Great Ocean Food: A family feast to be proud of

September 19, 2018 BY

Not a day goes by without me thinking of my sister. She was taken too soon and although the raw emotion of her not being here subsides somewhat over time, her absence is felt daily.

Never more so than a recent lunch we held for her youngest daughter’s engagement.

We invited family and the bridal party to celebrate and connect. As my sister said many times, there is nothing more important than family.

At times some may argue they have enough family to last them a lifetime, let alone marrying and becoming part of another.

It can be a tricky and complicated business; but surely there is nothing more significant and rewarding than creating an environment in which people are allowed to grow and have success as well as making life’s inevitable mistakes in the knowledge they will be loved unconditionally? I know that my dear sister would have revelled in the engagement party; both in the planning and participation.

So many families contributed to the day. Stunning flowers by the mother-in-law-to-be, music from my wife’s cousin, food and wine from my sister, niece, sister-in-law, brother-in-law, brother and mother.

The inspiration for main course came from a visit to my daughter in Sydney. We went to Matt Moran’s restaurant Chiswick House and ordered their most popular dish, the slow-cooked lamb sourced from his family’s sheep property. It was superb, served on a bed of humus with mint salsa and a tomato and pickled onion salad.

As optimistic as I was about the weather in early September, I thought it a bit too ambitious to expect a day conducive to serving salad with the lamb. I was right. We had showers and a fairly cool westerly wind, so the hot pea puree and potato gratin we substituted were perfect accompaniments.

I had not brined lamb before but did so after reading Matt’s recipe. The saltiness and flavour of juniper berry and cloves was well worth getting up at 2am to achieve. I also served my version of salsa verde made with stinging nettles. These nettles are common and I have made soup with them before, but dipped in hot water to eliminate the “sting” then pureed with mint, parsley, garlic, grapeseed oil and my sister in law’s verjus; it was delightful.

Other dishes served were oysters with a red onion vinaigrette, chicken sandwiches, humus with olive oil, pomegranate seeds and pita bread, olive focaccia, baby carrots and iceberg lettuce with shaved Pecorino. A custard tart with pinot jelly and cream, some cheese, sweet treats and a spectacular celebration cake with coffee rounded off a lunch of which Jen would be proud.