Contrabando: It’s Spanish for Speakeasy

Given that the current regime running the show in NSW Parliament House is – with the help of its various aiders and abettors in the press – trying to make having that third glass of wine about as socially acceptable as molesting puppies it is not surprising that those still looking for a good time in Sydney are going underground. Literally.

Which is why it is ultimately not surprising to see the likes of Contrabando enter the game down at an end of town that is slowly but surely becoming an alternative late-ish night precinct for those not wanting to brave the tides of drunken over-titled “managers” on the make at the George Street Hemmes compound. Occupying the old underground Noble House restaurant in Bent Street and run by the same people behind that long-time Prick favourite lunch joint, the street-level Barrafina upstairs, Contrabando carries on the Latin theme but twists it up with a certain slightly seedy (but not at all unpleasant) American Hustle chic. Found via a hard-to-find doorway marked with some very Melbournian graffiti and down a staircase that feels a bit like heading down the back entrance to the Copacabana, Contrabando is a basement bunker that time forgot. In the best of ways.

Food is big and bold and more substantial than all but the biggest bits upstairs, with some real winners: a bright kingfish ceviche and a simple dish of tomatoes let the produce sing, though our table suffered menu envy at our neighbours’ miniature chorizo hot dogs. A prawns and quinoa salad is refreshing and sweet, and is the perfect way for anyone who thinks “ancient grains” are bit … you know … to get over any such complexes.

Skewers of ox heart – shaved thinly so squeamish dates don’t know what they’re getting – taste as all beef should, echoing the great offal chef Fergus Henderson’s near-mysticism about the organ being “the most expressive muscle in any animal”. If there’s any let-down, the accompanying mushroom salad was just screaming to undergo a bit of a quick pickle. Sweets come up trumps, unfussy but cleanly executed without being cloying, and encourage sitting around and extending lunch just that much later.

There’s also plenty of good and interesting booze on tap and, whodathunkit, a really popular El Salvadorian beer (“…you can get it any viejo tiempo…”). And while of course the Prick encourages responsible consumption this really is a place to go for a proper session: Without any giant windows for passing bosses or clients to see through it wasn’t surprising to see a couple of businessmen next door work through some beers, a bottle of wine, and conclude a lunchtime deal on a couple of cognacs. Not sure how much got done back at the office, of course.

Not that Contrabando is just a daytime hideout. Apparently Contrabando has a license to trade until midnight, further solving one of Sydney’s great problems, namely that there is no place to get a decent meal after about 9:30 or so in much of what considers itself to be a “world city”. (One of our great memories of last year’s European bacchanal involves being the only two foreigners at Al Timon on the Cannaregio Canal in Venice and watching locals rock up at nearly midnight – on a Tuesday – for vast platters of bistecca Fiorentina and noting that despite the hour and the booze no one felt the need to drop a “cowie” on anyone else. Politicians never take the right lessons from their European “study tours”.)

Good food, good booze, malas chicas. It’s enough to make a Prick wish he worked in the CBD again.  

Contrabando on Urbanspoon

Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Is Australia Day. Is Good.

With Australia Day imminent, the tiresome culture wars over whether it should really be called “Invasion Day” or if there is in fact anything worthwhile being proud of in one of the world’s most prosperous and tolerant democracies is once again in full swing. For those so inclined, I had a few words in the Telegraph yesterday analyzing our bizarre relationship with our national day:

LIKE Christmas carols played in October and hot cross buns hitting the shelves in January, it seems people start hating Australia Day earlier and earlier each year.

This year, Australians had barely shaken off the cobwebs from New Year’s Eve before the annual festival of self-flagellation around our national day began. For weeks now legions of academics, pundits, and comment thread trolls have been stalking the landscape, looking to stamp out any sign of pride in Australia’s post-settlement heritage with all the enthusiasm of Queenslanders going after cane toads with a six-pack and a nine iron.

