Monday, November 29, 2010

Margaret River Venison Farm, 5103 Caves Road

Located on Caves Road just 12km north of the Margaret River is the Margaret River Venison Farm (on the left side if you're driving south). This place ofFers a cornucopia of carnivorous delights. Not just various fresh cuts of Bambi's mum, but also an impressive range of small goods, including venison prosciutto, venison bratwurst, venison boerwors, venison chorizo (this one is spicy), the coat of arms chorizo (cheekily named because of its kangaroo & emu contents), and even emu ham!

Not to worry if you can't make up your mind - free tastings are available for virtually all of the smallgoods on offer.  You can pretty much try before you buy, which I highly recommend, since everything is tasty!  Now if only there was a tasty beverage to wash it down ...

There was also a good variety of delectable cuts of fresh meat to rival your local city bar on a Friday night.   Out of the possible choices which included venison mince, fillets, and even a 1.5kg boneless shoulder, I went for the steaks.  The helpful lad behind the counter offered some useful advice - cook it very hot and fast, because the very low fat content in the venison means that the meat will dry out quickly and become tough and chewy if you overcook it.

Venison steak is a beatiful meat, but needs to be eaten medium rare (or less cooked if you prefer more sanguine steak).  I did my steak on a pre-heated skillet on high heat with a good dollop of olive oil to reduce the risk of the meat sticking to the pan.  Around 30-45 seconds on each side, and then using a tong, I also seared all the edges for around 15 seconds per surface, then leave it on a plate to rest for a minute.  As you can see, it's turned out beautful.  You can pretty much eat the thing on its own, although I opted for a reduced balsamic glaze to accompany it - very easy to make.  After taking the meat out of your pan, take the pan off the heat and pour in around 1-2 tablespoons of good aged balsamic vinegar, depending on how much you'd like.  The residual heat of the pan will cause it to bubble up and reduce.  As it's cooking, scrape up the caramelised bits at the bottom of the pan to mix up the goodness of the venison flavours with the balsamic, and stir it all around.  For an added touch, your can even pour in the juices that have pooled around the steak on the plate.  When it looks reasonably reduced, pour the stuff over your steak, and if you're feeling artistic, you can even drizzle it in a pattern on the plate!  Just don't over-reduce it in the pan, because it will keep thickening for a little while after you pour it out.

A normal table knife cuts through a perfectly cooked steak with ease, and the still juicy morsel just melts in your mouth.  If you need to eat your meat well done, just don't bother.

Friday, November 26, 2010

St Ali, Yarra Place, South Melbourne: expanded food menu

Everytime I visit Melbourne, I try to make an extra special effort to visit my favourite coffee place, St Ali in South Melbourne; not only to savour the coffee and (if time allows) the delicious dishes, but also to stock up on more freshly roasted single estate coffee from around the world.

Right - down to business.  The coffee of the day was a Costa Rican Herbazu (the name of the family farm where it is grown).  According to the board - "sweet, bright and creamy ... juicy with mild apple tartness".  Quite right!  I grabbed a bag of it on the way out, as well as a bag of the Nicaraguan La Bendicion, No. 13 recipient of the Cup of Excellence award.  Both recently roasted a week earlier.

I also noticed that they've seriously expanded their food menu, to include what appeared to be some fairly substantial dishes.

It being breakfast and all, I opted for something less heavy, and scoffed down a light and delicious breakfast of truffled poached eggs (you can see the truffle oil drizzled around the plate as well) on top of serrano ham and asparagus.  A great start to the day indeed.

Mamasita revisited - upstairs 11 Collins Street, Melbourne

I finally had to chance to enjoy some of the fare offered by my favourite Mamasita (not to be confused with my favourite mamacita, of whom there have been several over the years).

Arriving late in Melbourne for another quick visit, my stomach was demanding to be fed, since it was dinner time in Perth, although it was nearly bedtime in Melbourne.  Even in Melbourne, most restaurant kitchens close by 9pm, especially on a school night.  Fortunately, Mamasita stays open until midnight (2am on Fridays and Saturdays).

