dinner on the manning: whiting with honey and chili dust
Coal cooked whiting fillets, brushed with lime and honey and dusted with jicama chili dust, followed by stoned sweets at the Manning rivermouth, 2009.
The River, August 2009, 5.40 pm.
Frank always caught the fish, and as many as anyone needed, just as long as the tide and the sea combined.
This day the ancient stone trap had given up the last five stragglers of a large school of whiting that had moved through the cove on the incoming tide and Frank was nearly done with cleaning them. Later he would lay out the fillets for us and we would cook the fish for lunch.
Frank introduced us to the River the day after we took him home from the Harrington pub, the day he had been beaten insensible by the three dark men who had travelled up from Sydney looking for the local plantation. Three bikers, all one percenters from the Bandidos MC. Good lads, just a little impetuous, a little greedy.
After a couple of days surfing out there with him, getting to know each other and the deadly traps of the shallow bars, plus a little first aid here and there on his breaks and bruises, he took us on his weekly ten mile hike into the back forest and introduced us to Mousetrap and Phuong; the custodians.
Taciturn men, both armed with bull-pup Groza OC-14 assault rifles and so invisible there crouched motionless in the midday gloom as we walked into the camp. Both of them able to hunt through the toppling forest as silently as the moving shadows of the trees that hid them.
Meanwhile, back at the beach –
Nevermind the Lexus LX 5.7L V8 from Sydney that had just roared in laden with longboards, nevermind them.
Frank had a small caravan set up a little way behind the beach almost hidden behind a grove of banana trees, and here he played Beethoven Grieg Vivaldi Mendelssohn Offenbach Debussy and Phillip Glass five nights a week.
He grew Gympie limes and Lemon Myrtle in a small orchard there and we squeezed some lime over the fish, and then added a little jicama chili dust, and a thumb smear of Tasmanian Leatherwood Honey.
Frank was a big man; dark skinned and snowy haired and he was known to be a descendant of three brothers shackled into slave boats by Queensland cane growers and blackbirded from the Loyalty Islands in late 1865. The family had settled in Byron Bay in the forties and is still there today.
Meanwhile the Lexus distributed itself into small tents, gas barbeques, folding chairs and cartons of Pure Blonde; plastic lounges, Cold Chisel for ambience, and a flat screen television tuned to a Manly rugby league game. The longboarders, all five of them from Mona Vale, milled about the camp like condemned sheep waiting to be dispatched.
Waiting for a welcome.
Eventually they drove off into town looking for an easy dinner at a MacDonalds.
The whiting fillets seared up in minutes over the bed of coals and were soon eaten, washed away by some tank water poured over a handful of ice and crushed Lemon Myrtle leaves, and followed by a couple of Phuong’s slow burning specials. Frank had prepared a large bowl of sugar coated Molucca raspberries (Rubus sieboldii) covered with wild lime basil as an accompaniment.
Puccini played for the afternoon birdcall, and Respighi welcomed the sundown.
Later that evening a couple of the local girls keen on Frank called by with several bottles of iced vodka, and they stayed very late. Lucky we had so many limes.