Last week, we at The Carousel went to try out the new tasting menu including the Watermelon Poke recipe at the totally plant-based Alibi Restaurant at the Ovolo Hotel in Woolloomooloo Sydney. It was the first under new chef Jordan Brogan and everyone was very excited to see what he’d got up his sleeve.
Short review, it was amazing; it started with a spicy kimchi dumpling that had even the person at our table who ‘hates kimchi’ eating their words (and more than one dumpling). The Charcoal Steamed Buns – a bao filled with carrot, red cabbage and cashew hoisin paired with beer brought back memories of steamy Taipei backstreets – but, there was one dish that truly stood out; one dish that had everyone talking; one dish that frankly, we think involved witchcraft. The Watermelon Poke.
This makes kale taste like the best thing in the world ever, and he’d done something really interesting to the watermelon.
It wasn’t squishy, or watery. It wasn’t even as sweet as it normally is – it was succulent, moist and almost chewy. It also looked different – shiny and jelly-like. This wasn’t the same stuff as Baby carried around in Dirty Dancing, this was grown up and sophisticated and we were confused – so we asked Jordan what he’d done and the fact that answer involved a plastic bag blew our mind.
‘It’s a process called compressing,’ he told us. ‘We dice the watermelon, lay it flat in a plastic cry-vac bag then marinate it with a little of ponzu dressing. We then cry-vac it and leave it for 24 hours to make sure all the flavours get penetrated into the watermelon.’
Cry-vaccing, for those of us not donning chef whites daily, is a process where a vacuum packing machine sucks all the air out of a bag containing an item of food. Its most commonly used to package or store food but it’s also an amazing way to change the flavour and texture of an item – particularly fruit and vegetables.
See all fruit and vegetable have tiny air pockets in them and when you apply the cry vac process you don’t just suck the air out of the bag, you suck it out of what’s in the bag too. This compresses the item making it firmer and denser, which is why our watermelon looked and tasted so different. It’s genius.
At this point we started google Vacuum Chamber Sealers – the name of the gizmo you need to do this properly – and discovered, that an entry level professional model costs about $1100 – which makes the eight course degustation menu at Alibi a snip at $70 (add $60 if you want matching wines). And ordering the Watermelon Poke Bowl as a stand-alone dish costs just $17 – which now feels like giving it away!
However, a bit more research revealed you can buy an entry level vacuum sealer for $99 – and while it might not give you quite as intense effect as the pro-model, it’ll work. Plus, it might save you money on future food bills as things last longer if they’re vacuum sealed. Bye bye sad withered broccoli in the crisper bin.
So all we needed to know now was how Jordan made that kale taste so good too – and for that. we snagged the recipe. Even if you can’t vacuum pack the watermelon, give it a try with normal cubed fruit. You’ll thank us, we promise.
Watermelon Poke Recipe:
300ml fresh orange juice
150ml fresh lime juice
30 ml water
¼ tsp chilli flakes
**Combine all ingredients in a bowl, place in a takeaway container and keep for up to 5 days in the fridge
300ml ponzu lime marinade
1 whole seedless watermelon
**Peel and dice the watermelon into 1.5cm cubes, place in a flat layer in a cry-vac bag and pour over the ponzu dressing, you won’t need too much dressing in the bag, cry-vac and keep in the fridge for 24 hours before use, use within 2 days of opening.
250g fresh ginger, peeled
20g sea salt
250ml rice wine vinegar
**Slice the ginger very thin on the mandolin, place slices into a bowl, sprinkle with salt and leave to stand for 30 minutes, wash off salt and transfer ginger to a clean jar. In a separate bowl combine vinegar and agave then add the ginger, vac-pac for at least 12 hours before using.
1 bunch kale
½ cup ponzu-lime marinade
**Take the stems out the kale and chiffonade, in a large bowl massage the kale with the marinade and keep marinated in the fridge for up to 2 days.
Garnish and Assembly:
100g crushed and roasted macadamia nuts
Baby mint leaves
**Place the marinated kale in a pile in the centre of the bowl, evenly place the watermelon on top, drizzle a little marinade over the watermelon place ginger, macadamia, mint and edible flowers over the top then finish with flaked salt.
By Helen Foster. Helen is a regular contributor to The Carousel, and when not writing for us runs the travel blog Destination>Differentville which explores quirky sights to see and intriguing things to eat all over the world.