I’ve developed this recipe for Rick Stein’s Australian Food Blogger competition, which is calling for an ultimate Australian recipe – it might be a classic Australian dish, a family favourite, or your own interpretation of Australian cooking.
But when I thought about what an ultimate Australian recipe might be I found myself challenged. What IS Australian food exactly? We have so many food influences from so many parts of the world – predominantly European and Asian but increasingly Middle Eastern – and then there is our own Indigenous food and ingredients. Clearly, it is impossible to distill Australian food down to one dish.
I was nowhere. Should I go classic “Aussie” favourite – pavlova, roast lamb, spaghetti bolognaise, prawns..? Maybe. But I couldn’t think of a reason why any of these meant more to me than anything else.
What about my own cooking? Of all the food that I cook regularly, nothing really jumped out as being quintessentially Australian. Probably because it all is.
So I thought I would find inspiration in food memories, and I turned my mind to thinking about the best meals I’ve had in Australia, and what they’ve meant to me. I’ve enjoyed many memorable meals out over the years but I’m not about to attempt copying the efforts of top chefs and restaurants. It’s just not my style.
I kept on thinking about it, and out of the blue, a memory came to me of a snapper pie that I ate at the pub on Cottesloe Beach, in Perth, about 9 years ago. The thought of that pie instantly transported me back to that beachfront in winter, and made me feel warm inside. A creamy, but not too creamy, fresh fish filling, topped with a pillow of puff pastry. I still remember the feeling of comfort from the smell that escaped when I broke the pastry seal. Maybe it was the fact that I was looking out over one of the country’s most beautiful beaches while I ate it, but as soon as I thought of that pie, I wanted to have it again. I don’t really know why it’s taken me so long to make this pie, and even though I’ve only made it once now, it’s a classic in my kitchen.
This competition has also prompted me to think about using native ingredients more, and I’ve always wanted to use lemon myrtle in my cooking. I originally thought I’d put the lemon myrtle in the sauce, but then I thought the strong flavour might overpower the delicate sauce. The pastry on the other hand, is robust enough to stand up to the aromatic citrus punch that lemon myrtle packs.
Now I have changed the main ingredient of this pie from the one I so dreamily devoured on Cottesloe Beach. As you might already know I’m quite passionate about choosing sustainable fish, and snapper, which is mostly bred in sea cage aquaculture, is on the unsustainable list. Wild caught snapper is considered a better choice, but it is still heavily overfished.
So I settled on that great Aussie sustainable fish favourite – flathead. Whiting would be another great choice. I chose Bintje potatoes – they’re in season, and being a waxy variety I thought they would hold their shape in the pie. They did, beautifully. They also take on a lovely creamy quality in this dish, and are the perfect partner for the fish.
The sauce is a classic fish pie white sauce, but I have added a tang with a little dijon mustard, and yoghurt instead of cream. Shaved fennel, cooked until soft, rounds out all these flavours beautifully.
This pie to me is the perfect combination of flavours and textures – the crispy, flaky puff pastry topping, a creamy tangy and fresh seafood flavoured sauce, and the surprise subtle hit of aromatic lemon myrtle in the pastry. Absolutely Australian and 100% satisfying.
For the pastry: (this made enough pastry to line an oval, 25 cm long and 16 cm wide pie dish)
- 1 cup plain flour
- 75 grams cold diced butter
- 1/2 teaspoon lemon myrtle (from delis, specialty food stores)
- 1 egg yolk
- 1/4 cup iced cold water
- pinch salt
- ground white pepper
For the sauce:
- 700 grams flathead fillets, cut into small cubes (use other sustainable white fish fillet such as whiting, mullet, bream, trevally – see http://www.marineconservation.org.au for more info)
- 2 bintje potatoes (use kipfler if you can’t find them), peeled, diced into 5cm cubes, and boiled until soft
- 1 leek, washed, trimmed and sliced
- 1 small fennel bulb, finely sliced
- 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
- extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1/4 cup plain flour
- 150 ml milk mixed with 150 ml water
- 2 tablespoons plain Greek or other thick yoghurt
- 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
- handful of grated cheddar cheese
- handful of chopped parsley
- 2 sheets frozen puff pastry
Preheat oven to 180 c
Make the pastry: Put the flour, butter, egg yolk, lemon myrtle, salt and pepper in a food processor, and pulse until sandy. Slowly drizzle the water in and process until a ball forms. Remove, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for half an hour.
(While you’re waiting for the pastry to set, start preparing the ingredients for the sauce)
Roll the pastry out on a clean floured workbench and when it’s even and sufficiently large to cover the dish, lift and place carefully over the dish. Press into the dish, trim and patch up any gaps.
Prick with a fork, cover with foil and spread pastry weights or dry goods such as rice or beans to weight the pastry down. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove foil and weights. Set aside.
Make the sauce:
Saute the leeks in some olive oil until soft, add the fennel and garlic, and saute for another few minutes until the fennel is soft. Add the butter and flour and stir until the flour coats the ingredients. Lower the heat, and slowly add the milk/water, stirring quickly, until you have a thick sauce. Add the mustard, yoghurt, cheese and parsley, and mix. Add the fish and potatoes, and simmer gently until the fish is just cooked.
Pour the mixture into the pie dish, spreading out evenly. Top with puff pastry sheets (they will need 5 minutes out of the freezer before using) and trim. Press the edges into the side of the pie dish.
Bake for 40 minutes, checking around half an hour as you might need to turn the dish around to ensure even browning.
Serve with a green salad, or some steamed green vegetables, and a glass of riesling 🙂