 The Prick was also on The Project last night sticking up for Australia Day against Peter FitzSimons and Waleed Aly … click here, the segment starts around the 24 minute mark.

Back on deck in a few days with full reports on Noosa and other points north. 

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments


So the Prick’s back in the Telegraph today, speaking truth to the various neo-prohibitionist killjoys who would use a bunch of ‘roided-up lunatics as an excuse to shut down everyone else’s good time:

The fact is Australia is something of a middleweight when it comes to alcohol consumption. Our drinking is well off its peak, and each year we show a greater preference for wine over beer and spirits. This trend reflects our increasing sophistication and interest in food, and suggests a growing European-style drinking culture, which should be applauded.

But to the new nannies and secular Methodists of today’s temperance movement, there is little difference between mums and dads having a few wines on a Sunday afternoon or a couple kicking on for a nightcap after a romantic dinner on one hand and the criminally violent, amped up on booze as well as drugs or steroids on the other.

According to NSW’s own statistics, booze-related assaults and hospital admissions are heading down – and have been since 2008.

Those allegedly responsible for fights and bashings are often already on bail or parole or have serious criminal records, suggesting the problem isn’t so much licensees letting thugs in as magistrates letting them out.

By way of comparison I’m in the paper next to one such nanny, a gent who (amongst other things) seems to reckon that we could learn a thing or two from sharia in our current panic over grog:

Reduction and regulation of advertising has been effective in countries such as France, Norway, Ukraine, India, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Sweden, Kenya, Hong Kong and most Muslim countries.

Personally, I’m happy to live in a country where 150 Lashes is a brand of beer, and not a punishment.

Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments

Ode on a Former Titty Bar: John Keats, Negative Capability, and the New Oxford Tavern

“This isn’t a faux-dive. This is a dive!” – The Simpsons

One does not often think of English Romantic poets in the context of refurbished titty bars. But when it comes to John Keats and the new-look Oxford Tavern in Petersham, the two might just have more in common than one would first imagine.


Dive right in — ironically, of course

Keats, because while the poet may be best known for his various odes (hands up if you had to memorise “Grecian Urn” in school) his most important contribution to the life of the mind may be his notion of “negative capability.” Keats described this phenomenon in a letter as “when man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason”.

Or as writer Maria Popova succinctly interprets it, negative capability means a “willingness to embrace uncertainty, live with mystery, and make peace with ambiguity.”

What does this have to do with the Oxford? Well, because while there is a great deal about the place which – as we shall see – the Pricks should find ridiculous, silly, inauthentic, ersatz, or simply just-not-our-scene, we have also all but declared it our new local.

For us, it may as well be called the Negative Capability Arms.

The Oxford, old and new, sits at the corner of Petersham’s New Canterbury Road and Crystal Street, a neglected, unsalubrious pocket of the inner-west dominated by no-hoper junkie rooming houses and the Supreme Politburo of Marrickville Council; in the bar’s previous incarnation employees of the latter would juice away their lunch hours ogling topless residents of the former over schooners of Resch’s and Carlton.

Or so the Prick is given to understand.

In its renaissance the Oxford has become a creature of the hipster nightlife impresarios at Drink’n’Dine Group who spent several months and what one imagines was a fair amount of money on cladding and kitsch and untreated timber turning a real Australian dive into a fake American one. The Prick has always wondered how Irishmen feel seeking cookie-cutter pubs promising the craic in every corner of the globe from Ushuaia to Ulaanbaatar. Now, just a ten minute stagger up the hill, is a joint which owes a lot to the deliberately dowdy post-collegiate bars of Upper East Side Manhattan – specifically those which sprung up along Second Avenue in the mid-1990s. The Prick’s cultural capital is being exploited by capitalists!