I perched myself on a barstool at the floating benchtop lining the front wall overlooking Collins Street,  Great for watching the late-night denizens of Melbourne wander past on the street below.

In my previous post, I mentioned the extensive tequila menu.  Well, this time around, I was impressed by the extensive cerveza menu.  No watery Corona or Sol here. I had a Cerveza del Pacifico.  Not cheap at $9, but comparable in price to other imported beers, and a refreshing, flavoursome drink that was most welcome after a long flight.

As for food, I went for a $14 Quesadilla de Res, a medium-sized dish of two soft tortilla pancakes (is that what you call it?) with melted cheese and chilli braised beef in between, and freshly grated cheese liberally piled on top, with lashings of some dark chilli-spiced sauce.  Delicious!  Still feeling slightly hungry, I took the waiter's (I don't think they use the word "waitress" anymore) advice and got a Tacos de Camarones - marinated prawns with habanero chillies and chipotle almond salsa.  Three fat, firm and juicy prawns in a soft taco, topped with a lime wedge.  Good value at $7.  Or you could get three of them for $18.

The other fantastic thing for chilliphiles like me is the selection of two MExican habanero sauces - a red and green.  Interestingly, the green one (with a slightly alarming flourescent green hue) is hotter.  They're both nicely textured, thick enough to be easy to mop up with your forkful of quesadilla, but not so watery that it spreads all around the plate.  And the familiar habanero burn creeps up on you, with the heat hitting you in the back of the mouth instead of on your lips and the front palate like other chillies.  I was soon sweating liberally despite the cool Melburnian weather.

The service was fantastic - friendly, chatty staff who were always around whenever you wanted to order something or get the bill.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Good One Chinese Restaurant - reader feedback!

Cath C, one of my loyal readers, decided to eat at The Good One in East Victoria Park, and told me just yesterday that the roast duck there is quite possibly the best that she's had!  Being prepared so that there was no fat left between the skin and the meat, allows the skin to crisp up beautifully during roasting.  And being a native French speaker, but of course she knows all about good food.

Thank you Cath for giving it a try and telling me about it.  Knowing that I have helped in some minute way to enhance the lives of my fellow budding or full-blown gourmandises (as the case may be) lets me know that I am not wasting my efforts with this blog.

To the rest of you readers out there - please do give me feedback whenever you try one of the restaurants (or other things) which I've reviewed, and let me know what you think - feel free to post comments!

Clarke's of North Beach - a seriously fine dining BYO restaurant!

This is an unbelievable find, I must say.  So good that I'm happy to make the long drive to 97a Flora Terrace in North Beach, Western Australia (okay so it's a 20 minute drive, but that's long by my standards!) again tomorrow night for a dinner put on by Stephen Clarke (who was once the personal chef to the Earl & Countess of Leicester, and also cooked for the Queen and Prince Phillip).  If you want a serious culinary experience delivered by a seriously good, multiple award-winning chef, Clarke's of North Beach is the place to go.

On my first visit last week, I caught up with my best mate Brandon who's back in town for a few weeks.  Angela was kind enough to drive us there and drop us off, and to come back to pick us up!

Okay, I'll let the pictures do most of the talking, since I remembered to take a few shots.

So what did we have?

I remarked to Brandon that everything on the menu looked so good - only if the food sold on Czech pricing, we'd do what we did at Spindleruv Mlyn and order 2 entrees and 2 mains each, and then worry about how to finish it all off (in case you're curious - our Czech meal cost less than AUD100 altogether, including wines, despite our wanton gluttony).

An amuse bouche of strawberry ice-cream served in a minature waffle cone and topped with crispy caramelised balsamic vinegar crystals.

For entree: a little display of marron, celery sorbet, celery-salted popcorn and marron panacotta (which looked like a bit of a light pate).  Strange bedfellows at first glance, but the flavours truly work together!  There was even a little marron claw in the line up.

