This week Josh – who used to be DL Head Chef and has now been promoted to ‘Planning Manager’ – made a trip up to the Northern Territory to visit Humpty Doo Barramundi, our shiny-scaled, shimmery-finned, famously excellent fish supplier. Let’s chat to Josh about his visit…
You’re Planning Manager at Dinner Ladies. So what do you do each day?
Well, I’m not doing the cooking anymore. Instead, I plan the day-to-day operations of how to cook everything that’s on the menu – like making a huge shopping list for the kitchen team! I manage the sourcing and buying of all ingredients, and our supplier relations.
Ingredients are all important at Dinner Ladies. We like everything to be as seasonal and sustainable as possible, all poultry to be free-range, and everything to be the best quality we can get our hands on!
Why did you decide to visit Humpty Doo?
An exciting part of my job is sourcing new suppliers and ingredients. I take that info to Sarah, our Menu Director, so that she can create dishes with them. Humpty Doo Barramundi have been supplying us for about 8 years, but I’d never been up there before. It was definitely time to make a visit and check out just why their fish is SO good!
And what did you discover what makes them special?
Humpty Doo Barramundi is a 100 per cent Australian-owned, family-operated company that’s been going for 27 years, so they really know their fish! They’re halfway between Darwin and Kakadu National Park, and it was a bumpy ride in a Landcruiser! I was shown around by Pete, the southern region sales manager; Dan, who’s the second-generation owner of company; and his wife, Tarun. When I arrived it was the ‘coldest day they’d had all year’… but pretty hot by Sydney standards!
So, why does their barra taste so good?
Barra can be freshwater or saltwater. The freshwater variety have a muddier undertone to the flesh, with minerally flavours – that’s the variety the Europeans prefer to eat.
Saltwater barra have a brighter flavour that mimics the taste of a deepwater ocean fish. That’s the flavour most Australians prefer. Humpty Doo are saltwater barra.
The barramundi has fairly oily and firm flesh, even though it’s a white fish. That makes it high in omega 3s (that we’re all keen to get lots of!) and it holds up well with stronger flavours, such as spices and chilli. It also keeps its firmness when cooked and doesn’t get that soft, mushy mouthfeel.
It’s on our menu at the moment marinated in a fresh Malaysian sambal and topped with a chewy, toasty coconut and fried shallot crust, but at other times we’ve paired it with jalapeno lime salsa; chipotle and ranchero sauce; and coriander and lemongrass with nam jim. Not many fish could handle those punchy flavours. It’s robust!
I also realised that the fish fillets are with us – in the Dinner Ladies kitchen at Matraville being cooked into dinners – within about 5 days of the barra being caught in Humpty Doo. I think that freshness and speed has a lot to do with the great quality.
What makes their system sustainable and different?
Dan, the owner, travels the world checking out aquaculture systems so that he can make Humpty Doo as environmentally friendly as possible.
They’ve created a sustainable wetlands system to mimic the Adelaide River, using natural grass to clean the water that’s recycled through the farm. Once a year they open up their whole system of dams and pools to the river to top up the water that’s been lost through evaporation. Then, for the rest of the year, their natural-grass filtration system keeps the whole waterway clean and healthy.
The way the fish are caught is astonishing – and one of my favourite aspects. They used to be caught by net, as is traditional. But Dan came across a system where they can be lifted up and dropped into a salt icebath that puts them to sleep instantly. So they’re calm and relaxed without any stress. He’s continually working on ways to improve his methods. This is a man who loves his fish!
Did you have time to see the sights, or was it just barra, barra, barra?!
Part of Humpty Doo Barramundi’s philosophy is to be a good neighbour. They’re passionate about food, fish and caring for the wetlands – and they like to support all the other businesses around them.
So we went on a cruise expedition in a small boat on the Adelaide River, fed crocs off the side of the boat and watched them jump! At one point there were around 100 saltwater crocs in the water coming at us! Very hair-raising, but a lot of fun!
We also got to experience some of the indigenous culture of the area with the local Pudakul people. We were taken for an explore and learnt a bit about the native trees and bushes, and the way Humpty Doo Barramundi are involved in the sustainability of everything around them.
Moment you’ll remember?
Eating a plate of freshly barbecued barra while we looked out over the Adelaide River at sunset. We enjoyed it with salad, but also marinated in a taco… I’ll certainly be stealing that idea!