Your day’s recommended intake of fruit in one convenient $25 jug of cocktails

But seriously even if not deliberate it is a little eerie, frankly, to see the misspent Friday evenings of early adulthood reproduced with such a vengeance 10,000 miles and nearly twenty years away. All that’s missing is the pints of Coors Light and former frat boys spending their first pay packets from the banks. Instead the Oxford is lousy with off-the-rack hipsters, all beards and body art and craft beers and cocktails and American-style bar food, which seems to be the Next Big Thing for 2014. (Drink’n’Dine is also installing what look to be some fairly impressive smokers out the back which promises at least a decent simulacrum of American barbeque, though confusingly they seem want to keep a foot in 2013 with a big mural promising “salsas” and “comidas” and other Mexican fare along with the ribs and so on. It will be interesting to see how their pulled pork stacks up to what is turned out at Stately Prick Manor.)

And yet, despite the fake redneck routine and the poseur crowds (it threatens to become the Grounds of Alexandria with more booze and fewer children, which, come to think of it might make the Grounds that much more tolerable as well) and the queues for drinks (though kudos to the bespectacled young lady in the front bar who always tests her product with a straw and then makes adjustments as required, showing an admirable commitment to craft over, like too many other barkeeps, just slowly getting pissed on the job) and the food which can range from the brilliant (nachos as well as anything little and fried, but could we have some proper Buffalo wings with lots of heat and blue cheese dressing, please?) to the bizarre (a Mexican schnitzel is not a good idea) to the overwhelming (the “double dawg” is a helluva thing), all served in those universal plastic burrito baskets or in aluminum foil rather than on anything as daggy as plates, we like it.


“I see you’ve played knifey-hot dog before!”

Because it is close, and our only other locals are either too well-meaning and suburban or too legitimately dive-dive to let us feel at home, and because they put on a good feed and make a good drink (though if we’re going down this road could we get some Pabst Blue Ribbon in, and not at $9 a can either?) and are starting to get to know us, and because America is an idea as much as a place and as such her culinary spirit can live anywhere, even in a mini-chain’s refurbished titty bar, we will keep holding up the bar whenever we are feeling too lazy to cook and have a night off from the Three Little Pricks.

While we’re on the subject of refurbishment, it is worth noting that the management has not beaten the old sword completely into a ploughshare and that there are still reminders of the original inhabitants, so to speak, all over the place. It is not quite Pope Sixtus hauling up an obelisk in St Peter’s to remind the faithful of what came before, but from the old neon signs to the menu art to the lubricious paintings leading to the front bar toilets which make “Dogs Playing Poker” look like a Dutch master, management is still keen to trade on the bar’s seedier past. There’s even a dessert that’s an ode to jelly wrestling (no, we haven’t, nor will we).


We will proudly be first through the picket line at the inevitable “Take Misogyny Off the Menu” protest

Which is fine, and we Pricks get the joke, but we also wonder just how long the Oxford’s motif will survive in the current climate of hair-trigger offense. After all, this is an age when a restaurant can get in trouble for “sexist” urinals – despite their having been designed by a woman – or a burger joint can find a bad visual pun of an ad censored by the Advertising Standards Board on similar grounds. The owners and investors behind the Oxford surely have to deal with plenty of unsavoury characters in their time in the bar and nightclub business, but here’s hoping they don’t ever have to endure a Van Badham-led Twitter-storm, or even worse, a drive-by cheese-sandwiching.

Though come to think of it, that could be a pretty tasty menu item …

The Oxford Tavern on Urbanspoon

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Freedom With a Side of Fries

In the fight between a bunch of freedom-hating nannies who’d impose their grey aesthetic on the world and the fast food giants, there’s really no question whose side to take. The Prick in the Telegraph today:

Putting aside the creepy implication that our lives only have value insofar as our impact on the government’s bottom line, it tends to be only those who do not have the platform of a position in academia, the media, or politics who find their lifestyles’ under fire.

A few years ago the Australian Medical Association suggested that obesity cost the healthcare system $1.2 billion a year. But that wasn’t headline-making enough, so they instead declared that “Factoring in lost productivity, obesity cost Australian society and governments $21 billion”.