For my main: Sous vide of salmon - he's clearly had far greater success than my feeble attempt at this delicate art of vacuum cooking.  The fish is cooked evenly all the way through, yet it is unbelievably moist, pink and juicy, with absolutely no dry bits at all!
A mini creme brulee for pre-dessert (now this course is certainly a concept that a hobbit would appreciate, along with second breakfast and elevenses).

Clarkes even does a good after-dinner
coffee, which is amazingly hard to
find even in fine-dining restaurants!
A tasty selection of cheeses for dessert - but the remarkable thing is the stuff that accompanies the cheese - not your usual bunch of muscatels and wafer crackers, no sirree!  Try red wine poached pear, fennell and apple salad; and the Bouche D'affinois is gently heated in a little copper pot to get it soft and thickly runny, and served with homemade rye bread.

The service was excellent, as you would expect from a top notch restaurant, and is courteous, professional and unobtrusive without being snooty. They're young but well-trained, friendly people.

$4 a head corkage is unbelievable value for the quality of glassware and service you get - the waitstaff will pour your wines for you when it's time for another glass.  Many lesser restaurants will have the cheek to hit you with a $10 charge, give you what looks suspiciously like Ikea glassware (or worse a goblet), and allow you the privilege of pouring your own wine.  If you want your wine decanted, it's an extra $10, but probably a good idea if you've got a fresh young shiraz that's exploding with tannins; or if you have that well aged treasure from your cellar, which needs some air for the build up of sulphur to blow off.

As for me, I brought my precious original Super Tuscan - the Tignanello.  This was a most drinkable bottle of wine - savoury plummy earthy flavours, silky soft mouthfeel, finished off with persistent fine and long lasting tannins.  It was so well made that we didn't really notice the tannins until towards the end of the bottle (which came rather fast because it was so easy to drink!), when the cumulative tannic build-up on the palate finally because noticeable.  It certainly had a few more years (at least) left in it, alhough it was already drinking beautifully at 7 years.

I can't wait to eat at Clarke's again tomorrow, when Stephen will be working his team hard to churn out an even more memorable and delicious dining experience!

Tak Kee: Cheap, Cheerful & Delicious Chinese food at Dog Swamp, WA

CB, one-time county cricketer and all-round good sportsman, gave me a hard time the other day because I hadn't recently reviewed any restaurants at the cheap end of the price range. It is therefore fortuitous that my best mate's old man told him of this cheap and cheerful Chinese takeaway joint that served what he claimed to be the best Char Kuay Teow (a kind of wok fried noodle dish) in Perth. A bold claim indeed! I had no choice but to make the long trek North of the river (ok so it's only 15 minutes' drive away, but I'm sure that my fellow Southerners would understand ...)  So anyway - CB, this one's for you mate.

Tak Kee is located in the suburban Flinders Square shopping centre, which is next to the Dog Swamp Shopping Centre, on Wiluna Street off Charles Street (just before it merges into Wanneroo Road). Why they call it Dog Swamp is a mystery to me. Sure there may even have been a swamp ages ago, but how many dogs needed to have been roaming around for it to earn that moniker?  I'm sure Dylan would have something to say about that, since there are apparently large packs of dogs roaming the streets where he works, but maybe that's merely a Dylanesque claim.

This is certainly no fine dining venue, but you don't need to be waited upon hand and foot to enjoy a fantastic dining experience. There is space in this little joint for a handful of tables, in case you wanted to enjoy the atmosphere. Ubiquitous plastic tables and chairs abound, and there is a perennial queue of people waiting to order food, or pick up their takeaway orders.

Because Brandon and I crapped on while Angela looked upon us with infinite patience, it took us a while to realise that table service meant that they only deliver the food to your table - food hall rules apply.

So we got up to order at the counter.  Alas - during our 10 minute discourse, there would have been no more than 1 or 2 people waiting at the counter, but as Murphy's Law would have it, we were suddenly smack bang in the middle of rush hour, and finally got to order 10 minutes later.  We took solace from the fact that there were a serious number of people patiently milling around the counter in a jostle-free manner, waiting to order or to pick up their orders - the food must be good.

