A champion of seasonal produce and good eats, Maggie Beer is among the most recognisable faces in the Aussie food scene. Originally a Sydney-sider, Beer tells Travel 3Sixty° how moving to South Australia’s Barossa Valley sparked her interest in cooking, and shares with us the strangest thing she’s ever eaten, as well as recipes from her latest tome, Maggie’s Christmas.
Compiled By: Chitra Santhinathan
DO YOU CONSIDER YOURSELF A CHEF OR A COOK?
Most definitely a cook as I’ve never had any formal training as a chef. I cook from the heart and wholeheartedly encourage improvisation in the kitchen, always looking to what’s on hand for inspiration. Being self-taught has let me break rules I never even knew existed!
FROM HOME COOK TO HOUSEHOLD NAME, HOW DID IT ALL BEGIN?
Everything in my life has been an organic process which developed over time rather than being planned. It hasn’t always been easy but I have learnt to go with the flow. Moving to the Barossa when I married Colin and being surrounded by such wonderful, seasonal produce sparked my existing interest in food, taking it to the next level. That eventually led to starting the Pheasant Farm Restaurant, which really clinched the deal, setting me on my food path.
WERE YOU ALWAYS CURIOUS ABOUT FOOD EVEN AS A CHILD?
I grew up in a household where food was always important, and ’m not sure if I was three or four years old, but the memory is so vivid; we lived at the time at Rose Bay, Sydney, just up the road from the flying boat squadron. There had been a huge storm buffeting the shore, then a black out. Mum had candles burning within minutes as we huddled around the small kitchen table and she served us golden syrup dumplings. I’m not sure if it was the smell, the taste or the feeling of security, but not only was it my first food memory, it was the only time my mother ever cooked those dumplings. Even just talking about them now makes me happy!
HOW HAVE YOU GROWN AS A COOK?
One of the key lessons I’ve learnt over the years is to feel your way into cooking; recipes are only ever a guide. Cooking from the heart is the most inspiring way to create your favourite dishes.
WHY ARE YOU A FIRM BELIEVER IN USING SEASONAL PRODUCE?
Picking truly ripened produce is one of the best tips I can share with aspiring cooks. It’s good to know the rhythm of the seasons and how to delight in fruit and vegetables picked at their best. Good produce needs so little done to it; there’s no need to over complicate things. Follow the principle that less is more… the more being your enjoyment in sharing your table and having everyone in the family involved.
WHY IS YOUR WORK WITH CHILDREN ON THE STEPHANIE ALEXANDER KITCHEN GARDEN PROGRAMME SO IMPORTANT TO YOU?
It’s always such a delight; every school is so amazingly different and each one leaves me feeling lucky to be involved in this visionary programme as its Ambassador for South Australia. The programme teaches children how to grow, harvest, prepare and share fresh, seasonal, delicious dishes, reinforcing the joy of fresh food and providing them with skills they can carry throughout their lives. It’s one of the loveliest things I get to do in this busy life of mine.
WHAT’S YOUR ABSOLUTE FAVOURITE INGREDIENT?
Verjuice* – it has to be verjuice! It is such a versatile ingredient, giving that lift to food that our palate searches for. I’ve had so many people say that using verjuice makes them feel like they are eating in a restaurant! It can be used in marinades, vinaigrettes, added to custard or jellies, as a deglazing agent for anything pan fried, and most simply, as a very refreshing drink, poured over ice.
HOW DID YOU DISCOVER VERJUICE?
I’ve never been someone who is governed by convention, and I’ve always looked for other ways of doing things. My involvement in producing verjuice was born out of the need to use grapes that couldn’t be sold. I had read about verjuice, and when I suddenly found myself with all these Rhine Riesling grapes, I decided to make some and became the first in the world to produce verjuice commercially.
* Verjuice/verjus is a highly acidic juice made by pressing unripe grapes.
WHAT IS THE STRANGEST THING YOU’VE EVER PUT IN YOUR MOUTH?
I’ll eat anything that’s not endangered! Blow fish sperm is probably the strangest, but my favourite strangest food would have to be sea urchin. It’s one of my absolute favourite things to eat whenever the rare chance presents itself. It was the first thing I ate on my inaugural trip to Tokyo, and my memory is of how creamy it was with the sweetness of the sea. It’s an acquired taste that’s simply superb!
