Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Shark on Board.

Today, May 3rd …

William Dampier – adventurer, scientific observer, sea-captain and probable pirate – was the first Englishman to explore and map parts of Australia at the end of the seventeenth century. Unfortunately he was no foodie: there are precious few entries in his journals which mention food in any significant way, so we must glean what we can.

In 1699 he was given command of HMS Roebuck by the British Admiralty, with the commission to explore New Holland (Australia). On this day he was 234 miles west of Cape Salvadore, and wrote:

We cought 3 small sharks, each 6 foot 4 inches long; and they were very good food for us. The next day we caought three more sharks of the same size and we eat them also, esteeming them as good Fish boil’d and pres’d, and then stew’d with Vinegar and Pepper.

Eating shark has often been problematic for humans - they have no scales so are not kosher, animal rights activists object to the harvesting of their fins for soup, and their common names are often most unappetising. Who would have relished the idea of “Dogfish” or “Gummy Shark” before they were re-branded as “Rock Salmon” or “Flake”? Seventy years after Dampier, Joseph Banks aboard HMS Endeavour with Captain James Cook alluded to the other reason we are equivocal about eating shark – shark sometimes eats us. On day he described the catch of the day as “very good meat … tho’ some of the Seamen did not seem to be fond of him, probably from some prejudice founded on the species sometimes feeding on human flesh”.

A seminal cookbook in Australia’s culinary history is “The Art of Living in Australia" , by Philip Muskett (1893), and it does indeed have a recipe for fish cooked with vinegar and peppercorns. Dampier would have enjoyed it.

2 Mullet, 1/2 pint Vinegar, 1 gill Water, 1 fagot of Herbs, 1 doz. Peppercorns, Salt,
Wash the fish, dry them on a cloth, and rub them with a little salt. Lay them in a deep dish, put in the herbs and peppercorns, pour over the vinegar and water. Cover with a tin, and stand in a cool oven, and bake very slowly for an hour. Take them out and let them get quite cold in the vinegar, then lay them in a dish, and strain the sauce over. Garnish with sprigs of parsley.

Tomorrow: Colonial Kosher.

Quotation for the Day …

I'm fond of anything that comes from the sea, and that includes sailors. Janet Flanner.


Anonymous said...

I have various family recipes like most people. Unlike most people's, however, they sort of fit in with your tomorrow's topic, my father's family having come to Australia in the 1850s and the family still being strongly Jewish. I have 19th century Aussie Jewish madeira cake and plum pudding and other delights.

Maybe I should blog a couple and keep you company?

The Old Foodie said...

Hello Gillian
Please do blog your family recipes, and the family stories that no doubt go with them. I would really love to see them, and am sure a lot of others would too. There must be a whole Aussie Jewish culinary history waiting to be written (in your spare time of course ... ).

Anonymous said...

I teach using the tradition, when the course permits. I also have used the culinary history in a novel - just a matter of finding a publisher who wants an Australian Jewish foodie/magic story of sisters and secrets. In the meantime, I'll keep an eye on your blog and do recipes to keep you company from time to time :).

Unknown said...

If there is one thing a North Australian finds most difficult living in Melbourne (more even than having to put up with AFL religious fundamentalism) is the fact that plain old fish and ships is shark (flake). So I seldom bother. How can any place that thinks shark in batter is OK know anything about decent fish and its cooking. Glad to see you mention mullet. Now there is something that is so frequently despised. Sold for bait as often as not. In the Queen Vic markets here, it is sold whole but not in fillets. Deep sea mullet is my favourite but I am rarely able to get it.

Anonymous said...

Some may feel squeamish about eating it, but rabbit has a fan base that grows as cooks discover how easy they are to raise — and how good the meat tastes.