And here's a tip: if you've brought a bottle of wine (like any self-respecting Chinese restaurant, this place is BYO), be sure to bring your own glasses, because they keep their handful of wine glasses in the storeroom.

Now for the good part!  The food came out within a fraction of the time it took us to order, and was freshly cooked.  The char kuay teow was mandatory, given the claim made to us, and being laksa aficionados, we also went with the laksa. The last dish was the Singapore Rochore mee (egg noodles cooked in prawn stock).  All were superb indeed, in their own particular style.

The char kuay teow was different from your run-of-the-mill version.  The broad, flat rice noodles were actually plump and moist, not quite what you'd expect from a stir fry.  But it did have the authentic smoky aroma and flavour of something freshly scooped out of a super-hot wok.  I'm not sure I'd call it the best in Perth, but it's certainly pretty damn good!

The curry laksa was quite delicious.  It came in a much thicker soup that I expected - virtually gravy like in its rich, thick consistency.  But delightfully flavoursome.  I don't think that it displaces the Newton Circle (Sidewalk foodhall, Carillon City) from its pole position, but there's nothing wrong with this dish.  I'd happily order this again.

And finally, the rochore mee was the best I'd tasted in many years - better even than those I'd eaten in Singapore during my last couple of visits.  In my eternal quest for the ultimate rochore mee, this is as close as I've gotten so far!  The moist, juicy noodles are swimming in a shallow pool of delicious prawn broth, which has a ... well, prawny, but slightly sweet, flavour.  The lone calamari was slightly suspect, reeking like a hairy guy who's just played frantic outdoor basketball for an hour in the Perth summer sun, but I gamely downed it, and am happy to report that no gastro-intestinal tracts were harmed in the process (nor, for that matter, were any said tracts irritated to the point of liquefying their contents).  Maybe avoid the calamari if you have a weak constitution.

The thing to note about this place is that they shut at 8pm, so you need to make sure you get there early if you want to dine-in.  However, the people who run this place are friendly, hospitable folk from Hong Kong and Malaysia.  Because of our failure to comprehend the ordering rules, it was 8pm when we got our food.  And rather than make us feel like we needed to scoff it down, they put up the closed sign but encouraged us to take our time in savouring the food.  I guess you could say that we experienced the Chinese restaurant equivalent of a lock-in!  And once the shop was closed, they put on their choice of Chinese music - some fast-paced Chinese opera-style singing with synthesisers or the like ...  We were even given a complimentary treat at the end of our meal - deep fried flour balls rolled in sesame seeds (and cooked in peanut oil).  So fresh that steam puffed out when we bit into these delicious morsels.

And to top it all off, the chef even turned up to ask us about our food, like you'd expect in a fine dining restaurant.

This is truly a fantastic place to visit if you feel like a bit of Asian food, and want something that tastes great, but on a reasonable budget.  At an average price of $12.50 per dish, you're not going to need your credit card.  I'm planning on going back on a Saturday to try their Saturday specials, which includes a Penang Assam Laksa and a Lor Bak (5 spice pork belly) - stay tuned for further culinary adventures at Tak Kee!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Teasers for upcoming posts

Okay, I know that I haven't posted any new articles in a couple of weeks. Rest easy in the knowledge that I have continued my selfless efforts to benefit you, by continuing to carry out painstaking research on new, weird, and wonderful culinary experiences.

Like the eponymous Mr Creosote, I have eaten and drunk so much that I feel in dire need of the bucket (although I feel that the Roman tradition of retiring to the Vomitorium was a lot more civilised, since it didn't subject your guests to the wafting aroma of your gastric reflux action). In any event, i'm certainly avoiding wafer thin mints (and the salmon mousse for good measure).