TELL US ABOUT YOUR NEW BOOK, MAGGIE’S CHRISTMAS.
Maggie’s Christmas is a chance for me to share my all-time favourite recipes and menus for entertaining family and friends during the festive season here in the Barossa. From a sumptuous Christmas Day feast and casual beachside picnic to plates to share over Christmas carols with my singing group and a special New Year’s Eve menu, I’m hoping it will add that extra sparkle to everyone’s festive season.
WHAT’S YOUR CHRISTMAS COMFORT FOOD?
Seafood forms a large part of my Christmas fare. I usually start with fresh oysters, if I can fi nd non-spawning ones – a sentimental favourite from my childhood that still evokes the specialness of Christmas.
DO YOU HAVE A TRADITION OF YOUR OWN FOR CHRISTMAS DINNER?
Having inherited the tradition of a feast of beautifully simple food from my own parents, it’s been so important to me to continue that tradition with my own children and grandchildren. We keep it really simple so there is no fuss, with everyone chipping in so that much of the preparation is done the night before. There’s always a goose, as well as a couple of roast chooks (chicken) for my grandchildren, baked ham, lots of salads including my Christmas Salad of mango and witlof, and for dessert, Sparkling Ruby Cabernet Jelly set with fresh cherries or berries.
ROAST TURKEY WITH PRUNE & ORANGE STUFFING & CUMBERLAND SAUCE
- 1 x 2.2 kg turkey
- 1 tsp plain flour
- 50 g unsalted butter
Prune & Orange Stuffing
- 2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2 large onions (chopped)
- 2 tbsp flat-leaf parsley (chopped)
- 1 tbsp rosemary (chopped)
- 3 tbsp lemon thyme (chopped)
- 4 cups white bread crumbs
- 200 g pitted prunes (halved)
- 1 x 360 g jar Maggie Beer Seville Oranges in Spiced Verjuice Syrup (chopped)
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 oranges, zest grated and 100 ml juice extracted
- 2 lemons, zest grated and 1/3 cup juice extracted
- 1/3 cup redcurrant jelly
- 1 heaped tsp Dijon mustard
- 1/2 tsp ground ginger
- 1/2 cup port
- 1/2 cup horseradish cream
1. To make the sauce, place the orange and lemon zest and juices, redcurrant jelly, mustard, ginger and port in a saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium–high heat,stirring to combine, then cook for 20 minutes or until it thickens a little. Leave to cool completely, then stir in the horseradish cream. Cover and refrigerate until needed. Store in a sterilised jar in the fridge for up to 1 week. (Makes about 1 1/4 cups).
2. Preheat the oven to 160°C (or 140°C for fan-forced oven).
3. To make the stuffing, heat olive oil in a heavy-based non-stick frying pan over medium heat Add the onion and cook for 20 minutes or until dark golden and slightly browned around the edges. Set aside. Combine the parsley, rosemary, thyme, breadcrumbs, prunes, orange and onion in a bowl, then season with salt and pepper to taste. Fill the turkey cavity with the stuffing mixture. Fold the wings under the body and then truss it well with kitchen string.
4. Place the flour in an extra-large oven bag and shake to distribute the flour throughout the bag. Slide the turkey into the bag to coat it with flour. Tie the end of the bag well with kitchen string and slip it into another oven bag, then seal this too. Place the turkey in a baking dish or roasting pan, then roast for 2 1/2 hours or until golden and cooked through.
5. Remove the turkey from the oven. Cut a corner off the oven bag, then carefully pour all the juices and fat into the tallest, thinnest jug you have to accelerate the fat setting. Place the jug in the fridge to chill so that the fat will separate from the juice. Place the piping-hot turkey, breastside down, in a dish. Leave the turkey to rest for up to 1 hour with a sheet of foil loosely covering it.
6. If the turkey is not golden brown, remove it from the oven bag and place it on a baking tray, breast-side up. Increase the oven temperature to 200°C (or 180°C for a fan-forced oven), then return the turkey to the oven for 10 minutes or until golden all over.
7. Once the fat has set, scoop it from the jug and discard. Place the juices in a small saucepan, then bring to the boil over high heat and simmer for 10 minutes or until reduced by half. Strain and keep warm until ready to serve.
8. Serve the turkey and stuffing with the pan juices and Cumberland sauce.