in the remaining oil by hand. 

If the dip seems too thick, you can whisk a little water into it, one tablespoon at a time.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Dec 13, 2014 as "The entertainers". Subscribe here.

Andrew McConnell
is the executive chef and co-owner of Cutler & Co and Cumulus Inc.