Burt Wolf's Table: Down Under, Australia - #219

BURT WOLF:  Australia ... it's called the land “down under” because it sits in the southern half of the globe.  But when it comes to eating and drinking, it's totally on top.  Local chefs are producing some great food, the country has some of the world's leading wineries, and it looks like everybody is rediscovering their 30,000-year-old past and what it can teach us about good food.  So join me down under in Australia, at Burt Wolf's Table.

As you head north from the bottom of the world, one of the first continents that you come to is Australia, which is why it's often referred to as "down under."  Well, it may be down under geographically, but when it comes to food, it's right on top.  Because Australia is so far away from every place else on the planet, it had to become self-sufficient in terms of food production.  And because Australia is so far away from every place else on the planet, the food that it produces comes from a relatively unpolluted environment.

They have fish farms in Tasmania, which is a devil of a place to get to.  It's actually an island between the continent of Australia and Antarctica.  The deep, cold waters around it produce some of the finest fish in the world.  But Australians also come up with great prawns, which North Americans call shrimp.  There is wonderful salmon, lobster, orange roughy, and just about every other type of seafood you could possibly want -- over 3,000 different varieties.  They produce excellent lamb, which is delivered fresh to North America within four days of processing.  They developed the Granny Smith apple.  They even have an olive-oil industry.  And during the 1980s, their wine producers won many of the world's most important competitions, and began to develop a major overseas market for their vintages.

Because Australia has a land mass about as large as the United States, with as varied a climate, you'll find production areas that range from subtropical banana plantations to wheat and rye producers in regions that are similar to Canada.

But food in Australia wasn't always what it is today.  The first 150 years were pretty tough going for the settlers.  They often gave the recipe for galah soup as typical of the Australian kitchen.  Galah is a local bird, and the recipe goes like this:  take a galah and a stone and put them in a large pot; cover them with water; bring the water to a boil, and continue boiling until the stone is tender; then throw out the galah and eat the stone.

Because the English colonization of Australia began only a little over 200 years ago, and the history of photography is 150 years old, much of the story of Australia has been documented in photographs.  The best place to see the photographic chronicle is the picture collection at the State Library of New South Wales, right in the heart of Sydney.  Alan Davies is the curator of photographs, and he's put together a selection that does a great job of showing us what life was like in the early days of colonial eating and drinking.

ALAN DAVIES:  And this is my favorite photograph of a late 1890s family having dinner together.  You can see the head of the family here, typical Victorian male, carving the roast.  The handmade bread.

WOLF:  Judging from the shape of the base of the bread, it looks like it was cooked in a frying pan.

DAVIES:  Could have been.  It's an extraordinary photograph, full of wonderful detail.  I find it rather amusing, of course, because after this photograph was taken, with a great magnesium flash, the whole family would have been covered with white magnesium powder, so they would have been choking and coughing after this photograph was made.  But it's an extraordinary image.

This photograph shows us what it was like in the kitchen.  Here we have Mrs. Donohue, a family cook, and here you can see her kitchen has a bare floor.

WOLF:  The walls are actually made out of some kind of cloth, so the air can go in and out.

DAVIES:  That's right, it's Haitian, a very loose-weave cloth.  See how she's gone to great trouble to sort of cut out a newspaper valence for the shelves here.  There's just so many English things in this photograph.

Here we have a great photograph of the Dick brothers in Kempsey.  They had found a glut of lobsters, wonderful-size lobsters, in Port McQuarrie.  They took them up to inland, 50 kilometers into Kempsey, to sell these and make a profit.  Of course, no one knew what they were.  (WOLF LAUGHS)  So they had to sort of trudge home empty-handed; they had to bury the lobsters on the way back, cause they'd gone off in the summer sun.  Extraordinary, isn't it?  Wouldn't we just love to have those lobsters today?

WOLF:  It was only a wooden shed and a single biplane that carried farmers and grazers around the Australian outback.  They called it the Queensland And Northern Territory Aerial Services.  And if you take the first letter of each of those words, you will end up with the name Qantas.  Today it's the national airline of Australia, and the oldest airline in the English-speaking world.

Now, when most international airlines got started, the distance between nations was not a significant factor in their operations; the plane crossed a border, and suddenly you were an international flight.  France to Germany, Italy to Switzerland, USA to Canada ... no big deal.  But that is not the case for Australia.  From the very beginning of their airline industry, Australians needed to be able to fly for hundreds of miles over the Pacific Ocean before they constituted an international flight.  As a result, Qantas pilots are the ultimate long-distance pilots in the business.

(AIRPLANE RADIO VOICES)  [Editor’s note:  I can’t make a lot of this out, but it isn’t important -- if you’re dubbing, you can make something up.]

PILOT:  Qantas 2, we’re established on final runway one-six.

CONTROLLER:  Right, Qantas, descend to one thousand.

PILOT:  Okay, getting ready for the approach.

CONTROLLER:  That's Qantas four-niner, lift seven thousand.

PILOT:  Engage landing flaps.

CONTROLLER:  Tango F-zilla, turn left heading three-six-zero vectoring route...

WOLF:  If you saw the film Rain Man, you may remember that Dustin Hoffman's character refused to fly on any airline but Qantas.  Well, that was because of Qantas's extraordinary safety record.  And Tom Cruise was totally unable to convince him otherwise, which really surprised me, because the women I know tell me that Tom can be quite persuasive.

The original settlers to Australia arrived on what came to be known as the First Fleet.  Most folks coming to Australia today still arrive on the Fleet, but these days it's the Qantas fleet.

