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Trying marron has to rank pretty high on most foodies' bucket lists - and in the Margaret River region, they’re the plat du jour in summer.
For many in my neck of the woods, the start of summer also heralds the start of one of the most exciting times of the year for your tastebuds; it’s time to tuck into some marron.
While found in local freshwater sources all year round, the brief four-week open season in Australia’s south west begins at bang on noon on January 8, wrapping up at noon on February 5.
These precious four weeks in the height of summer will see thousands of people embark on a quest to procure their own freshly caught crayfish from the local freshwater rivers and dams of the region.
Found naturally in permanent rivers, it’s important to note that the fishing season is highly regulated due to its popularity and keen anglers must make sure they are prepared with a licence from the fisheries department before they start to fish.
Sean Blocksidge (pictured above) from Margaret River Discover Tours is very familiar with the critters and shares his top tips on seeing them in the wild.
“The Margaret River is alive with marron,” says Sean. “We always spot a few while we are out canoeing the river. The best place to see some monster-sized beasts is under the bridge at Rotary Park in the middle of town,” he says.
It’s no surprise that the café right next to the bridge has bagged its naming rights from the local residents. For those who need to replenish their energy after some serious searching, you can top up caffeine levels at The Hairy Marron next door to the park.
Sean reiterates the warnings that can be found on signage throughout the waterways.
“Just make sure you know the fishing rules because there are some even bigger monstersized fines for fishing in the wrong location and wrong season,” he says.
There is good reason for the hype each year, with the delicate and juicy flesh from the third largest freshwater crayfish in the world taking a starring role on local menus.
Chefs from around the world look forward to the time when this native Western Australian ingredient is available to let loose their creative prowess in the kitchen.
Seth James, head chef at Wills Domain lists it up there as one of his top five ingredients to work with.
“Marron is a great ingredient to work with,” he says. “We have some in the dam here at Wills Domain which I sometimes go out and catch to use for inspiration in the kitchen. When we have it on the menu though we source it from Blue Ridge Marron which produce some of the largest live marron in Australia.”
And what are his thoughts on what to do with these beautiful crustaceans once pulled from the water?
“You don’t need to do much to marron, the simpler the better in fact. I like to just cook it on the grill, or for something different, it also goes well with broth.”
Where to try Marron on the menu in Margaret River Restaurants that regularly have marron as part of their lunch menu include:
- Wills Domain
- Vasse Felix
- Aravina Estate
- Leeuwin Estate
- Knee Deep
- Knotting Hill
Always call to check before visiting to check on the current availability of marron on the menu.
Old Kent River
A new addition to the Margaret River winery trail, Old Kent River’s cellar door could previously only be found down near Denmark. Those that made the journey south may remember its famed giant sculpture of a marron as a welcome sight on entering. A marron mecca, the lunch menu was solely
focused around the local delicacy and visitors could get up close and personal with the marron tank inside. The marron tradition continues at this new cellar door and a celebration of the season can be enjoyed on January 14 for the first marron BBQ. Bring a rug, enjoy the picturesque surroundings and spend the afternoon feasting on this freshwater delicacy.
Old Kent River, 687 Ellen Brook Rd, Cowaramup.
Call (08) 9755 5999 or visit oldkentriverwines.com.au
Ben Day from Aravina Estate makes the most of the freshwater lakes on the property year round and is never at a loss for inspiration when he has the chance to prepare marron, either in the kitchen or out on the BBQ.
The lakes on the estate are abundant with these ferocious-looking local delicacies and visitors to Aravina can get a hands-on lesson in preparation and cooking with them during one of the Blend-Forage-Feast day-long experiences that can be booked at the estate.
“It’s always fantastic to share how amazing these animals are and really help others learn the best way to make the most out of them,” says Ben.
In the kitchen at Aravina, Ben makes use of the entire animal, from the pearly-white flesh through to the shells; roasting them in oil for mayonnaise or dehydrating to make shellfish salt.
Ben’s top tips when cooking marron
- The first step when cooking fresh marron is to put the marron to sleep by popping them into iced water or a freezer for 15 minutes. This will result in a much more tender marron and is a humane way to kill them.
- When cooking with animal products, it’s all about respecting the creature in the kitchen. This is especially important when it comes to marron. Always try to use as much of the fish as possible.
Flesh, shells, claws – it is possible to find a use for every single part of the freshwater crayfish.
- Cook them medium. You don’t want well-cooked marron. When just cooked, it gives better flavour, texture and moisture in the dish.
Tempted? Why not try the dish (below) at home? It’s heaven on a plate especially coupled with a beautiful crisp bottle of Margaret River SBS.
BEN DAY’S YALLINGUP MARRON, SHELLFISH EMULSION, FINGER LIME, CRISP POTATO, NASTURTIUM
2 Large marron (300g) each
1 finger lime
2 kipfler potatoes
3ooml grape seed oil
6 small nasturtium leaves, flowers and buds
250ml shellfish oil
2 pasteurised egg yolks (64°)
1 Tbls dijon mustard
1 lemon, juiced
2 Tbls sherry vinegar
Sea salt to taste
1 tsp tomato ketchup
1 tsp brandy
Bring 5lt of water to the boil, add 2 Tbls of salt.
Blanch the marron for 45 seconds, keeping the lid on the pot to retain heat.
Then remove and place into iced water to stop the cooking. In the same boiling water place in 2 whole eggs for 1 minute, then refresh in iced water.
Remove the claws and harvest the meat, set aside.
Twist off the head, peel and de-vein the tail section. Place all left-over shells into a small baking tray, top with the grape seed oil and roast on 170° for 1 hour or until it’s very aromatic. Strain the oil through a cloth and set aside.
To make the shellfish emulsion, separate the yolks from the whites, place the pasteurised egg yolks, vinegar, juice of 1 lemon and mustard into a blender. On a slow speed emulsify in the cooled shellfish oil until it resembles a mayonnaise. Balance the seasoning with salt and extra lemon juice if needed. Mix in the ketchup and brandy.
Using a mandolin on a fine setting slice the kipfler potatoes into water. Drain off and pat dry. Fry these in 160° vegetable oil until golden brown and crispy, drain on paper towel and season with fine sea salt, set aside.
Using a wood burning BBQ, flash the prepared marron tail over a high heat until charred, approx. 2 min, season with EVOO, salt and fresh lemon juice.
On a flat plate, place a dollop of the shellfish emulsion, top with harvested finger lime pearls. Place the charred marron tail aside and top with the crisp potatoes, finish the dish with the nasturtiums and the harvested claw meat.