Good Food guest editor Ben Shewry of Melbourne’s Attica restaurant writes a love letter to his adopted home.
When I came here from New Zealand 15 years ago with my wife Natalia, and $500 in our pockets, I had never visited Melbourne before. What I knew was that I wanted to expand my knowledge of cooking and find a home.
Flavour in all food is something we detect using both our sense of taste and smell. When we are sick or are aging we can lose these senses and as a result find eating less enjoyable than it should be. But in the case of modern commercial varieties of tomatoes you don’t have to be sick or in your dotage to know that something is not right in the flavour department. Like any living thing the genetic makeup of the tomato contributes to the flavour profile. Genes code for the acid and sugar content and for the volatile compounds that activate our olfactory receptors. Modern tomato varieties have arisen from selective breeding for yield, size, disease resistance and firmness: all factors essential from a commercial perspective but emphasised at the expense of taste. But what are the components of flavour that we have lost in the modern tomato? Research published in the January issue of the journal, Science, has identified volatile compounds as the major source of flavour and consumer taste preference by analysis of 398 modern, heirloom and wild varieties. Volatile compounds are present in minuscule amounts, so are not amenable to standard lab tests and quantification. This has meant they have been inadvertently lost or diluted through selective breeding of tomatoes for those other traits. The researchers studied the flavour-associated chemical composition of 48 modern cultivars against 236 heirloom and wild varieties. While refrigeration, handling and storage can affect the taste of tomatoes, even when harvested fully ripe and consumed immediately, the modern cultivars were just not comparable in flavour to heirloom varieties. How the genetic loci are linked is all important in trying to get all the desirable factors into one tomato. It seems the loss of these volatile compounds was random and not linked to the traits selected against in the modern tomato, so by making a genetic map of these volatile compounds it may now be possible to address flavour loss by selecting for these flavour genes. In addition, this study identified the genetic loci linked to sugar content and, lo and behold, what they found was that the larger the size of the tomato the lower the sugar content. Now there is scientific proof for what we all kind of knew from experience and why we all reach for the cherry tomatoes when we want some sweet flavour. The upshot is that if increased sugars are wanted then fruit size has to come down. In contrast, increasing some flavour-associated volatiles will not affect tomato size and yield and some can even increase our perception of sugar, so we can look towards more flavoursome commercial varieties sometime in the future. That still leaves handling, shipping and storage impacting tomato flavour.
Reference: Tieman, D et al (2017) A chemical genetic roadmap to improved flavor. Science 355 (6323), 391-394.
10 commandments of the real Mediterranean diet
A traditional Mediterranean diet has been shown to have significant health benefits. But can you follow it if you live nowhere near a Greek island?
A region in Melbourne’s outer western perimeter near Melton is set to become home to one of Australia’s most exciting developments in peri-urban agribusiness. In mid-2016, China’s Fucheng Investment group purchased the last available section of the Baillieu family’s Woodhouse Station in Melbourne’s outer west for AUD $100 million.
Fucheng Investment has now announced the land will be used to create an “agribusiness city”.
Christmas dinner for one can be a bit tricky if you want a traditional roast meal. While you can get a piece of a bird to roast it’s not quite the same as having a whole roast with a delicious stuffing and all the trimmings. There is a simple solution for a roast dinner for one; it’s poussin (poo-SAN) or baby chicken. In fact poussin is more succulent than a larger bird and way better than a turkey, which I have always found pretty tasteless and dry. You can go for a traditional breadcrumb, butter, bacon and herb stuffing or try a slightly richer version with chestnuts, mushrooms, leek or shallots and Kaiserfleisch. Frozen, peeled chestnuts are available at gourmet food shops but if you are a keen chestnut eater next time boil them in water and peel them when they are cheap and in season and stash them in the freezer for later use. Kaiserfleisch is a smoked, streaky bacon available at continental butchers and delicatessens (try Walma’s in Bayswater, Portman in Oakleigh, Queen Victoria Market or even some supermarkets may have it vacuum packed). It will add to the richness of your stuffing and give a very slight smokey flavour. Finely chop the mushrooms, leeks and chestnuts. Dice the Kaiserfleisch and gently fry it for a few minutes, then add the diced vegetables and sauté it all with a large knob of butter until the leeks are just soft. Season with black pepper and then add a couple of handfuls of fresh breadcrumbs directly to the pan and bring it all together. Add more butter to bind it if necessary. A poussin will not take long to roast; around 30-40 minutes when stuffed. Rub some butter over the bird before roasting and be careful when turning it as the skin is more fragile than that of an adult chicken. Rest the cooked poussin for 15 minutes and then cut it in half using a pair of poultry scissors to serve.
One poussin is a hearty meal with a few leftovers for sandwiches for one person or a perfect meal with all the trimmings for two. You can buy poussin from: the Chicken Pantry in Queen Victoria Market; from Leo Donati Butcher, 402 Lygon Street, Carlton; Peter Bouchier, Toorak and Meatsmith, Fitzroy or ask your local butcher to get it for you.
In Germany the British two-hander comedy sketch, Dinner For One is televised every New Year’s Eve. It is quite extraordinary how it has developed a cult following and become the most repeated programme for TV, not just in Germany, but in many European countries. It is an amusing 18 minutes black and white film worth watching while you tuck into your solo poussin for one at Christmas or New Year’s Eve. Personally, I’m more of a fan of The Partywith Peter Sellers but I wouldn’t watch it while eating as you’re likely to choke.