All of that actually took place in the Qantas flight simulator.  And in the same way that computers can be used to simulate flight, different herbs and spices can be use to simulate the taste of salt. 

Cheong Tse is the executive chef at Qantas.  His extensive knowledge of herbs and spices has given him the ability to produce intensive flavors without using salt.  A perfect example is this dish of vegetable soup, accompanied by sauteed Australian prawns.

A little vegetable oil goes into a saucepan.  As soon as it's hot, in go some sliced carrots, peas, tomato, and zucchini.  That cooks for about five minutes; then in goes some chicken broth.  The ratio is two cups of chicken broth for every cup of vegetables that are in the pot.  That simmers for five minutes.  While it's cooking, a frying pan is heated.  A touch of vegetable oil goes in; a little sliced garlic, shelled prawns, a little chopped basil, and some lemon juice.

Cheong does an interesting thing:  he takes a wide toothpick and sends it down the center of the prawn, and in that way the prawn will not curl up when it hits the heat of the pan.  It also gives you something to hold onto if you're using it as finger food.

Then, two minutes of cooking and stirring; a few thin strips of asparagus and some slices of red pepper are added.  A few grinds of fresh black pepper; a few flips; a tablespoon of chicken stock; and everything is ready to serve.  The soup goes onto a plate, followed by the Australian prawns and the vegetables.  A low-sodium light meal, all on one plate.

The interaction of the basil, coriander, garlic, lemon juice, and pepper, stimulate many of the same taste buds that are normally stimulated by salt, so you end up with a dish where you don't miss the salt.

Chef Tse has been interested in art since he was a child, and he uses his drawing skills to plan the look of his finished dishes.  Today, the design is for a dish of sauteed chicken breast with a tomato and onion sauce.  He starts by putting a little vegetable oil into a hot saucepan, followed by sliced red onion.  A little stirring and flipping.  A teaspoon of chopped garlic.  Some chopped sun-dried tomatoes.  A few cherry tomatoes.  A twist of pepper.  A little chicken stock, and fifteen minutes of simmering.

While that's cooking, the chicken gets underway.  Chef Tse takes a skinless piece that is the breast and wing, with the bones removed except for one of the wing bones.  That bone is there for looks only, and you can do this dish with a boneless, skinless chicken breast and it'll work fine.  The chicken is cut almost in half and opened up butterfly-style.  A little oil goes onto some plastic wrap and the chicken gets wrapped in it.  Then it's pounded until it's flat, and about the same size as the inside rim of the serving plate.  The plastic wrap comes off, and some seasonings go on:  white pepper, basil, coriander, and black pepper, first on one side, then on the other.

A little vegetable oil is heated in a frying pan.  The chicken goes in and cooks for a minute or so.  Chef Tse checks to make sure that it has developed a good color from the cooking.  Then over it goes, and the second side cooks for about two minutes more, until the chicken is fully cooked.  Then onto a serving plate.

A second frying pan is used to pan-fry some chopped garlic, some pre-cooked green beans, and a few strips of spring onion.  A third pan browns some pre-cooked potatoes.  A few whole cherry tomatoes go into the onion sauce that started this recipe.  The reason for the late arrival is that Chef Tse wants the tomatoes to cook for only a few moments, so they will hold their shape.  The tomato and onion sauce goes onto the chicken; the green beans and spring onions go on next to the onion and tomato sauce; and finally, the potatoes.  Art you can eat -- good thing.


When the First Fleet arrived in Sydney Cove in 1788, the settlers brought with them the first vines to be planted in Australia.  They'd actually weathered the voyage without difficulty, and were planted soon after the fleet came in.  The vines grew rather well in the fertile areas near the coast.

The long hours of warm Australian sun produce excellent grapes, which in turn produce excellent wine.  As a matter of fact, a while back the Australians entered their wines in a European wine-judging competition.  The judges wouldn't judge it.  They tasted the wine and felt it was so good that the Australians must have taken French wine and put it into Australian bottles.  If those judges were still around, they'd probably feel the same way.  Australian wine is top-notch, and one of the reasons for that high quality is the extraordinary dedication of the early Australian wine-makers.

One of the first was Dr. Henry John Lindeman.  Dr. Lindeman had been a medical officer with the British Navy, and emigrated to Australia in the mid-1800s.  He had decided that wine was a great source of happiness to all mankind, and began to produce his own.  My kind of doctor!  These days, Lindeman wines are some of the finest, and they are produced right here in the Hunter Valley just north of Sydney.

The wine-maker at Lindeman's is Patrick Auld.  He's actually the fifth generation of his family to make great wine right here in Australia.

PATRICK AULD:  We make outstanding wine.

WOLF:  And you're very focused on the idea of good fruit.  You don't make yourself crazy about a particular piece of land, the way the French do; you get the best grapes that you can from wherever you can get them.

AULD:  Well, very much so.  What we try and attempt to do is to first get the right country to grow grapes in, and that's done by careful selection; and secondly, the best fruit we can produce makes the best wine we would like to produce, obviously.

WOLF:  You also mark the label with the alcohol content, which affects the flavor of the wine.

AULD:  Yes.  In certain styles of wine, the higher the alcohol content, the better the wine we make.  Now, I don't mean to say you just keep on hoping to add more and more alcohol to get better wine; but alcohol and flavor go together.  And if I can just explain, it all comes from the amount of sugar level that are in the grapes on the vine when we pick them, and what happens is that that flavor of the grape is slowly fermented, along with the sugar, into the wine itself.  And we believe that the more flavor, and the more alcohol, the better.