Oddly, no one ever counts up the “billions” in lost productivity from inner-city workers ducking out for a coffee once or twice a day. Add it up and your typical office worker might spend a week each year on the boss’s time enjoying a product that can cause everything from increased blood pressure to anxiety to anaemia.

Don’t hold your breath waiting for a scare story about how the Big Barista industry is wreaking havoc with health and productivity.

Naturally, you should read the whole thing.

Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments

Chippendale Review: Reading the Book of ester

Ever since Trollope wrote his indictment of late-Victorian England, the phrase “the way we live now” has been used to label any panoramic novel which captures a moment in time and becomes required reading for literate people of the day – even if the work itself is pretty crap. Think Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections (entertaining in parts with the best set pieces all but stolen from David Foster Wallace). Or, closer to home, Chris Tsiolkas’ The Slap, that coke-fueled romp through Melbourne suburbia later turned into an all-but-unwatchable ABC series and sent up with aplomb by The Hamster Wheel.

But if a book can limn the essence of a time, what about a restaurant? A recent night at ester in Chippendale suggests that yes, a restaurant can capture a time and place every bit as much as a novel, and be enjoyed more quickly than an 800-page doorstop to boot.

Thus to the Prick’s way of thinking a meal at ester needs to be seen on a couple of levels: Yes, it is a very good, fun, hip, laid-back place to go for a high-end, low-key, sit-down meal with friends. But ester is also a fine-grained portrait of a certain sort of very echt Sydney dining (and living) circa 2013.


Flintstones! Meet the Flintstones!

The food at ester (no reactionary capital letters here, please) is almost uniformly very good tending toward the excellent, turned out of a big open kitchen dominated by a wood-fired oven and led by Mat Lindsay with, as a waiter tells us, “everything designed to be shared”.

That’s at least two or three zeitgeist boxes ticked right there.

The menu, with its flights of five or six items offered in a series of courses of escalating size, each listed elliptically simply as a verbless triumvirate of ingredients (cauliflower/almond/mint, squid/ink/corn, you get the idea) is perfect for double dates as everyone will be able to try just about everything they are interested in over any given course. (Add a third couple and things could get a bit less Franzen and a bit more Updike, if you catch the Prick’s drift.) Very 4Fourteen, very Nomad, very now.

Marrow – an ingredient of the moment whose time has happily damn well come – at ester is much talked-about among the fooderati, and deservedly so, served as it is in massive split, roasted bones right out of The Flintstones and drizzled with XO chili sauce. The quivering contents are scooped in great hunks reminiscent in texture and jiggle of pan-seared foie gras  onto slabs of hearty woodfired bread.


Raw, y’all

Raw fish, mulloway on our night, is presented simply and needs little in the way of garnish, though mustard seeds simmered in soy are a touch astringent and distracting. Oven-popped oysters are an exception to the the Prick’s never-cook-‘em rule and are accentuated rather than overwhelmed by a tart horseradish dressing.  Veal tartare is more of a carpaccio affair, pulling apart between forks and foiled by blobs of “oyster sauce” – a bright, verdant blend of bivalves and herbs, not the cloying Chinese stuff one gets out of a bottle – though the promised bottarga is hard to detect.


Big plates! Dive in!

The only real fall-down among the smaller plates is the asparagus. Roasted with a beautiful char, the poor spears are overwhelmed and difficult to eat under a blanket of nasturtium and flowers and powders. Somewhere hidden beneath the foliage is a 62-degree egg whose yolk ought to work as a sauce but cannot quite get to the job because of all the competing traffic on the plate.

Happily, and in contrast to some other kitchens that spend so much time fiddling around with starters that mains come off second best, the big “woodfired” plates are just as good, if not superior to what comes before. And further reflecting the present paddock-to-plate simplicity-loving zeitgeist, the dishes are each about one preparation, one process (perhaps two or three if you count steps like brining, but it is all heading in the same direction). What one does not see is some jumped-up chef trying to show off by cooking some protein three different ways: This ain’t Come Dine With Me Australia after all.