Things to come include:

South Australian wild boar pate
Russian ikra (salmon caviar)
Molecular Gastronomy at Clarkes of North Beach
Amazingly plump and moist fried kuay teow at Tak Kee, at Dog Swamp
A 1997 Fox Creek Merlot - yes it is drinking beautifully, and still has strong fine tannins on the palate at the end.
A beautifully cidery yet tightly mineral 2001 St Helga Riesling.
Barrecas Cabernet Merlot, a monster sleeper!!!
And my spoils from the Margaret River Venison Farm - check out this medium rare Bambi steak, perfectly cooked by yours truly!

So please bear with me, and you will get these posts soon! In the meantime, please feel free to browse my much older posts ... One of my favorites is The Scream in the context of the eating of baby garden snails in Cordoba; and the other is of rubbish disposal etiquette at a Madrid cantina.

So ultimately, the message is: stay focused. Keep reading this blog ....

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Gentlemen's Poker Club: Season 20 Week 9 Round-up

[The following is reproduced from Action Man's post-game update - typos and all ...]


Sensational week last week ... of note was Jackal to Papas:  Board was A,7,6  papas raises aggressively and Jackal lays down KJ ... “i had KJ of hearts, what the F%$# did you have?”

Papas: Pair of 4’s ....

Franco de Banco vs Nando’s Nick ... Nick has 7,7 and Banco has 9,9 .... Board goes A,9,7 .... Bye bye Nick!!

The pocket pairs continued when Dave Russel used all his birthday luck when his 10,10 v A,A hits a straight to keep him alive.  Melvo had A,A against luckbox Coach (Q,Q) who also hits straight.

Speaking of luckboxes, Jackal calls Actions all-in with J,J with his powerhouse Q,10 ... (which OFCOURSE hits a Q straight away to send Dale off to the town of sulkville, population <Dale>)

Of special mention is Coach who have gone from Zero to Hero with three top two finishes in the last three weeks to now lead the ladder.

Action Man

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The new Davidoff Puro D'oro cigars: The Good Life indeed!

Every once in a while I have the privilege; nay the pleasure, of trying out something new and special before others get the chance.

This time, one of my besties, Simon Devlin, Cigar Master (i hope there's no official society of cigar masters who get upset by my flagrant use of the honorific, but hey - this is a guy who's sat down with cigar legend Min Ron Nee in the latter's own home, lit up stogies from Min's humidor, and drank from his wine collection!) and purveyor of fine cigars and gifts for the man who has everything, sat me down to taste two cigars from Davidoff's new range - Puro D'oro.

According to Christian Von Thron, Davidoff's internationally-roving cigar ambassador, Davidoff has spent quite a bit of time developing a stronger tobacco blend, so as to create something in the style of your top shelf Cubano, albeit out of Dominican leaves. The sincerest form of flattery indeed. Going back to its roots, in a way - in the good old days, Davidoff cigars were Cuban made, but in the old days, quality control in the Cuban factory was non-existent. Donde esta qualitas? No se seƱor! This culminated in Zino Davidoff's famous burning of hundreds of thousands of Cuban cigars in 1989 which he deemed of such poor quality that they were unfit for sale. Which is why, to this day, Davidoff doesn't sell cigars made in Cuba. On the other hand, some would say that Davidoff should take a large part of the credit for developing the credibility of Dominican cigars as a quality smoke (the rest of the credit of course goes to JFK for imposing the Cuban embargo, but not before his Chief of Staff bought hundreds of boxes of Cuban cigars just before the embargo took effect, or so the legend goes).

I started with the Magnificos (a nice fat 52 ring gauge robusto), and Simon took the Notables (a corona gorda with a 46 ring gauge).

Stage 1: Pre-lighting

Since we were intent on a serious tasting, we started with a pre-lighting inspection.

Finished off with a pigtail cap, the Puro D'oro is dark - much darker than your standard Davidoff cigar (excepting the Maduro range, of course), with the wrapper leaf showing a distinctive waxy, oily, marbled sheen that one would only expect from leaves sourced from La Vuelta Abajo.

The pre-lit cigars displayed a mild, light aromatic fragrance, and when cut, offered a good draw - not loose like the proverbial wizard's sleeve, but not so tight that it feels like you're trying to drink porridge through a straw.