WOLF:  In 1844, Dr. Christopher Rawson Penfold came out to Australia from London in order to develop a medical practice.  He brought along a few vine cuttings and planted them around his new home.  His medical practice flourished, and so did the vines.  Within a few years, the wines that were produced from those vines became so popular that Dr. Penfold became more interested in healthy grapes than healthy patients.  Today, Penfold's is probably the most famous winery in Australia, and many of its vintages have won the most important international awards.

And unlike many wine-makers, they produce product at a wide range of price points.  Penfold's has bottles that sell for $9 and $90, and that's very much part of the Australian love of democracy:  everyone should get a fair shot at the good stuff.  But one of the most appealing things about Australian wine-makers is that they are not particularly interested in making wine that ends up being stored in cellars and talked about for 20 years before it gets into a glass.  They're much more interested in drinking their wine.  But having said that, and not wishing to offend the late Dr. Penfold, I should point out that his company does produce some great wines that improve with age.

A good wine deserves a good glass.  But if you'd like to buy an all-purpose wine glass that'll do a pretty good job for just about any wine, here's what to look for.  First of all, you want a glass that comes in at the top, a tulip shape; that will concentrate the aroma inside the glass at the tip of your nose -- and what we call flavor is actually 75% smell.  Second, you should only fill a glass halfway, because you need the air inside to build up the aroma.  Since most of our portions are four ounces, you need a glass that will hold eight ounces or more.  Third, you should get a glass that's clear; you want to be able to look inside and appreciate the color of the wine.  And lastly, just before you use the glass, you should rinse it with clean water and dry it out; you don't want any musty smell inside, and you certainly don't want the taste of soap.  And then you are ready to taste something quite extraordinary.

Just to the west of Sydney is the Blue Mountain National Park, and it actually looks quite blue.  The reason for the color are the eucalyptus trees.  Eucalyptus give off a fine haze of oil that lingers in the air; when the sun hits the haze, the reflected light looks blue.  The district got its start about 300 million years ago, when the weight of accumulated sediment began to sink the Sydney area.  The rocks of the Blue Mountains are what remain.  As the lowlands continued to sink, successive layers of rock were exposed.  Some of the rock was softer and weathered more easily.  Wind, rain, and the action of the mountain streams, created the grandeur of the great ridges.

And it was this ridge face that saved the area from development and kept it in its pristine state; there isn't much you can do in a place like this except enjoy the awesome beauty of nature.  There are over a thousand different species of plant life, from heathland shrub to subtropical rainforest, and almost everything in between.  And to have this enormous area for recreation, right on the doorstep of Australia's largest city, is truly a gift from Mother Nature.

The Blue Mountains were an obstacle that prevented access to the west, until the construction of the railroad in the 1860s.  Suddenly they wealthy people of Sydney arrived and began to build country homes.  Perhaps the most beautiful was Lillianfels.  It was constructed as the summer residence of Sydney Chief Justice Sir Frederick Darley, and named after his daughter Lillian.  Today it's a graceful and elegant guest house.


The original residence area has been restored as the setting for Darley's Restaurant.  Chef Ralph Potter presides over the kitchen, and today he's preparing a plum pudding.

Into a mixing bowl go two cups of currants, two cups of raisins, one cup of dried apricots that have been chopped, and one cup of blanched almonds.  All that gets mixed together and chopped up.  Ralph adds rum to soften the dried fruit and add flavor; if you don't like the flavor of rum, you can soften the fruit with fruit juice.  Next, into a mixer:  sixteen ounces of butter, one cup of brown sugar, a half-cup of dark karo syrup, mix all that together, and add in eight eggs.  The batter goes into a mixing bowl; in goes the rum and fruit mixture.  Then a tablespoon each of cinnamon and allspice, zest of two lemons, and a cup or so of dried grapes.

RALPH POTTER:  There you go.

WOLF:  Finally, a little salt, and three cups of self-rising flour.  All that gets mixed together.  The insides of individual cup molds are given a light coating of butter.  If you don't have molds like this, you can use any heatproof form, from coffee cups to clean tuna cans.  The batter goes into the molds.  Make sure to hit the bottom of the mold against your work surface; that settles the batter to the bottom and gets out the air holes.  A piece of parchment paper that has been buttered on its bottom side goes onto each mold, and the molds go into a steamer for an hour.  This recipe will make about 16 puddings of about three-quarters of a cup each.  When they're fully steamed, they're unmolded, garnished, and served.

A sister property to Lillianfels is the Observatory Hotel in Sydney, where the sous chef is Anthony Musarra.  Anthony's father came to Australia in 1939, which was one of the early years of a major migration of Europeans to Australia -- a migration that changed the way the Australians eat.  Quite frankly, they went from a really boring, bland, English food, to the best of the European tradition.  And it was the Italians that were at the forefront of this move.  Today, Anthony is carrying on that tradition, but not just with European foods; he's interested in the foods of all nations, and he tends to take the common ingredients of Australia and use them in recipes that come from other places.

Today, he's preparing a lamb tortilla.  Lamb is a traditional meat in Australia; tortillas are clearly Latin American.  He starts by making a marinade:  a little soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic, freshly ground chopped chili peppers, mustard, and vinegar.  That gets mixed together and poured into a pan.  Then in goes a loin of lamb.  It marinates there for a minimum of one hour, though overnight will give it a richer flavor.  When the lamb's ready, a little oil gets heated in a frying pan, and in goes in the lamb.  It's seared for one minute on one side, then flipped over and seared for another minute on the other.  The final cooking time is 15 minutes in a 375-degree oven.

