This time last year, I had the pleasure of being involved in the Symposium of Australian Gastronomy. It’s a two-yearly event that brings food practitioners and food academics into the same room – a fascinating collision of those who work with food and those who theorise about it. The subject of the 2016 symposium in Melbourne was “Utopian Appetites”, a reference to the 500th anniversary of the publication of Thomas More’s Utopia.
One of my tasks – and a great honour it was – was to devise and cook the final banquet. It was decided that Thomas More wasn’t the best utopian on which to base a banquet, the food of the Tudor court a little far-fetched to replicate in the settings available. The wonderful Charles Fourier was proffered as a suitable alternative.
Fourier was an 18th-century utopian socialist whose ideas seemed less driven by the wars and conquests that he lived through than by the industrial revolution that was gaining speed and changing the face of social classes and wealth and labour distribution. Fourier detested the concept of the political economists and the utilitarians of the era. Instead, he had a fanciful notion that human nature and passions held the key to an ordered and productive society. Fourier, while being “way out there”, had some incredibly astute notions. Particularly when it came to feminism. He believed that any task should be given to the person most competent, regardless of their gender. And I particularly liked his thinking that young children should be encouraged to work. Their native busyness and curiosity could be harnessed to benefit the community. Fourier’s concepts, based on non-repressive social cohesion and an Eden of joyous labour, found little traction, though there are little glimmers of influence when compared to Marx and Engels.
However, it was some of Fourier’s wilder notions that created the fodder for the menu for the banquet. In my research I found lovely stories about old hens, his love of a funny little cake called a mirliton, and his much discussed notion to re-engineer the Earth’s climate in order to change the sea from an unpalatable brine to lemonade.
And hence this appetiser or entree of cured kingfish. Salt and sugar in the cure, sprinkling a little on the fish afterwards to give a little crunch, the coldness of the fish’s flesh, the slight hint of lemon and a little garnish of mint. Pure, simple and redolent of a sea of lemonade.
Serves 8 as an appetiser or 6 as an entree
– ½ cup (110g) sea salt flakes
– ½ cup (110g) castor sugar
– 1 lemon zested
– 500g skinless sashimi-grade kingfish fillet
– 6 large mint leaves
Combine the salt, sugar and lemon zest in a bowl. Slice the kingfish into three-millimetre slices on a slight diagonal. Sprinkle the cure mix onto an impervious plate, then place the fish slices in a single layer onto the cure. Sprinkle the cure liberally on top. Cover and chill for three to four hours.
Rinse and pat dry the cured fish and arrange on a plate. Julienne the mint and scatter on top, then sprinkle with a tiny bit of cure to give a little crunch.
If you want to turn it into an entree, a handful of salad leaves and a fine salad of julienned apple and fennel also work very well with the cured fish.
2017 Curly Flat pinot gris, Macedon Ranges, Victoria ($32) – Peter Watt, sommelier, du Fermier.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Nov 25, 2017 as "Notions of heaven".
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