Hot food: Finger limes
Oysters with cucumber and finger limes. Photo: Edwina Pickles
What is it?
A gherkin-shaped native Australian fruit from the subtropics with hundreds of tiny vesicles or pearl-like cells full of sharp, lemony-lime juice that explode in the mouth. The colours of the pearls differ from lime-green to scarlet-red depending on the varietal or hybrid. ''This is the start of Australia's wonderful native foods becoming merged into mainstream society,'' says NSW Northern Rivers grower Fred Durham, of Australian Finger Lime Company.
Where is it?
The colours of the pearls can vary from lime-green to scarlet-red. Photo: Edwina Pickles
Chef Shannon Bennett of Vue du Monde sends out freshly shucked Clair de Lune oysters with finger limes as part of his opening barrage of small courses. ''Very simple, very fresh,'' he says. At Attica, chef Ben Shewry has used finger limes in such dishes as ''meat from the pearl oyster pinctada maxima'', with lime butter, shaved radish, finger lime and leek ash. At the Hive Kitchen and Bar, chef John Lawson has fun with finger lime pearls, scattering them over kingfish and bonito ceviche, along with candied lime, candied chilli, and fennel and rocket salad. ''They're beautiful … you've got acidity, texture, a little sweetness - everything you could want in a fruit,'' he says.
Both Sydney Direct and Murdoch Produce wholesalers say finger limes were "huge" about 10 years ago, but are now having a moment in the sun as part of the gradual rediscovery of Australian indigenous produce. For Chris Manfield of Universal, they never went away. She uses them in a dish of Hiramasa kingfish sashimi, sweet grilled eel, pickled seaweed, shiso and finger lime salad with yuzu jelly. "They're really cool to mix with flying fish roe," she says. "We also use them in cocktails and desserts". At Sake Restaurant and Bar, finger limes are the secret ingredient of Shaun Presland's tuna ceviche with coriander, jalapeno, tomato and crunchy fried onions. "It's one of those "what-was-that" ingredients" he says. "People take one bite and get the texture of caviar and the taste of lime, and go "what was that?"'
Why do I care?
They're in season right now (until May and beyond); and they are utterly awesome.
Can I do it at home?
Yes. They cost about $1 each (and the colour of the pearls is a bit of a lottery).
■ Mr Hive Kitchen & Bar, Crown Metropol, 8 Whiteman St, Southbank, 9292 8300
■ Attica, 74 Glen Eira Road, Ripponlea, 9530 0111
■ Vue du Monde, Level 55, Rialto, 525 Collins St, city, 9691 3888
■ Ritchies Supa IGA stores throughout Victoria.
■ Thomas Dux stores
■ Fresh Generation, Footscray (03) 9687 9225 (Wholesale)
■ Ritchies Supa IGA supermarkets throughout Victoria, NSW and Queensland
■ Universal Restaurant, Republic, Palmer St, Darlinghurst, 9331 0709.
■ Sake Restaurant and Bar, 12 Argyle St, The Rocks, 9259 5656.
■ The Milk Bar by Cafe Ish, 105 Regent St, Redfern. No phone.
■ Richies Supa IGA supermarkets throughout NSW.
■ Waterside Fruit Connection, Pyrmont Fish Market, 9552 2104.
Oysters with cucumber and finger limes
Half Lebanese cucumber, peeled
1 tbsp white sugar
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp rice vinegar
1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 finger limes
1 tbsp mirin
12 oysters (Pacific or Sydney rock)
1. Cut the cucumber in half lengthwise and scoop out and discard the seeds, then finely slice.
2. Mix the sugar, salt and rice vinegar in a bowl, add the cucumber and leave for 30 minutes, then drain and squeeze out excess moisture.
3.Whiz the pickled cucumber in a blender with olive oil until light and creamy, and chill until needed.
4. Roll each finger lime on a bench to loosen the vesicles, then cut in half crosswise, and gently squeeze the little pearls out onto a teaspoon.
5. Add a drop or two of mirin to each oyster, then top with cucumber and finger lime pearls and serve over ice.
Serves 4 as first course
Photos: Edwina Pickles
Styling: Jill Dupleix
Merchandise: Vicino, Waterloo, NSW