While the lamb is cooking, Anthony makes a very easy fresh tomato salsa:  chopped tomato, salt, pepper, chopped mint, and a little vinaigrette dressing.  He also makes a small Greek salad from feta cheese, black olives, cucumber slices, chives, and a little of the same vinaigrette.

The lamb comes out of the oven, and is sliced thinly against the grain.  A tortilla is placed on the work surface.  A little plum chutney goes on; a thin layer of iceberg lettuce; the sliced lamb; and some of the tomato salsa.  The tortilla is rolled up tightly, sliced into two-inch pieces, and put onto the serving plate next to the Greek salad.  Waste not, want not.  An interesting blend of Latin American, Australian, English, and Greek.

At the edge of the Sydney business district are the Botanical Gardens.  Its winding paths take you on a tour of the unique flora of Australia.  Most people who stop for lunch in this splendid setting must bring their own food, but that was not the case for me.  I walked through the Gardens with Vic Cherikoff, who is a specialist in the wild foods of this continent.  He runs a company called Bush Tucker Supply, which is beginning to supply indigenous Australian foods to markets all over the world.

VIC CHERIKOFF:  It looks a little bit like bubble gum, but crush it and just smell it.  It's got what we call subcutaneous oils; the oils are deep down ...

WOLF:  Mmmmm.

CHERIKOFF:  ... deep down within the leaf.  It's called lemon myrtle or sweet verbena tree.  I'm very keen to get Ben and Jerry's homemade ice cream to use this as a food flavoring, because in ice cream it is just stunning.

WOLF:  It's a wonderful lemony smell.

CHERIKOFF:  Yeah.  How about a smell ... how about using it perhaps in an aftershave or some such?

WOLF:  Aftershave?

CHERIKOFF:  Yeah ...

WOLF:  You and I are going to talk about aftershave?

CHERIKOFF:  (LAUGHS)  Oh, there's a thought.  So here we've got a bush supermarket.  It's a fairly uninspiring little tree, but the amazing thing is, this ... first off, the papery bark:  as the bark comes off in big shoots, you can use it for food wrap; it's the aboriginal tissue paper, toilet paper, oven bag, Glad Wrap.

WOLF:  It's quite amazing.  It really is a supermarket in a tree.

CHERIKOFF:  Exactly.  This tree is also like a pharmaceutical ... a pharmacy, a chemist's shop.  The new leaves are picked, very small leaves, the ones that you want, and these are crushed, either just ... rubbed in the hands, and ... well, you can smell the menthol in it; it'll clear the head.  Have a ... just rub it in your hands and give it a good whiff.

WOLF:  Mmm!  Why, that's quite wonderful.  My stuffed nose is all gone!

CHERIKOFF:  Well, these things are ... the nuts from a large tree, they grow in a big banana-shaped pod like that.  They're actually a food, but they're not something you can eat straightaway.  The aborigines baked them in a ground oven, removed that brown covering, grated them ... they actually cut them, often with the shoulderblade of a kangaroo, so that's your chopping knife ... cut them up finely, and then you put them in a dilly bag, which is a string bag, put them in your local creek, and leave them there for ten days.  Then drag them out, pound it to a flour, and make bread out of it.

WOLF:  They're like a chestnut.

CHERIKOFF:  They're like a chestnut.  They taste ... well, in fact, I've heard folks who say they're tasteless.  But they are interesting these days, not so much as a food, but because some of the chemicals that the aborigines were washing out are in fact effective against certain types of cancer.  And we've ... well, Australia has exported tons of these to companies in America to actually evaluate the alkaloids that are responsible for the anti-cancer effect.

WOLF:  Amazing.

CHERIKOFF:  A lot of work still to be done, but that's really the secrets that many of our rainforest trees still hold.

WOLF:  What's over there?

CHERIKOFF:  This tree here is probably one of the most well-known of Australian species, the macadamia.  And everybody thinks the macadamia comes from Hawaii — the "Hawaiian nut" is actually a marketing tool — but it comes from Australia.  It was found ... once, it was only found in Australia.

WOLF:  Never knew that.

CHERIKOFF:  Never, yeah.  And now these nuts are all ... I mean, they're regarded as the best eating quality nuts in the world.  There's another plant just over here as well; there's one of the fruits.  It's called a Davidson plum, it's after a fellow by the name of Davidson who named the first plum.

WOLF:  Can I just eat it?

CHERIKOFF:  Well, yeah.  Another name, I warn you, is the sour plum.

WOLF:  (EATING)  Now you tell me.

CHERIKOFF:  (LAUGHS)  It's very, very sour.

WOLF:  Augh!

CHERIKOFF:  It's amazing to be out with aboriginal kids and they just pick these up by the bucketful and just scoff them whole.

WOLF:  I'll never forget the name of this.


WOLF:  It's so amazing to have this kind of a garden right in the center of the city.

CHERIKOFF:  And very convenient.

WOLF:  Well, that's all from down under, Australia.  Please join us next time as we travel around the world looking for good things to eat and drink at Burt Wolf's Table.

Burt Wolf's Table: Sydney, Australia - #206

BURT  WOLF:   Sydney, Australia.  Miles of cool ocean give it some of the best seafood on the planet, and inspire some of the best seafood cooks.  We'll see the town as it was in the early days.  We'll find out how Captain Bligh caused a second mutiny, even bigger than the one on the Bounty.  And we'll cook along with some of the city's finest chefs.  So join me in Sydney, Australia at Burt Wolf's Table.