Pork hock is stunning, spicy, roasted, gelatinous, and fall-apart, a mainline to the id of any pig-lover, with a garnish of pickled carrots to clean the palate. A piece of fish (blue eye, from memory) is fine as it is but really serves as a foil for a deep, rich burnt onion broth. Duck is slightly too fiddly, though who knew sticking a cauliflower into a wood oven was such a good idea? We became such a fan of the method some minor consideration was given to building such a contraption out the back of Stately Prick Manor, which is just proximate enough to Leichhardt to get away with.

The Prick is not much of a dessert person, but the “three milks” is a departure from the post-progressive mood of the place, with three different “milks” done three different ways (order it, they’ll explain). Much ooh-ing and ah-ing was pronounced over the other items, but a simple salted caramel semifreddo was perhaps the simplest and best, washed down with a slug of Calvados.

In sum ester may be a pitch-perfect, almost alarming in its lack of dissonance, reflection of the way we live – or at least eat – now. The place feels calculated right down to the slightly uncomfortable chairs and even the name. Our table nearly came to blows over whether the owners named the place after the Biblical queen who headed off a planned Persian genocide of the Jews (this story may bear re-reading in light of current events) or Esther Rolle, who played the matriarch of the ‘70s Jimmie “Dy-no-mite!” Walker vehicle Good Times.

Turns out the name ester comes from the world of chemistry and is defined on the business cards as “an organic compound”. Digging further, the Prick finds that “many naturally occurring fats and essential oils are esters of fatty acids”, which all but defines the kitchen’s tightrope walk between the heavy and rich and the light and zingy. Well played, guys.

Still, the unexamined meal is not worth eating and it is worth asking if the way we are doing things now is really the best way. Sydney’s fine dining crisis is well-rehearsed. Anything that is new and not a burger joint or taco shack is to be celebrated in the same way that sophisticated writing needs to be cheered against the tide of PowerPoint presentations and Buzzfeed listicles which, click by procrastinatory click, are pushing our society back towards the pre-literate.

But is this the way we want to live? Is this where sit-down dining is heading? Take shared dishes. Please. One gets the point but it often as if, like those automatic check-outs in the supermarket, such plates are an innovation designed to benefit the company as much as the consumer. Expediting must be easier for the kitchen: Four different plates don’t need to hit the table at the same time, but can come out in quick succession. Yes, we all get to try everything, but sometimes the Prick feels like the joke about WASPs at a Chinese restaurant: Can’t I just have my own damn plate of food?

On the other hand, if ester suggests that we are swinging back towards grown-up food and dining out, the Prick approves. Plus, it’s a lot more fun than Franzen, especially his recent stuff. What the hell was Freedom about anyway?

Ester on Urbanspoon

Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments

Take your kids to the pub, or, Why children and alcohol do mix even if they always put too much vermouth in the martinis

Eighty years ago this week America’s long national nightmare of prohibition ended, but that doesn’t mean prohibitionists have abandoned the cause.

One of the current terrors of the public health police, who have taken up the mantle of the late Carrie Nation in both spirit and form, is that children might see adults having a few beers and socializing and having a laugh and not glassing each other and think this is a perfectly normal thing for adults to do. Because everyone knows that adults cannot crack a beer without engaging in “alcohol-fueled violence” and costing the taxpayer $25 billion a year.

So far, so predictably neo-prohibitionist. And, just as the Prohibition of old was promoted by a coalition of Baptists and bootleggers, todays’ bluenoses are joined by their opposite number, namely grown-ups who want to have a few beers without ever having to see a child.  

Examples abound of these twin worries expressing themselves: Think of those silly ads portraying suburban barbeques where there was food on the table and beer in the fridge as a sinister form of inter-generational child abuse.