The truly intriguing discovery we made was the dry draw flavour (ie from trying to smoke a pre-lit cigar). A spicy, numbing tingle on the tip of the tongue, accompanied by stone fruit/apricot flavour at the back of the throat; with the lingering but subtle taste of tea leaf.

Stage 2: First smoke

Okay - we can only wait so long to light up these bad boys!

On lighting, we noted that the smoke aroma is a richer, dark woody fragrance.  Now for a puff ...

Hmmm ... a slight ammonic tinge on my Magnificos, but Simon's Notables delivered a much stronger mouthful of ammonia.  We speculated that this was due to the narrower ring gauge of the Notables, which served to concentrate the flavours, both good and bad.  These cigars would probably benefit from 2-3 months in the humidor for the ammonia to dissipate.

Simon Devlin (and my thumb ...)
Looking on the bright side, once you get past the ammonia, the flavour is a marvel.  Distinctly more robust than your usual Davidoff, but with subtle complexity, especially in the back palate - espresso, dark chocolate abounds, with thick, creamy smoke enveloping your palate.

The Magnificos has the stronger flavour, exhibiting the bitterness of strong turkish coffee, overlaid by leather and burnt caramel.

The Notables, on the other hand, displays more sweetness - caramel with plummy hints at the edges.

Simon was confident that these cigars will mature well over time.

Stage 3: The final half

Most of the ammonia has now burnt off, leaving us to enjoy the unadulterated flavours.

The ash is quite white, which is characteristic of Dominican leaves.  Surprisingly, it was also very crumbly, despite the fact that these cigars were made from long filler (reminiscent of Cubans).  It certainly didn't stay on the cigars for as long as your normal Davidoffs.  I remember smoking a Zino Platinum Crown Barrel once - the ash lasted nearl halfway into the cigar before falling off of its own accord (and I wasn't nursing it either!).

I'm starting to feel lightheaded, which is very unusual for my first cigar of the day.  These little suckers do pack a punch.

Towards the final third of the cigars, the flavours start to intensify.  I'm now getting more burnt toffee flavours, with nicely complements the Henessy VSOP that Simon decides it's time to drink.  As an aside, he serves them in Riedel cognac glasses (which his shop stocks, of course), and I have to admit that it truly enhances the enjoyment of the drink - you can breathe deep the aroma without feeling like you've just set fire to your nose hairs (which is what will happen if you try it from a normal cognac balloon).

The cognac brings out more pronounced caramel flavours from the cigar smoke, reminding me of why a glass of cognac is such a popular accompaniment to a cigar.


These Davidoff Puro D'oros are a truly pleasurable smoke!

However, I have to say that the Notables was far more enjoyable for me.  It's probably because I prefer a milder, yet complex smoke.  For those who like a big flavoured, robust cigar, the Magnificos will not disappoint.

When they finally become available in-store in Australia, I have no doubt that they will be popular, particularly among the more patient connoisseurs who are prepared to wait at least a couple of months for the cigars to develop in the humidor.  The only question is the price point.  I fervently hope that it's going to be a reasonable one, because I'm certainly going to be smoking more of these little fellas!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Pork crackling: golden joy by Fergus Henderson

The chef who has most inspired my cooking exploits is Fergus Henderson of St John Restaurant in London.  I stumbled upon his restaurant by accident while doing some internet research for a trip to London many years ago.  His philosophy of nose to tail eating reverberated with me - from pig's ear terrine, crispy pig's tails and even deep fried squirrel (this blog only provides you with a glimpse of the kind of crazy shit that my best mate Brandon and I eat while on holidays.  We might not necessarily enjoy it, but we'll try it at least once!)

I'm pleased to say that we subsequently sampled the delights of St John (including said pig's ear terrine and crispy fried pig's tails) during one very cold London winter, and were very happy indeed!  We even finished off our dinner with these fresh baked mini madeleines which had an exquisite lemon-honey flavour.  Needless to say, I have been evangelical about St John ever since - well before they received a Michelin star.