In general, it's good to be king, but some times are better than others.  If you were a European monarch during the second half of the 1700's, it would not have been your favorite time.  The ideas that led to the French Revolution were being spread around, and eventually thousands of French nobles had their heads cut off.  Now that is a truly revolting idea to a king.  And then there were the British colonies in North America, filled with even more revolting people.  Well, the guys who were running England decided that there was a criminal element in their community and they had to get rid of it.  For many years they had transported them off to the New World, and stuck them in the colonies in the United States.  But with the American Revolution of 1776, that area was off limits.  The jails in England began to fill up.  People were getting panicky.  Then somebody had a really interesting idea.  “Let's take all the convicts and transport them to Australia, wherever that is.”

In 1770, the English explorer, Captain Cook, bumped into Australia, hung up a flag, and claimed the east coast for England under the name of New South Wales.  No one in London actually had any idea of what New South Wales was really like, but that was just a detail.  It was definitely far enough away to keep the trouble-makers off the court.  And so a fleet of eleven ships carrying 1,350 men, women and children set sail.  Eight months and one week later they arrived at Botany Bay.  On January 26th, 1788, they flew the British flag over a spot they called Sydney Cove, and the history of the new colony got under way.

During the next 50 years, 70,000 convicts were transported to Australia, but 80,000 people came of their own free will to see if they could make a better life for themselves.  During the 1850's, Sydney publicized the discovery of gold, and thousands of people rushed in.  Well, quite frankly the government had known about the gold for a long time, they just never told anybody about it, because they were concerned that it would attract a bad element to the neighborhood.  But London had stopped shipping out convicts, and the colony needed more people, and so they let the word out about the gold.  And during the next ten years the population of Sydney doubled, and since then it's just kept going.

In 1932, the Sydney Harbour Bridge was opened and the north part of the area began to develop.  The bridge is called the Old Coathanger.  After the Second World War, tens of thousands of immigrants came over from Europe and totally changed the city.  It went from an isolated outpost of England to a vibrant cosmopolitan metropolis.

One way to think of Australia is as the world's largest island.  The vast majority of the population lives on the coasts, and so almost every Australian has an appreciation of the sea.  And that's particularly true in Sydney.  The city was built around a huge natural harbor which gives the town about 150 miles of waterfront.  Sydneysiders, as the residents call themselves, use the water as much as possible.  They get to work and home again on ferries.  They swim, they surf, and they sail.  They also eat some of the world's best seafood.

This is the Sydney fish market.  And every weekday morning local distributors and retailers come here to take part in the seafood auction.  The auction is run on what is called the Dutch system, which is being used more and more, because it's proving to be the fairest system for fishermen and farmers throughout the world.  The day's catch is displayed in the inspection area by batch.  The prospective buyers walk through and note the lots that interest them.  The auctioneers are set up on a podium with a huge scoreboard above.  The buyers sit like spectators in a sports arena.  The number of the individual batch of fish lights up on the board.  The opening price also comes up on the board.  A clocklike device shows the price going down.  The first bid to come in gets the fish.

Quite a sport.  Everybody sitting in those stands is here to buy fish. They have an export company that ships Australian fish around the world, or a local distributor, and they need that fish to fill today's orders.  If they make a bid right up front, they're sure to get the fish, but they may get it at a price that's so high that they have no profit.  If they wait, the price will come down, but somebody else may get that fish.  Tough sport.

The market also has a wonderful retail area.  The spot I like the best is called Peter's.  Hundreds of different types of seafood, and the quality is absolutely topnotch.  You can purchase what you want and take it home to cook, or for a few dollars the chefs at Peter's will do the cooking for you. 

The Australians are in the enviable position of being able to choose their seafood dinner from over 3000 different species, and some of them are now being exported to North America.  Their prawns, which we call shrimp, are fabulous.  You may recall the Paul Hogan of "Crocodile Dundee" fame made a commercial for Australian tourism offering to throw another shrimp on the barbie if we came down.  Well, that was a really nice gesture.  And when you taste Australian prawns you'll find out why.

They're also beginning to export orange roughy.  Nice fish.  Clear, clean, pleasant taste.  And recently they have begun to ship us whole Tasmanian lobsters.

Because Australia's off in its own part of the world, the local fish comes from some of the cleanest waters on the planet, and they've taken advantage of that pollution-free environment to develop a fish farming industry. Quite frankly, Australia's entire seafood industry is continually monitored to make sure the catch comes from the cleanest waters possible. 

Neil Perry is a Sydney chef who's become famous for his seafood cookery.  His menu changes daily depending on what's available in the Sydney fish market.

NEIL PERRY:    Well, these are the ... the mud crab, and when these babies are alive, you don't need a watchdog, let me tell you.


BURT WOLF:   Oh, they’re all taped up.

NEIL  PERRY:   Yeah.  And ...this one's cooked, but when they're alive, they're really voracious, and to me it's the best eating crab in Australia.

As you can see, pretty powerful.

BURT WOLF:   Yeah.

NEIL PERRY:   Best thing you can eat.

BURT WOLF:   Great seafood, bad name... mud crab. 

NEIL PERRY:    It is.


But we all love them, and they get much bigger than that.

BURT WOLF:   What is this?

NEIL PERRY:    Well, this is our moon fish from the south coast, and the great thing about it is it's like three fishes in one.  We've got this top section here, which is like mackerel. 

BURT WOLF:   Right.

NEIL PERRY:   The bottom section we cut out, and it's very similar in texture and color to tuna.  And we've got the cheeks, which is just the best part.  It's like a... fish liver.  It's fantastic.

BURT WOLF:   Three fishes in one.

NEIL PERRY:   Three fish in one.

BURT WOLF:   It actually looks like a cartoon of a fish.

NEIL PERRY:   It does, doesn't it?


BURT WOLF:   Prawns.

