Good Food These are not normal times. The coronavirus is tearing its way through the nation’s health system, economy and workplaces and many Australians have been forced into home isolation. A heartbreaking number of restaurants have shuttered or turned to takeaway menus only, and staples such as pasta, meat, tinned tomatoes, and milk are increasingly scarce commodities.
Extraordinary times don’t have to mean substandard food, however. Certainly, spag bol ingredients and frozen yum cha might be difficult to source at supermarkets, but independent grocers, butchers and bakers still have plenty of produce waiting to be turned into cracking meals. And if you don’t feel like cooking, but can’t leave the house, Australia’s restaurants are at your service with delivery menus (see Sydney and Melbourne lists below) featuring rib-eyes, fried chicken ramen, whole roasted fish and all manner of delicious things for eating at the family table or in front of the telly.
Cooking without borders
Now is not the time to slavishly follow recipes, but to be flexible, agile and spontaneous (unless you’re baking a cake – cakes don’t like spontaneity). Bust those rules. Shower grated parmesan over tuna pasta and to hell with the purists who say no cheese with seafood. Make a knockout pasta dish by using up all the leftover packet ends in the pantry in one dish – all the long, short, curly, bobbly ones; the butterflies and the corkscrews. Do the same with nearly-finished packs of dried beans and chickpeas – soak them all overnight and turn into a brilliant melting pot of soup.
Bake yourself sane
In times of struggle, there’s nothing quite so soothing as kneading a soft, amorphous lump of oily dough. Even if your baking skills leave a bit to be desired, focaccia is extremely forgiving. All you need is a sachet of yeast, 420 grams of flour, salt, a little over a cup of lukewarm water, a third of a cup of olive oil and a generous amount of patience.
In a bowl, combine the yeast with water, and let stand for a minute. Add the flour, oil and a decent pinch of salt. Knead the mixture for about 10 minutes (if you have a standing mixer, this part will be significantly easier) then let stand for around an hour.
Put a lid on it
Mum once told me, if you want to make a man happy, put pastry on it and call it a “pie”. Mince or chicken are the obvious crowd-pleasers, but you can also get away with whatever’s lurking in the crisper draw, folding it into bechamel, laying a sheet of instant puff over it, and hey ho, it’s a pie, guys!
Make friends with fish
Although sustainably sourced seafood is easy to find at most retailers, many Australians don’t feel confident cooking a whole flathead like they might, say, a leg of lamb or vacuum-packed chicken thighs. For this reason, independent fishmongers and supermarket seafood sections are often well-stocked when the meat aisles are bare, especially in the current climate.
First-time fish cooks should look for fillets of whiting, swordfish, dory (john or king), tuna, goldband snapper, barramundi, orange roughy and ling, which are readily available and forgiving to the frypan or grill or both. Lemon, butter and herbs are also your friends here. For anyone who really wants to increase their seafood skills over the next few weeks, the Australian Fish and Seafood Cookbook published by Murdoch Books is an excellent, no-fuss resource.