The occasion was really to celebrate the 19th century fish service; 12 plates, a long platter and a sauce boat. This has been sitting in a glass-fronted cabinet in a room of Barbie’s rambling house, set in possibly Hobart’s best garden.
We were there for a four-day break. I cooked a simple dinner, trying to put as little pressure as possible on the kitchen. Fortunately, Tasmania has a thriving food scene. We started with half capsicums stuffed with cherry tomatoes of many colours, thyme sprigs and feta, roasted with local olive oil.
Next was the pièce de résistence, a whole Blue-Eye Trevalla pre-ordered from the local fishery. This went with creamy pink-eye potatoes and sauce vierge. Apart from the fish plates themselves, the hit of the night was the sauce. (See below.)
We finished with an extravagant Pavlova and huge, perfumed strawberries. The evening was meant to be easy so I bought the Pavlova base. (There I’ve said it!) With tons of cream on top, deep red, sliced strawberries and passion-fruit pulp, no one could believe that I’d bought the base. I should have kept quiet.
There are many versions on the net (Jamie Oliver, Marco Pierre White, Gordon Ramsay, Michael Guérard, even the Irish Times) but this is what I did, because the herb garden held an embarrassment of riches. The sauce will turn fish, scallops, chicken, beef fillet, cauliflower, haloumi, anything into a masterpiece.
For eight people
(Quantities of ingredients are very “flexible”. Chop, then measure.)
150 ml EV olive oil
3- 4 ripe tomatoes, in tiny dice (Keep juice & seeds)
1/3 cup finely chopped shallots or red onion
2 tbsp rinsed small capers
½ cup chopped herbs
(I used tarragon, marjoram, chives. I could have also used basil or parsley – all together or singly.)
Mix all together and check if you’d like seasoning – salt or even a splash of sweet vinegar (I won’t call it balsamic) or brown sugar (depending on the tomatoes). It will sit patiently until you need it.
The fish service is unmarked but probably French, 19thC. It is wonderfully vulgar with an acid green edge, pink orchid-like flowers and realist underwater scenes of different fish, seaweed and anemones. The sauceboat is very OTT. Very petit bourgeois. We all adored it and I’m sure the service was happy to have come out of seclusion for the evening.
The Calm Before The Fish