NEIL PERRY:   Yeah, Burt, we've got a whole variety here.  Umm....

BURT WOLF:    Now you call them prawns, we call them shrimp.

NEIL  PERRY:   Yeah, you're shrimp, we're prawn.

BURT WOLF:   Okay.

NEIL PERRY:   These ones are tigers, and... we catch them wild here, and also farmed.  A really interesting thing, when I come down to the markets I look for... is if the whiskers and all the legs are intact, it generally means that they haven't been frozen before.  Because they tend to lose these when they are defrosted.

BURT WOLF:   Yeah, whiskers are important.

NEIL PERRY:   Yeah, whiskers, you got to have whiskers.  Yeah. 

BURT WOLF:   (OVER) You're telling me.

NEIL PERRY:    Yeah.  Yeah.  (LAUGHS)  We got banana prawns, which are a slightly different flavor, a little bit sweeter . There's yamba prawns, and Endeavour...   There's all ...we have many different varieties of prawns.

BURT WOLF:   (OVER) All from the waters around Australia.

NEIL PERRY:   (OVER) All... yeah... or from...from cold water right here, very hot, warm water prawns, and you get different textures and flavors because of the environment.  But... generally what happens with fish....

BURT WOLF:   I was surprised, the other day somebody said in the wintertime they always go north for a nice warm vacation.  Being on the flip side of the world that I'm accustomed to....


BURT WOLF:   North is where it's all warm.

NEIL PERRY:   (OVER) That’s right.

BURT WOLF:   Right?


And south is where it gets cold here.

NEIL PERRY:    Ah, right, yeah.  Exact opposite.  And what we do with fish, is most fish that come from the north are warm water, sweeter, and looser-textured, and as they come down and they get deep and colder, they get more intensely flavored, and ...then tighter in the texture of the fish.

BURT WOLF:   Neil, when you're deciding which fishes to put on your menu, what do you think about?

NEIL PERRY:    Well, Burt, I think the first thing that I look at with a fish is its... is its fat content or oil content.  And people don't think about fish, especially the white ones, as being....being fatty, but they do have different oil content.  So... so the fattier and oilier fish, the better it is for grilling and roasting, and the leaner, if you like to call it that, fish, the better it is for things like slow poaching, or steaming in his own broth or sauce.  So that the actual texture doesn't tighten up too much, and get too dry.

BURT WOLF:   How interesting.  So you really want to have a list of the oil content of fish.

NEIL PERRY:    Well, I think that's really important, and that's what puts us apart from other people who do cook fish is we pay attention to those really small details that actually make a huge amount of difference in the end product.

BURT WOLF:   Neil's restaurant is called Rockpool.  For two years in a row it has been voted the best restaurant in the Australian state of New South Wales, which is like being picked as the best restaurant in California - it's a big deal. 

Today Neil's preparing a dish of Australian prawns.  They're quite wonderful, and he's serving them over a bed of chickpea puree.

Two cups of pre-cooked chickpeas go into a container with a little cumin, a splash of lemon juice, and a little olive oil.  That's blended until you have a puree.  Next some vegetable oil goes into a frying pan, followed by a sliced red onion, a sliced clove of garlic, and two cups of pre-cooked whole chickpeas.  While that's cooking a little vegetable oil goes into another frying pan, and as soon as it's hot, four Australian prawns are cooked.  At that point, everything is ready to be plated.  Some of the pureed chickpeas go on, then the onion and chickpea sauce, the shrimp and finally a little more virgin olive oil.  That's it.

Neil's second recipe is an example of the east-meets-west style of cooking that is becoming increasingly popular in Australia.  It's steamed fish in a Chinese sauce served on top of corn cakes.  He starts with a soup bowl in a Chinese steamer basket, and mixes a steaming sauce in the bowl.  It's one part peanut oil, one part sesame oil, two parts dry sherry, two parts light soy sauce, plus a little sugar.  And in goes a skinless, boneless filet of white-fleshed fish.  Orange roughy is ideal.

The steamer goes onto a pot of boiling water.  The cover goes on, and the fish steams for ten minutes.  While the fish is steaming, Neil makes the corn cakes. 

Two cups of corn kernels go into a blender container.  Some coriander, garlic, salt, and two eggs are added.  That's blended together and poured into a mixing bowl.  A cup of whole corn kernels are added, a cup of flour, and the batter's ready.

Corn is an indigenous American thing.

NEIL PERRY:   Yeah, that's right.  We love it over here.  Nothing's indigenous Australian

BURT WOLF:   That's true.

NEIL PERRY:   Except this beautiful fish. 

 BURT WOLF:   A little oil is heating in a frying pan.  A quarter cup portion of the corn mixture goes into the oil and flattens out.  They cook for three minutes on one side and then get flipped over to cook for three minutes on the other.  When Neil does the flipping, he tilts the pan to one side to get the oil away from the place where he's going to do the flipping.  And that way he reduces the chance of the hot oil splattering during the flip.  It's a good tip.

When the corn cakes are ready, they go directly onto the serving plate.  The fish comes out of the steamer, and goes on to the corn cakes.  Some thin slices of green onion and snowpeas or asparagus go into the steaming sauce and get coated.  Then they go on to the fish.  A little bit of the sauce and it's ready to serve.