More recently Monica Dux weighed in with equally silly thumb-sucker at the Drum worrying deeply about beer or wine served at school fetes.

And now we have Sarah Harris’s salvo in the Telegraph this week suggesting that kids should be banned, full stop, from pubs, because she and her mates want to be able to have a big session in peace, and anyway, a for-profit prohibitionist named Paul Dillon told her the whole idea was abhorrent because drinking is evil and kids shouldn’t learn about it anyway.

It’s all a bit confusing but let’s try and puzzle it out.

There’s a big push on in the public health industry – the neo-prohibitionists – to “denormalise” the consumption of alcohol. The strategy is to incrementally, via a sort of secular sharia, make more and more spaces in the culture booze-free, ring-fencing drinking into smaller and smaller zones while. The theory is that as occurs happens more and more people will enjoy socializing over caffeine-free herbal tea and going to bed at 9:30 after an amusing evening making shadow hand animals.

As a subtext to all this, it is mandatory that children not see adults drinking lest they realize that it’s actually not as big a deal as those who don’t like drinking think it is. If children are allowed in the beer garden or wines are served at the school fundraiser, this agenda is threatened.

Because after all, P&C mums and dads have a few wines after the working bee are not likely to punch on after building the canteen herb garden.

Hipster dads aren’t going to glass each other in front of little Atticus and Phoebe-Bijou at the local Sunday afternoon beer garden over the last order of pulled pork sliders.

But Harris is not a neo-prohibitionist, she likes a drink – even if she relies on the likes of Dillon to support her argument. And she pulls out other arguments, to be sure.  Yes, there are some awful kids and awful parents out there who behave badly, but that’s because responsible parents have been told that they should stay home, leaving only those who don’t care to come out and colonize public spaces.

Even OH&S, that last refuge of a scoundrel, a statist, or in this case the army of Kants for whom no personal aesthetic cannot be made into categorical imperative to be imposed on society, enforced by another few hundred pages of regulation, gets a look in in Harris’s argument.

But most peculiar is that in her desire for a peaceful drink, she finds common cause with those who would ultimately deny her that freedom. With a few throwaway phrases she endorses the notion that somehow Australia is a nation of soaks in need of a church basement and 22 million folding metal chairs is a popular one, pushed by a helpful rent-a-quote academic “expert” whose livelihood depends on creating a panic that will lead to more “calls for action” in the press and more grant money from politicians.

Yet on any league table Australia is a middle-weight power, well below lots of Western European countries, and by all accounts we’re drinking more wines than beers or the hard stuff.

In any case, there is one good reason to bring young people not just to the pub but to restaurants, museums, and plenty of other places they will have to negotiate as grown-ups.

Children are nothing more than adults in training, and if they never see, they will never learn to do.

This is not about the tyranny of children, or inflicting howling brats on the world.

Rather, properly deployed, it means exposing children to the world and saying, See this? This is how it’s done. It’s about socialization.

And children are also, paradoxically, a civilizing influence. Go to Europe if you don’t believe me. Mrs Prick and I recently undertook a four-week intensive field research program looking at (among other things) issues surrounding wine and food and found children everywhere. Dogs, too. Is someone going to seriously argue that Italy hasn’t got it figured out?

Pubs such as the Henson Park in Marrickville are great examples of pubs that can be family friendly. At the same time, pubs should also be allowed to ban all under-18s, full stop, if that is their wish – a half-point, at least, of agreement with Harris.  

Harris and her mates might like to go have a massive mid-afternoon sesh without any little ones around, and that’s perfectly alright.

But it’s a big world and there’s space enough for all. And one’s personal preferences should not be inflicted universally – especially when they provide aid and comfort to the enemy.


Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments


Me in the Daily Telegraph again, today talking about Joe Hockey’s populist economics:

THREE months after an election that has delivered us a new government, Australians could be forgiven for thinking that for all that has changed, not much has changed at all.

