Alternative Christmas Dinner
We are in Australia. Posting may be sporadic, but I do want to do my Christmas dinner, and custard based recipes. I may well leave the acceptable way with sprouts post, that I have not really written yet, to next Christmas now!
Anyway, this year we are having Christmas by ourselves in Cairns. An Aussie Christmas has to have seafood, and should also include a barbecue somewhere in the proceedings. We were very lucky indeed, and also had access to a pool and an entire rainforest to ourselves, since no one else was about. All in all, it was a pretty brilliant day.
We were lucky enough to get hold of some Moreton Bay Bugs, which are actually a kind of slipper lobster. Most Moreton Bay Bugs are caught as by-catch from the prawn and scallop fishing industries, both of which are trawled for. Trawling is a highly destructive practice, resulting in a lot of unintended species netted (bycatch) and destruction of the sea bed. The Australian Marine Conservation Society urges you to ‘Think Twice‘ before eating them, largely as a result of the catch method involved. We found a fish market that claimed that they were sustainably caught. It is possible to scuba dive for these, as it is for scallops, but these are very difficult to find.
Anyway, if you do get them, you need green (uncooked) bugs if you want to barbecue them. They cannot live long out of water, and spoil much quicker than crabs or lobster, so this may not be easy. Never reheat them, so if all you can get is cooked, just eat them cold.
In North Queensland, fresh (and ripe!) tropical fruits are sold all over the place. They are cheap and plentiful. I had been thinking that mango, papaya, chili and lime would be perfect partners for the sweetness of the bugs, which naturally leads you to Thai flavours. They typically use green papaya, and I only had ripe, but I made do with what I had.
I hope that I am not one for boasting, but the result was really good. I was very proud of our tasty little Christmas Dinner.
I have given the recipe below, but if you cannot find Moreton Bay Bugs, you could substitute with scallops, langoustines, or even lobster if you are feeling decadent! Just please check out how they are caught, and try to get sustainably caught and managed fish where you can – the ocean is an important source of food for us, and keeps a lot of communities going, but only if we look after it well. Something which is sadly not happening too much these days.Your local Marine Conservation Society can help give you an idea of fish stocks and some sustainably managed areas (although their system is not perfect). If you don’t have this, then organisations like Greenpeace can tell you which species to avoid altogether.
If you can’t or won’t get any of these, just have the salad – it is really tasty on its own.
Recipe: Moreton Bay Bugs and Vietnamese Salad
Moreton Bay Bugs – 3 per person
For the salad dressing:
1 small hot chilli (eg bird’s eye)
2 cloves garlic
4 tbsp lime juice
4 tbsp fish sauce (nam pla)
1 tbsp soft brown sugar
1 tbsp coriander stalks
1 tbsp mint leaves
For the salad:
Mixed salad leaves
Chopped, unsalted peanuts
For the noodles:
1 pack noodles
1 spring onion
Make the salad dressing. Mix the lime, fish sauce and the sugar, until the sugar has dissolved. Mince the garlic using your knife, deseed the chilli (or leave them in if you like things really hot) and chop it finely. Chop the coriander stalks and mint leaves as finely as you can. Add all of these to the lime mix, and taste for balance, you may need to add a touch more lime or chilli, to your taste. Set aside for the flavours to develop.
A short period of time in the freezer should be enough to kill the bugs humanely. Slice the bugs in half, lengthways, with a sharp knife. You will then need to clean the digestive tract and the head.
Make the salad, by mixing up the salad leaves, a good bunch of coriander, a handful of mint leaves, and julienned cucumber and papaya. Wash the beansprouts well, before adding them, and blanch the asparagus, and cut the stalks into 3-4 pieces, on the angle. I would also have added grated carrot, but we managed to lose the carrots somewhere between the shop and home, so no carrots for us. Mix together well, and set aside.
Oil the flesh of the bugs, with a squeeze of lime, and place on a hot barbecue, flesh side down for about 8 minutes. Then flip them to colour the shells. They are done when the flesh becomes opaque.
Meanwhile, make the noodles according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Thinly slice the spring onion and the chilli and add to the vinaigrette. I had a very simple lime vinaigrette left over from the previous day’s lunch, but you can make up your own with 1 part lime juice to 3 parts olive oil. Leave the chilli and the onion to macerate to take the raw edge off them. When the noodles are cooked, drain, and pour over the vinaigrette, and mix well, so that the noodles don’t stick.
When everything is cooked, dress the salad with the dressing you made earlier, and toss together well. Plate up the noodles and the salad, and sprinkle with chopped, unsalted peanuts. Serve with the warm bugs, and a cold glass of wine. Next to a pool in the tropics, by preference.