That's what Sydney Cove looked like in 1788 when Captain Phillip arrived with the First Fleet.  And this is what it looks like today.  The right side of the cove is known as The Rocks, and it's one of the most picturesque parts of the city.  Waterside warehouses have been preserved and turned into restaurants and hotels.  The old buildings have been refurbished and house shops and restaurants.  The Rocks are really a sandstone hill that rises up from the sea until it tops out at the highest natural point in the city, which made it the perfect spot for the placement of the old Sydney Observatory.   That hill also divided this point of land into two districts -  The Rocks on this side, and Miller's Point on the other.  To connect the two, a passage was chopped out by convicts.  On the other side is the Garrison Church, which has been standing there since 1844, and is still the most popular place in Sydney for weddings.

And just down the street is the Lord Nelson, which may very well be the oldest Sydney pub still in operation.  The origin of the Lord Nelson dates back to 1841, and it actually looks much the way it did, thanks to an old photograph from the time, which the modern owners found and used for their restoration.

The pub has a wood-burning fireplace in the front room, and they brew their own beers and ales in the back.  And they're very proud of their brasserie, which is authentic, since the dictionary definition of brasserie is an establishment that serves food and brews beer on the same premises.

It was once said that the English and the Americans were two people separated by a common language, and that seems to have carried over to Australia.  Elise Pascoe has become my translator.  She's one of Australia's best-known food authorities, and she's come over to the Lord Nelson to give me a short lesson in language.

ELISE PASCOE:   Well, Burt, this is your shout.

BURT WOLF:   Ah, I beg your pardon?

ELISE PASCOE:   It's your turn to buy the round of beers.

BURT WOLF:   Ah, so, when people come to a pub in Australia, each person pays for a specific round, and when it comes to your round, it's your shout.

ELISE PASCOE:   That's right.

BURT WOLF:   I got this.  We'll have two beers!!!

See, I'm learning.

ELISE PASCOE:   You are.  You're doing very well.

BURT WOLF:   What else?

ELISE PASCOE:    What about... changing into a bag of fruit?

BURT WOLF:   Uh... (LAUGHS) that'd get quite a response, I'm sure.

Any particular fruit?

ELISE PASCOE:   It's rhyming slang, really cockney slang.  It's called strang.  And you rhyme the article with another two or three words.  So a bag of fruit is a suit.

BURT WOLF:   A lovely bag of fruit you're wearing.

ELISE PASCOE:   Oh, thank you very much.  Now with your Australian meat pie, you should have some dead horse.

BURT WOLF:   Umm...  doesn't sound like one of the more appealing things I've eaten.

ELISE PASCOE:   Believe me, it's very good.  A dead horse is tomato sauce.

BURT WOLF:   Tomato sauce, dead horse.  Okay, more rhyming slang.


BURT WOLF:   Okay.

ELISE PASCOE:    And snags on the barbie, of course, are sausages.

BURT WOLF:   Snags.


BURT WOLF:   We are both speaking English.  I just want to establish that at this point in time.

ELISE PASCOE:   We are both speaking....

BURT WOLF:   Okay.

ELISE PASCOE:  ...the same language.

BURT WOLF:   (OVER) Just checking, just checking.

ELISE PASCOE:   No, don't come the raw prawn with me.

BURT WOLF:   Don't come the raw prawn with me.

ELISE PASCOE:   It's....

BURT WOLF:   And that means, don't jive me.

ELISE PASCOE:   Exactly.

BURT WOLF:   Don't tease me.


BURT WOLF:   Misinform me.

ELISE PASCOE:  Yeah.  And you look like a stunned mullet.

BURT WOLF:   A stunned mullet.  That means I was surprised.

ELISE PASCOE:   Absolutely, your face falls.

BURT WOLF:   Okay.  Stunned mullet.  All right.  You have a very unusual set of names for coffees.

ELISE PASCOE:   Well, I don't think they're unusual.

BURT WOLF:   Well, unusual for North Americans. 

ELISE PASCOE:   In the morning, I like to have a flat white.

BURT WOLF:   Flat white.  When I first heard that I thought that that was the shark in Jaws.

ELISE PASCOE:   (LAUGHS)  No.  No.  (LAUGHS)  It really means mostly milk coffee, but without the capuccino, without the fluff in it.

BURT WOLF:   A flat white is two parts milk to one part coffee, like capuccino, but no foam.

ELISE PASCOE:   That's....

BURT WOLF:   And that's why it's called a flat white.


BURT WOLF:   And now I'm ready to order coffee?

ELISE PASCOE:   You are?  I thought it was my shout next.

BURT WOLF:   Coming out of the Lord Nelson puts you smack in the middle of the neighborhood known as Miller's Point.  It was first called Miller's Point during the early 1800's, because of the windmills that stood on this rocky knoll of sandstone.  Eventually the mills disappeared, and whaling and merchant ships arrived.  During the early years of this century, the city government took over Miller's Point and began to preserve the historic richness of the area.  Much of the architecture of the 1800's is still standing, and the neighborhood has the feeling of a small village.  In the middle of the district is the Observatory Hotel.  The hotel's design was based on one of Sydney's historic buildings called the Elizabeth Bay House.  It feels like a grand Australian home, luxuriously furnished with Australian antiques, original oil paintings, and fine tapestries.  With only 100 guest rooms there's a feeling of great privacy and personal attention.  The walls of its Globe Bar are covered with art works that depict the natural history of this continent, and there is a bookcase filled with rare old travel books. 

The health club has a 20-meter pool that's kept clean with an oxygenation system that eliminates the need to use chlorine or other chemicals.  It's a great method.

The ceiling above the pool has a fiber optic recreation of the constellations of the southern hemisphere.

The hotel has two restaurants, both of which get  great reviews from the local food reporters.  Galileo is the Italian restaurant that is reminiscent of the famous Venetian restaurant called Harry's Bar.  The other is the Orient Cafe, aptly named to describe the menu's Asian influence.  It serves a luncheon buffet that's become a favorite for local businessmen and women.  You pop in and pick out what you want from a splendid selection.  This is what fast food should be.