In office sits a government that seems overly fond of intervening in the market and increasing tax takings. In opposition, meanwhile, shadow ministers thunder about the need for reform and for the state to get out of the way.

Yesterday, Treasurer Joe Hockey knocked back US agribusiness giant Archer Daniels Midland’s bid to buy east coast grain distributor GrainCorp.

Earlier in the week, he met with state and territory treasurers to discuss imposing GST on overseas internet purchases worth less than $1000. And in an attempt to shore up Qantas, Hockey also floated the idea of buying back – with taxpayer money – up to 10 per cent of the airline’s shares to help it compete with competitors like Virgin Australia.

Read on

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Dang Ol’ Deep-Fried Down-Home Thanksgiving at Stately Prick Manor

The Prick is just going to put it right out there: Thanksgiving is the greatest holiday on the calendar, and everyone – not just Americans – should celebrate it.

If loving this is wrong, I don’t want to be right

If loving this is wrong, I don’t want to be right

Falling in between Halloween and Christmas on the calendar (traditionally, for Americans, on the last Thursday of the last full week in November), Thanksgiving has it all over the other end-of-year holidays.

Christmas is great (Halloween less so), but either way Thanksgiving does not require much in the way of expensive disposable crap to celebrate, nor does it teach the children to beg their neighbours for candy or their parents for toys.

No warbling R&B singer has ever released an album of autotuned Thanksgiving carols to be played on an endless loop in the supermarkets.

And getting in the spirit of the day requires little more than an ecumenical gratefulness and a willingness to have a big meal and a good time.  Thanksgiving in the US falls this coming Thursday, but because Parliament has not yet granted Australians a four-day weekend to recognise the day – though strictly on the QT the Prick understands fixing this is on the government’s legislative agenda for its next term – we had to have our celebration this past Saturday.


Thanksgiving is a wonderful way for children to learn cooking skills

Thanksgiving has been a tradition around Stately Prick Manor for years, even back in the days when it was just Stately Prick Shotgun Shack. But always the star of the show has been turkeys, deep-fried Southern-style, an admittedly incongruous hero for a Sydneysider who grew up in Manhattan and his Australian partner.

Yet the method’s advantages, once one gets over the health and safety concerns – most of the oil stays in the pot, it’s reasonably safe so long as one knows what one is doing, and anyway do you want to let Simon Chapman tell you what to do? – are both two-fold and huge.

Because of the intense heat and conductivity of the oil, the birds cook in about 45 minutes, meaning one can fry them quickly in sequence to feed a crowd.

And again because of the oil they stay ridiculously moist, unlike a turkey that has sat in an oven for four hours under a scirocco of hot, dry air. Yet at the same time, the skin that results is something to behold, goassamer-thin, golden, and crispy.


Bubble, yes, but not a lot of toil or trouble

Deep-frying is less complex than it sounds. All one needs is a big – really big – pot, one of those wonderful gas rings from an Asian cooking shop that goes like the afterburners on an F-111, a turkey or three, and about fifteen or twenty litres of oil heated to around 175 degrees C. About forty-five minutes later plus resting time, voila: Turkey a la Prick.

(Some good sense does not go astray should you choose to do this: Use water to check how high the liquid will rise when you insert the bird into the hot oil, slowly. If it goes over, you’ve got a fireball. Likewise, turn off the burner when inserting and removing the turkey, wear long pants, keep the kids away, and have a mate holding the pot when you take the bird out to reduce the chances of blowing yourself up. You are planning on doing this outside, right? Because there is no alternative.)

Meanwhile with about fifty people coming through the door this year we did another protein to keep from having to do the last fry around midnight.  To avoid drunken brawls over the last scrap of each bird we did a big load of pulled pork – 10 kilos worth – which sounds terribly hipster, but really, when they’re right, they’re right.

