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Thanks to All the Fish

March 3, 2019


     It's almost dawn, the first birds are calling and the smell of fresh coffee rises over the faint saltwater breeze. I get up, pull some faded khaki shorts on, and wander downstairs to the communal staff kitchen. Donnie the barman is up as usual and he pours me a cup. Everyone's asleep and we sip our coffee wordlessly as we look from the deck out over the dark sea. It's pretty flat and in the very first light I see some big clouds over on the mainland mountain range. Coffee drunk, we grab our fishing rods and pad barefoot down the sandy path to the jetty. As we bait up the sky is turning pink and gold and the distant clouds look like frozen surf.


     We start casting and almost immediately Donnie hooks a nice Trevalley. The sound of the catch is loud - the splashing echoes off the headland cliffs of Cape Richards. We keep casting and then I get a bite - another Trevalley. I land the gleaming silver and yellow creature, and with a silent thank you I quickly dispatch it. Within an hour or so we are blessed with five decent sized fish. After cleaning and scaling them, we take our prizes to the kitchen. I go take a shower and put on my chef's whites. I'm on a remote and exclusive island resort on the Great Barrier Reef and I'm doing the breakfast and lunch shift today.


     After breakfast I have a glass of cold juice in the sun and consider lunch. I make a fresh menu up for the guests each day and Trevally is undoubtedly going to be one of the three mains. It's going to top 30 degrees today and I'm thinking I'll serve the fish cold. From the kitchen's potted herb garden I select some dill, thyme and tarragon, and back in the little sun-lit kitchen I fillet the fish and make a stock with their heads and frames. Out at the bar I check on the baby honey-eaters hiding in their tear-drop shaped nest, grab a bottle of sherry, and liberate a half empty bottle of house white from the bar-fridge. I use the wine and the tarragon, together with leek and carrot, to make a court bouillon broth in which I gently poach the fish fillets. They get a cold room cool down while I par-boil a couple of kilos of kipfler potatoes, skins and all.


     Now the fish stock is ready, and as I strain it, the steamy fragrance brings the big blue surrounding the island into the kitchen. I make a veloute base, skimming off any dross, add a glug of the Dry Sack sherry and most of the fresh dill, which has been lightly blanched to hold its color, then blended as smooth as melted emeralds. A little whisking brings it all together for me to taste. The dill is bold, the dry sherry complex, but neither crowd out the subtlety of the fish veloute. A bit more seasoning and I put the verdant green sauce in the cold room and bring out the poached Trevalley. With gentle respect I break the fillets into big succulent flakes and carefully mix in tiny ribbons of roasted red and yellow capsicum and a smidge of roughly chopped dill. The kipflers, now drained and cooled, are roughly broken up and roasted into golden brown chunks - the little bits of skin going crispy and taking on a nutty earthy flavour. As the taters cool I season them with ground black pepper and a squirt of lemon juice.


     When service comes, eleven of the fifteen guests order the Trevalley, and that's no surprise. They're on a tropical island, and Jane my waitress has told them that I've also caught the fish. I can hear guests oh-wowing from the dining room. Plating up, I use an egg ring to make a fat cake of kipfler and then squiggle on a good amount of the cold green sauce. The Trevally and capsicum mix goes onto this, and then another layer of sauce and fish. A jaunty sprig of fresh dill on top and a sphere of dressed rocket leaves on the side bring the green. Around all this I put a few semi circles of vermilion red Ajvar that I made a few days earlier. The spicy pepper and eggplant relish sets off the green sauce and rocket in both taste and colour.


     I like it, and so do the guests - their plates come back wiped clean. I get a few sun-tanned faces at the kitchen door giving me smiles and compliments. Later when my shift is done, I go for a swim at Orchid Beach, on the ocean-side of the cape. Diving to the bottom, I turn on my back and look up to the quicksilver of the surface and the deep blue sky beyond it. It's been a great day and tomorrow promises to be just as good. I'll be up at dawn, fishing, and once again I give thanks to all the fish.




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