The executive chef of the Observatory Hotel is Kit Chan.  She was born and raised in Hong Kong and studied her craft with some of the superstars of the European kitchen.  She's the first woman to become the executive chef of a major deluxe hotel in Australia.  Today she's preparing a honey-glazed roast pork salad.

Kit makes a marinade by mixing together a few slices of ginger, a crushed clove of garlic, some juniper berries, honey, a little soy sauce, and some orange juice.  Two pork loins go in, and two crushed green onions.  All that goes into the refrigerator for six hours or overnight.  When it's time to finish the dish, a little vegetable oil gets heated in the frying pan.  The excess marinade is pressed off the surface of the pork.  The pork goes into the pan.  The solid ingredients in the marinade go in, and the pork is browned on all sides.  That takes about five minutes.  Then it's off to a 400 degree oven until the internal temperature of the meat reaches 170 degrees, at which point it comes out of the oven and rests on the cutting board for about 15 minutes.  While the pork is resting, Kit makes a salad of greens with a vinaigrette dressing.  Then the pork is sliced and added to the salad.  Everything is mixed together, set onto a serving plate, and garnished with slices of red beets and green apples.

Another one of Kit's specialties is an herbed tenderloin of Australian lamb.  Australia produces some of the best lamb in the world, and it's a constant part of Kit's menu. 

She starts by seasoning the loin of lamb with a little salt and pepper.  Some vegetable oil goes into a frying pan.  As soon as it's hot, in goes the lamb and a few springs of rosemary.  And into a 375 degree oven for seven to ten minutes.  When it comes out, Kit sprinkles on a mixture of chopped parsley, garlic, and lemon zest.  A zucchini pancake goes onto a serving plate, the lamb goes on top, and there's a garnish of sun-dried tomato slices, candied orange zest, and the pan drippings from the lamb that have been thickened with a little butter.  That's it.

When the first English fleet arrived in Australia in 1788 ,they brought over one bull, seven cows, and 44 sheep and goats.  The untouched pasture land made perfect grazing areas for the flocks and herds that developed from these original animals.  The land was especially well suited to the sheep.  They were able to roam freely in the meadows of clover and rye.  The result is a range lamb that's leaner, tastier, and appears to be produced without chemicals or additives.  They've also been able to get rid of the gamey taste that so many North Americans came to associate with this meat.

These cuts have as clean and clear a taste as you could want.  The recent history of lamb production in Australia is a good example of how the public can use its purchasing power to influence producers.

The old style of lamb didn't meet the taste or nutritional preferences of the market, and sales kept flopping.  In self-defense, the industry began to ask people what they really wanted.  The result is the fresh Australian range lamb program.  It produces meat the way North Americans want it to taste.  It has lower cholesterol, and it's trimmed so that it has about the same fat content as skinless chicken.  They've also figured out a way of getting it to North America within four days of processing, and they only use refrigeration, no freezing.

In 1793, an American trading ship named the Hope arrived in Sydney Harbour.  On board were supplies that were badly needed by the new settlers. Military officers of the colony saw this as a unique commercial opportunity, and they formed a group to purchase the ship's entire cargo for resale to the colonists.

The cargo included 7,500 gallons of rum, and it was so profitable for the men that they decided henceforth they would have a monopoly on rum.  They got so involved in the business of rum that the whole group eventually became known as the Rum Corps. And so profitable that they began to print their own currency, a currency that people valued more than the currency that came from Great Britain.  But the best currency of all was rum itself.

If you read the book "Mutiny on the Bounty", or saw any one of the three films based on it you will remember the character of Captain Bligh.  “Mutiny on the Bounty” was a true story, but that was only the first mutiny against Captain Bligh.  After he survived the revolt of Mel Gibson or Marlon Brando, depending on which movie you saw, he was sent back into service by the King of England, and became the governor of their colony in Australia.  When he tried to interfere with the activities of the Rum Corps, there was a second mutiny.  Only this time, instead of putting him into the longboat and setting him adrift, they just locked him up in the prison.  Poor Captain Bligh.  You know, the man was just not in touch with what was going on.


One of the most popular desserts at the Observatory Hotel is the fudgy rum chocolate cake.  Here's how it's made by sous-chef Anthony Mazzura.  Eight ounces of unsweetened chocolate are melted and cooled.  Into that go two teaspoons of instant coffee, and two teaspoons of white rum.  Plus two tablespoons of boiling water.  All that gets mixed together and put aside.  Four eggs are broken into a bowl, and a half teaspoon of vanilla extract is whisked in.  In go two cups of confectioners sugar that has been mixed together with two tablespoons of arrowroot.  Anthony uses an electric mixer for about five minutes to get the batter to double its original volume, at which point it's put aside for a minute, while a cup of heavy cream is whisked until it's thick.  Then the chocolate mixture is combined with the whipped eggs, and the whipped cream is gently folded in.  An eight-inch loose bottom cake pan with a light coating of butter gets a dusting of flour.  The batter gets poured in, and it's off to a 350 degree oven for an hour.  When it's done it comes back to the work surface to cool.  Then it comes out of the ring and gets a light dusting of confectioners’ sugar.  A slice goes on to a serving plate, a little vanilla ice cream on the side, some berry sauce, and a few fresh berries.  Now there's a dish that will give you a good rum for your money.

Well, that's it from Sydney, Australia.  Please join us next time as we travel around the world looking for good things to eat and drink at Burt Wolf's Table.