Anyway, back to the story: doing my internet research, I found their website, was entranced by what I saw, and promptly purchased both cookbooks: Nose to Tail Eating, and Beyond Nose to Tail: A kind of British Cooking: Part II.  Whoever thought that British cooking comprised solely of boiled meats and vegetables, will have their misconceptions brutally shattered by these inspiring books.

The section on rendering in Book II was a revelation to me!  I now happily collect fat run-off from all my roasting for serious slow-cooking and storing meats.

Several years on, and I've only tried a handful of recipes, but one I keep coming back to is pork scratchings, on page 8 of Book II, although I've added a couple of extra bits to it which work for me.

This is a long and involved process, but one that is certainly worth the effort.

Stage 1: You dry salt the pigskin for 5 days, to draw out the smelly oils and excess moisture, then soak it overnight in cold water.

Stage 2: Drain the water, pat the skin dry with a clean tea towel, and lay it out in an oven tray, smear the top with fat (the recipe calls for duck fat, but I'm just as happy using pig fat - it doesn't make any difference).  Cover with foil and stick it in a medium oven (180 degrees celsius) for 2.5 hours.

At the end of this process, your skin will be soft and yielding, but reduced in size and considerably thinner, with much of the moisture and fat leeched out by the slow-cooking.

I usually give it about 20 minutes to cool down and for the fat to start to congeal, then I store it.  You could place it in a container, but I find that laying it out on a sheet of gladwrap works just as well.  Just make sure that the bottom of the skin is slathered in congealing fat first before you lay it down, and then smear a good protective layer of fat on top, before folding over the gladwrap to form an airtight (and fat-tight) seal on all sides.  Then chuck it in the fridge.

Stage 3: When it's time to succumb to the siren call of the crackling, pull it out of the fridge and lay the skin on an oven rack.  If there's still a thick layer of fat on the underside of the skin, scrape it off with a knife, but don't try to cut it too fine, otherwise you're going to start taking off skin as well (skin is essential to the crackling - the skin is the crackling),

Crank up the heat to 180 degrees celsiius, and leave it in there until it puffs up into golden joy (as described in the book).  If there are pools of oil on the surface of the skin, use a pair of tongs to pull up one edge so that the oil slides off - the idea is to keep the top of the skin oil free, otherwise it won't puff up.

Ahhh joy (I'm crunching down on a healthy sheet of crackling as I type this).

Sourcing the ingredients: I get my skin from my favourite butcher, Aggie's Meats on Preston Street in Como.  You'll need to order it in, but the helpful staff are more than happy to oblige.  Of course, given that the pig skin will only cost a couple of dollars, do the right thing and buy a porterhouse steak or a duck, or even a rabbit, while you're at it.  For my current batch, I got a whole piece of skin roughly the surface area of a coffee table.  Of course, I've had to cut it into pieces which will lie flat on an oven tray .. I've been doing the Stage 2 cooking in my crappy little oven for the last 4 days, and still have 4 more sheets left to go!  Some people like to score the skin.  I prefer to keep it intact, because it allows for much more even cooking, and retains the integrity of the skin during Stage 2 cooking and storage.  Believe me, once your puffy golden sheet of joy is done, it's quite easy to break it up - lay it on a chopping board, lay a thick bladed knife (eg meat cleaver) or cake server flat on the skin, and just apply gentle pressure until it breaks up into bite size chunks.

As for the fat, if you can't find a tub of duck fat, just buy the pigskin with the fat left on.  Cut that out, chuck it into an oven tray and crank up the heat to around 150 degrees celsius.  After a while, all the oily goodness will ooze out, and you can pour it into an old jam jar for storage.

There you go - a (relatively) healthy yet decadent snack!  There's not much fat left, because it's mostly been scraped or melted off at the various stages of preparation.  My personal trainer Tony reckons it's the perfect post-workout high protein food.

There's another recipe for back fat and walnuts, which involves salting for a month, but you'll need to buy the book for that.  Go to the St John website and buy one of the cookbooks - in fact, buy both!  You won't regret it.