Imagine this: you and your friends are on a small, secluded tropical island in the beautiful Whitsundays, surrounded by clear turquoise waters. The water is teeming with tropical fish and you’re standing barefoot on a white sandy spit. Then your own private chef announces that your sumptuous tropical feast is ready. This actually happened recently for a small group of very lucky boaties.
I’m speaking about an event I co-hosted with Queensland Yacht Charters in late May on a pristine beach on the western side of Whitsunday Island. Sub-tropical temperatures on the day hovered around 25 degrees, accompanied by a calm breeze that blew gently through the yellow marquee, rows of flaming torches, draped tables and a scattering of colourful deck chairs.
As the head chef for the event, I opted to use as much local produce as I could source, and the quality of the ingredients was sensational. Whitsunday Provisioning was able to supply local ‘fresh out of the water’ coral trout, stunning fruits, herbs, vegetables and free-range Conway pork.
The menu consisted of various salads, including Moroccan rocket with pomegranate and orange, Asian minted greens and spicy Gado Gado. Grilled on the barbeque were amazing local prawns with soy and lime, Thai Kai Yang (a delicious fragrant grilled chicken), red braised baby pork belly, coral trout with a ginger salsa and Tasmanian eye fillet with herbed onions. Desserts consisted of lemon curd tarts with Cointreau tropical fruits, for those who had the inclination.
To assist Club Marine readers to conjure up their own ‘Feast on the Beach’, I have included the recipes for some of the dishes I prepared on that warm evening in the Whitsundays.
All you need now is the beach …
Quick Panaeng prawns with soy, ginger and lime
The Panaeng curry paste originally comes from Malay cuisine (the central region of Thailand) and is quite spicy. The prawns are stir fried with olive oil and ginger, then cooked with the curry paste. Then it’s finished with coriander and a splash of lite soy and fish sauce. Ideally, it should be presented with an Asian-flavoured green salad.
Preparation time: 5 minutes
Place a wok on to heat and add the olive oil and ginger. Stir fry gently for 30 seconds, turn up the heat then add in the prawns.
When almost cooked, add the Panaeng curry paste and combine well. When fully cooked, combine in the light soy, fish sauce and the lime zest and juice. Turn off the heat and toss in the coriander.
To make the Asian dressing, combine the lime juice, olive oil, sesame oil and the salt. Present with the lettuce greens tossed with the Asian dressing.
Red braised pork belly
This deceptively simple dish is a favourite of the family and they all get excited when they smell its bouquet. Use a good quality young pork belly and cook it nice and slowly until it’s succulent and glossy. A plain chilli rice works beautifully with the glossy rich pork
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cut the pork into six portions and plunge into boiling water. Boil rapidly for two minutes, then strain and rinse well.
Add the olive oil to a heavy-based pot and fry the ginger and green onions until fragrant. Add in all the other ingredients with the pork and cover with water. Bring to a boil, turn down to a very low simmer, cover and cook for two-and-a-half hours.
Remove the pork belly portions carefully and strain the liquid. Boil until reduced and slightly syrupy. Add in the pork pieces and reduce a little more until glossy. Serve with steamed chilli rice and bok choy.
Indonesian Gado Gado platter
This is really a meal on its own. Vegetarians and carnivores alike will love the delicious combination of cooked and raw vegetables, boiled eggs and the spicy peanut sauce.
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Blanch the trimmed beans by dropping them into boiling water for 30 seconds. Remove and plunge into ice water and strain when cold. Do the same to the cabbage and broccolini.
To make the sauce, combine all the ingredients (except the lemon juice and salt) and simmer for 10 minutes. Season with the lemon juice and salt and serve warm. If the mixture is too thick, thin down with a little water.
Place all the Gado Gado ingredients onto a large platter. Place the dressing into a side dish and present at room temperature.
Grilled beef fillets with caramelised onions
Remove the steaks from the refrigerator at least 30 minutes before barbequing. Cook the onions slowly for a long time until they are almost see-through, dark and glossy. The veal glaze takes a long time to produce, but it’s absolutely lush and stores in the freezer for up to three months.
Use some of the olive oil to season the bones and place them on a tray in a hot oven to brown. In a large saucepan, add the remainder of the olive oil and heat. Smash the garlic cluster and fry until golden and fragrant. Add in the carrots, onions and celery, and then fry until golden brown. Add in the tomato paste and stir well while cooking for three minutes. Add in the red wine and stir to dissolve all the sediments in the bottom of the pan.
Place the brown bones in and top with the water. Add the bay leaves and peppercorns, bring to a boil and skim away the scum.
Simmer very gently for 18 hours, skimming and topping up with water as required. Strain into a saucepan and boil until reduced to a shiny rich glaze.
Heat the olive oil in a heavy saucepan and add the sliced onions. Cook, stirring constantly until golden brown, then add the sugar and a little more oil if required. Continue cooking until dark and glossy and season to taste.
Grilled beef fillets
Season the steaks with olive oil, salt and pepper. Preheat a barbeque flame grill. Grill for three minutes, then turn 90° to form grill marks. Cook for three more minutes then turn over and cook to your desired rareness. Rest in a warm place for five minutes. Present with the rocket, onions and veal jus.
Kai Yang (grilled Thai chicken)
This is a very tasty combination that can be served as part of a cocktail party, a large banquet, or as a main on its own. The chicken thigh fillets work the best as they are moist and hold the strong, spicy flavours well.
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Remove all the skin and fat from the chicken thigh fillets and cut each into three even pieces. Combine all the ingredients together well and marinade the chicken pieces for at least an hour.
Skewer with the soaked bamboo sticks and barbeque on a hot grill until fully cooked. Present on coriander-flavoured rice stick noodles.
Barbequed coral trout with mushroom salsa
These coral reef fish have white, firm textured flesh with a deliciously sweet flavour. The salsa has an Asian flavour with shitake mushrooms adding contrast to the diced tomato.
Preparation time: 20 minutes
For the salsa
Soak the dried shitake mushrooms in boiling water for 20 minutes. Drain, remove and discard the stems and chop the mushroom flesh into 1cm dice.
Combine together the olive oil, lime zest, salt and pepper. Brush this mixture all over the fish portions and hold until required. Heat a grill pan and add the fish portions, cooking the skin-side first. When it’s golden and crispy, turn and finish the other side.
Combine the salsa ingredients well and present around the fish portions.
Lemon curd pastry tart
Sweet crust “3-2-1” pastry is easy to make, and with its tangy lemon curd filling, it’s delicious. The lemon curd is easy to make, but just make sure that you do not overheat the mix when adding in the butter cubes.
For the lemon curd
Combine together in a deep bowl the egg yolks, caster sugar and lemon zest. Place above a saucepan of simmering water and whisk until white. Add the lemon juice and blend in well. Slowly whisk in the butter, a piece at a time, until mixture is thickened.
Remove from the heat and cool. Do not let the mixture boil.
Sweet crust pastry (I call this “3-2-1”)
Cream together the sugar and butter, mix in the plain flour and knead until all combined.
Once well mixed and combined, wrap in plastic and chill for one hour. Line a lightly buttered, round loose-bottom flan tin with the pastry and bake until just cooked and slightly golden.
Spoon in the lemon curd and spread to level out. Chill and cut into portions using a wet knife. Lightly dust with icing sugar and pipe a little extra lemon curd onto each portion.