Some experiences are truly magical. We have just returned from a week’s holiday – organised on a whim and nothing flashy at a little house in a place called Wandiligong. Wandiligong is nestled between Mt Buffalo and Mt Hotham, a long and narrow settlement that meanders down a beautiful valley. It has been declared a heritage landscape by the National Trust and has numerous utterly charming red brick public buildings and old miners cottages dating to the gold rush days. The property (Littleglen) is a basic three bedroom corrugated iron clad cottage set in acres of lovely chestnut groves and sheep paddocks with the Morses Creek running past the bottom gate. The house is solar powered and so has that wonderful sense of quiet that comes with minimal energy consumption and the ambient crackle of a wood heater.
We turned in early every night and woke each morning to the kind of hard frosts you simply never see near the coast. Frosts that blanketed the ground and evaporated off in massive drifts when the sun finally made it over the ranges. Clouds drifted through the valley every morning and for a week we experienced nothing but perfect Spring weather. We took the kids tobogganing at Mt Hotham, walked Mt Buffalo in the winter sunshine like we were the only people there and quaffed gin and tonics at the end of every day. We had dinner at the Mountain View Hotel / Wandi Pub – a lovely long, low wooden building with deep eaves and wooden tables out the front. The people were friendly, the collection of historical photos on the walls outstanding and the Chicken Parmas more than adequate.
We were happy. The kids were happy and the things that made them happiest were the experiences they had of doing things for themselves. For my seven year old son that was making and maintaining his own small fire, which he did seriously and with great dedication, analysing and sorting through the different techniques of his mother, father and grandfather. Another highlight for both the kids was the visit to the Harrietville Trout Farm where they were beside themselves with delight at their ability to simply pull fish out of the ponds all on their own without adult help. A true delight to see my tiny 4 year old daughter haul a trout out of the water with a long bamboo stick, smiles like sunshine across her face. By the time they had enjoyed themsleves sufficiently we had more than we could cook and eat on Alex’s beloved cooking fires.
So I suggested to dad that we should try smoking the extras, something I had done before with mackerel, oolong tea and a wok. Dad had in fact made the long trip from Apollo Bay to Wandiligong with a wok, a gas burner and a the ever-present desire to undertake a project. This technique is primarily his. We used a pre-packaged woodchip product precisely designed for smoking. Personally, I believe that the oregano and thyme “flavour” of these chips imparted a slightly synthetic flavour to the smoke. Next time I would like to use a mild, natural woodchip. The woodchips were wrapped in a foil parcel with a hole for the smoke to escape from. The parcel was placed on the base of the wok with the hole pointing up and the fish was laid on a piece of chicken wire that dad hooked around the edge of the wok. The whole rig was then covered up with foil. We tried two ways – one with the fish butterflied and the other just placed in whole. The whole fish took around half an hour and turned out the more moist of the two. It was trial and error and will take a few more attempts yet to get the timing and temperature right – I guess we’ll just have to go back and try again. We ate it the following day in soft white rolls with aioli, finely chopped chives and rocket. Simple.