What’s good at the mar­kets and how to cook with it

The Weekend Australian - Life - - FOOD & DRINK - JU­DITH ELEN ju­dithe­le­nat­[email protected]

This week: the ex­otic, the fa­mil­iar and the lit­tle­known. An­cient, sub­trop­i­cal ly­chees orig­i­nated in south­ern China around 1700BC. Chi­nese gold­min­ers brought them here in the 1870s and com­mer­cial pro­duc­tion be­gan 100 years later. Now we have the world’s long­est sea­son, Oc­to­ber to March, from far north Queens­land (Cook­town) to north­ern NSW (Coffs Har­bour).

Th­ese del­i­cate, sweet fruits, en­cased in crisp, knob­bly pink-red shells, are at farm gates, cen­tral mar­kets and lo­cals such as Or­ganic Gold Coast Farm­ers Mar­ket (where they’re or­ganic, and an es­pe­cially tasty va­ri­ety).

While pump­kins in­habit ev­ery re­gion, lo­cal mar­ket and many sub­ur­ban back­yards, the sea­son has just be­gun for soft, moist, sweet-tast­ing span­ner crabs. They in­habit coastal wa­ters from Yep­poon, Queens­land, to Nowra, south­ern NSW and north of Perth, Western Aus­tralia, through to Oc­to­ber. Com­mer­cially, they’re caught wild us­ing dil­lies (bas­ket­like pots, strictly reg­u­lated) and gen­er­ally sold cooked. If un­cooked, buy them live.

Once in­ex­pen­sive, span­ner crabs are cost­ing more as their pop­u­lar­ity grows. Gold Coast Fish­er­man’s Co-op (Wharf 10) sells them; Noosa Fish Provi­dores has them at its fac­tory (Wed­nes­day to Satur­day) and at Noosa Farm­ers Mar­ket on Sun­days. They’re also at Syd­ney Fish Mar­ket.

On hol­i­days, you could catch your own span­ner crabs: see gold­coast­bul­letin.com.au for the fish­ing re­port. To cook hu­manely (rspca.org.au), re­frig­er­ate for a cou­ple of hours or put them in the freezer for 45 min­utes; cook in rapidly boil­ing wa­ter (for 400g, 10 min­utes from re­turn to boil) and sub­merge in salted ice wa­ter, which sets the meat and en­hances flavour. The body and claws yield 25 per cent meat. Blue swim­mer crabs, mar­rons, yab­bies, rock lob­sters are sub­sti­tutes.

This week’s chef is an elo­quent ad­vo­cate for Sun­shine Coast pro­duce.

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