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Chef files – Interview with Chef Justin James

Hailing from some of the world’s best kitchens such as NOMA, Eleven Madison ParkBlue Hill and a  five and half year stint as Executive Chef at Melbourne’s prestigious Vue De Monde, Chef Justin James is a global hospitality hitter.

Originally from American soil, chef Justin James has lit Australia’s hospitality scene on fire by turning the food service experience into an innovative journey.

A true lover of Australian barramundi, we asked Justin why he chooses Australian barramundi and his favourite ways of cooking it

 

Aussie Barra: As a chef, what do you like about cooking Australian barramundi?

JJ: Barramundi is such a versatile fish. You can cook it so many ways (grill, steam, pan roast, smoke, etc) and it can handle big bold flavours. It can be the star of the dish or it can be part of a “team” dish like curries or stews. It is also a very forgiving fish, meaning it is very hard to overcook because of its fat level. The other thing I like about Aussie barra is that it is downright delicious.

 

Aussie Barra: What’s an easy barramundi go-to dish using limited ingredients during isolation?

JJ: I would keep it simple.

  1. Turn on the BBQ, and while that is heating up, make a quick marinade for the barra, consisting of lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, salt, and freshly cracked black pepper. Let the barra marinate for 20 minutes but no more than 40 minutes.
  2. Once the grill is extremely hot, cook the fish to medium and take it off to rest – it will continue to cook through the resting process.
  3. To serve with the fish I would make a green salad with whatever greens and herbs I have in the fridge. You can also try grilled lettuce (keep the lettuce attached to the stem so you can grill it move conveniently, grill for about 30-45 seconds. You want to keep it still “raw” but impart bitterness with the char, this can really jazz up your average salad. Since you lit the BBQ, lets grill some more food.)
  4. You can use the same marinade we use for the barra as the salad dressing, it is a great dressing for many things. I don’t think you can go wrong with grilled fish and a salad perfect for lunch or dinner, it also lets the barramundi sing and you get to taste how beautiful it is.

 

Aussie Barra: Must have long shelf life ingredients to have in your pantry/fridge to cook with barramundi?

JJ: Barramundi is such a versatile fish. You can cook it so many ways (grill, steam, pan roast, smoke, etc) and it can handle big bold flavours. It can be the star of the dish or it can be part of a “team” dish like curries or stews. It is also a very forgiving fish, meaning it is very hard to overcook because of its fat level. The last thing I like about Aussie barra is that it is downright delicious.

Aussie Barra: What’s an easy barramundi go-to dish using limited ingredients during isolation?

JJ: Because barra is such a versatile fish and it can be paired with bold flavours, there are so many long shelf life ingredients you can use. However, it depends on the season and where I am living. Currently, I am in Melbourne, and it’s winter! For cold nights, I want something comforting, warm and nostalgic. My top picks are rice, spices, mayo, butter, stable stock, and any fresh produce I have in the fridge. I would make a dish that reminds me of my time in Manhattan, the NYC halal cart dish: ‘chicken over rice’. Traditionally, it is yellow rice, grilled chicken, fresh lettuce and tomato, white sauce, hot sauce, and barra is a perfect alternative:

  1. You cook the rice with turmeric and cumin powder, a knob of butter, salt and pepper, and if you have any long-life stock, add that instead of water. I would either grill or pan roast the barra.
  2. For the white sauce, you can use mayo that is already in your fridge. You can mix the mayo with yoghurt. If you don’t have yogurt, sour cream or crème fraiche can work.
  3. Season the mayo with a handful of herbs that you have in your fridge (I prefer parsley or chives), lemon, olive oil, a decent amount of cracked black pepper. Add salt and a pinch of sugar. You can adjust with water if needed for consistency. If you can also serve with any fresh produce such as lettuce, spinach, tomatoes, and even cucumber.

Place the rice on the bottom of the plate. Add the cooked barra on top. Drizzle the white sauce over everything. Drizzle over some sriracha that you already have in the pantry or some kind of hot sauce.

 

Aussie Barra: What’s your favourite story or experience with barra?

JJ: I am American and never tasted barra before moving to Australia! My most memorable experience was the first time I tried it. I instantly fell in love with the flavour and texture. It reminded of the freshwater fish I used to catch and eat in the Great Lakes. Since then, it has always been on my menus.

 

If you want to cook like Justin’s calibre, our free celebrity chef cookbook is filled with healthy and easy dishes.

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Author: dom