Four 2.5 kilo pork shoulders spent the night, 12 hours, in a brine of water and salt (1:8 ratio) and a good whack of golden syrup. The brine penetrates the meat and seasons it from the inside, and the golden syrup turns on the pig’s natural sweetness. Then, dried off and rubbed with ground cumin, coriander, paprika, and onion powder, it was into the smoker at 5am for another 12 hours at about 95 degrees C, where after a rest they would be pulled by hand to go into rolls from a Marrickville Vietnamese bakery (one of the more positive legacies of France’s exploits in south-east Asia).


Prick with a knife!

Some coleslaw on the rolls brought a bit of sharpness, acid, and crunch to the picture. To do this shred up some cabbage, finely, and toss in a spaghetti strainer with a dressing of white wine vinegar, salt, and sugar (in a 3:1:1 ratio, and you don’t need a lot). Then let sit for an hour in the sink, squeeze out the excess liquid – you’re giving the leaves a very quick picking, essentially – and toss through with a dressing of good mayo and horseradish. Add some shredded carrots and spring onions if you’re feeling really fancy.

Oh, and of course there was barbeque sauce, homemade and mixed through the meat and spread on the rolls. This is best made several days before to let the flavours mature out of the hot, spicy, and overbearing phase of their early relationship and into an agreeable, warm, companionate marriage that’s a pleasure to be around. There are endless iterations of barbeque sauce but we kept it simple. Ketchup, about 500 ml worth, on a low heat, stirring, for about twenty minutes or so with a couple of small tins of tomato paste, 100 grams of white wine vinegar and half again of sherry vinegar, about 80 grams of brown sugar, 5 (or more depending on the crowd, but be careful) grams chili powder, 10 grams of mustard powder and the same again of smoked paprika, and a little bit of onion and garlic powders to round things out, with salt and a good whack of pepper.


On a roll…

There were other sides, too: salads, a mac-and-cheese straight out of the Thomas Keller playbook (the more gruyere in your mornay, the better), and this bit of genius from Louisiana which has featured every single year, with chorizo in place of Andouille.

So that’s all you need to have a down-home southern-style Thanksgiving Prick-style by way of Sydney and New York. An Asian ring burner, a giant pot, a lot of oil, a smoker, plenty of meat, a good Vietnamese bakery, fifty or so friends, a big back yard, a couple hundred bucks worth of groceries, and a few other bits and bobs.

Or, failing that, you can just be thankful.

Posted in Uncategorized | 10 Comments

Conspiracy Debunked

Not really food-related (though I’m sure some people will still think I’m a Prick), here I am in the Daily Telegraph talking Kennedy, conspiracy theories, and communism:

FIFTY years on, the question of who shot John Kennedy lingers. Despite all reasonable evidence pointing to Lee Harvey Oswald – ex-Marine, disaffected loner, Castro sympathiser and one-time Soviet defector – as the sole culprit, the Kennedy assassination remains the thinking person’s conspiracy theory, a game of chess to the chequers of 9/11 trutherism…

But the most powerful conspiracy theory – the one that simply will not die, because it is utterly non-falsifiable – is the one that holds that Kennedy’s death was not so much the work of a lone gunman as a sick culture in which Dallas, the state of Texas, and indeed the entire US was culpable.

This theory solves, for its proponents on the so-called progressive Left, two dilemmas: It is a magician’s distraction that calls the eye away from Oswald’s left-wing sympathies, and it is a bill of indictment on a society the theory’s advocates hold themselves apart from and wish to continually remake in their own image. Remember that for all the mid-century worries about Soviet domination, in the US (and Australia) then as now, much of the media and the progressive cultural left had a hard time believing communism was actually the enemy. Some, such as NSW Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon, still do.

UPDATE: JFK’s wonderful remarks at the 1962 America’s Cup dinner, below, with a long meditation on Australian-American friendship. Plus, a link to his speaking notes from the evening — fascinating to see the annotations, and the man’s mind at work — as well as video of the speech. Sounds like it was a good night: Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments