On a recent trip to Sydney, I was asked which restaurant I would like to go to for dinner. I didn’t hesitate. It had to be Tetsuya’s. Tetsuya Wakuda is widely considered Australia’s finest and most original chef.
Arriving in Australia in 1982, with nothing more than a small suitcase and a love of food, Tetsuya worked his way up from kitchen hand to master chef. Combining a Japanese philosophy of natural flavours, the freshest Australian produce and traditional French cooking techniques, Tetsuya creates imaginative dishes unparalleled anywhere in the world. He has achieved many awards, which have deservedly secured him a place in Sydney’s hall of culinary fame .
Fancy, minus the fuss
Tetsuya creates imaginative dishes unparalleled anywhere in the world
What I didn’t realise is that I hadn’t eaten Tetsuya Wakuda’s food since he was in a nondescript suburb of Sydney known as Rozelle almost 20 years ago. We visited it a few times between 1989 and 1999. Almost impossible to find..it was on the first floor with no signage. Once inside of course, his signature 10-course tasting menu of French meets Japanese, would floor us. To me, this is what “fine dining’ is all about. It is not about fuss, frills and fancy presentation. Outside the great Michelin restaurants of France, his fantastic blend of skill, artistry and taste wins me over. Tetsuya Wakuda’s attention to detail is consistent and beyond sublime. If anyone succeeds in pulling off “fusion” cuisine, he does.
Since 2000, the restaurant is in a much larger, swanky address in central Sydney where despite its 140 seating capacity on two floors, it is still difficult to get a reservation. This must be some record – almost 30 years of serving guests only a tasting menu where the signature dishes remain and the rest swivel with the seasons. The menu always includes several seafood dishes since that is what he loves to cook most – plump Pacific oysters usually with ginger and rice vinegar vinaigrette, steamed spanner crab with sea urchin and smoked herring caviar, avruga, Murray cod and Abalone. There is almost always a rendition of Duck, cooked quite pink French style and one red meat dish like the miso glazed melt in the mouth Wagyu short ribs and at least a couple of light, exquisite desserts.
But I am here like an old hippie revisiting Woodstock, to try the Confit of Ocean Trout, a dish I haven’t had in nearly 20 years ever since Rozelle days. Tetsuya was the first chef to ‘discover’ this fish. The dish used to be made with Tasmanian salmon earlier but he was given ocean trout in between seasons and found it more complex and rich. I was in Tasmania a few years ago and can honestly say I have never seen such clear and pure sea water. The story of the ocean trout is an interesting one.
The fish are raised in fresh water and after a year moved to Macquarie Harbour in Tasmania where the waters are brackish and the currents strong. Being brackish, the water is dark and the fish runs little risk of sunburn. The waters also mean the fish remains free of gill disease. Over the years, the ocean trout has undergone every cooking technique in the restaurant. The ‘confit’ of the trout describes slow cooking in olive oil. The one constant is the kelp, a favourite ingredient he likes to use in place of salt. This is Tetsuya’s version for home cooks. If you can’t get hold of ocean trout, salmon is a worthy replacement.
Confit of Petuna Ocean Trout with Fennel Salad
Confit of Petuna ocean trout with fennel salad
350g ocean trout, filleted
100ml grapeseed oil
80ml olive oil
½ tbsp ground coriander
½ tsp white pepper
10 whole leaves basil
3 stalks thyme
¼ tsp finely chopped garlic
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
2 small carrots, finely chopped
3 tbsp chopped chives
4 tbsp konbu, finely chopped
½ tsp sea salt
2 tbsp ocean trout caviar
¼ bulb fennel, shaved
1 tsp lemon juice
Salt and pepper
½ tsp lemon scented oil
Leaves from ¼ bunch Italian parsley
100 ml olive oil or grapeseed oil
½ tbsp salted capers, rinsed and drained
Skin the ocean trout and cut crosswise into 70-80 g (2½ oz) pieces – they should weigh no more than 100 g (3½ oz). In a little tray, immerse the ocean trout in grapeseed oil and olive oil with the coriander, pepper, basil, thyme and garlic. Cover and allow to marinate for a few hours in the fridge. If you do not want to use too much oil, paint the surface of the fish with oil and press on the herbs.
To cook the fish, first preheat the oven to absolutely lowest setting possible. Take the fish out of the oil and allow to come to room temperature. Chop the celery and carrots and place on the base of a baking tray. Put the ocean trout on top and place in the oven. Cook with the door open so that the fish cooks gently. Paint the surface every few minutes with the marinade.
Depending on the size and thickness of the fish, cooking takes seven to eight minutes (no more than 10 minutes). When you touch the end part, your finger should just go through the flesh.The flesh should not have changed colour at all, but remain a brilliant orangey-red and feel lukewarm to the touch.
Remove the fish from the oven and allow to cool down immediately. Lift out of the tray and allow to come to room temperature.
To make the parsley oil, puree the parsley with the olive oil in a blender. Add the capers and blend.
To make the fennel salad, finely slice the fennel on a mandolin. Toss with the lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste and some lemon-scented oil or lemon zest.
Sprinkle the top of the fish with finely-chopped chives, konbu and a little sea salt.
To serve, place some fennel salad on the base of the plate. Put the ocean trout on top and drizzle a little parsley oil all around. Dot the ocean trout caviar at regular intervals and serve.
(Culinary expert and explorer Karen Anand has been writing extensively on the subject of food and wine for 30 years. Apart from having her own brand of gourmet food products, she has anchored top rated TV shows, run a successful chain of food stores, founded the hugely successful Farmers Markets, and worked as restaurant consultant for international projects, among other things. Her latest passion is food tours, a totally curated experience which Karen herself accompanies, the first of which was to Italy.)
From HT Brunch, November 4, 2018
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First Published: Nov 03, 2018 23:55 IST