Very occasionally I will come across a product with which I fall completely in love. For the past six months or so it has been lime-and-chilli-infused macadamia nut oil made by locals Pam and Martin Brook. It is extraordinarily good – it is one of those ingredients which utterly transform whatever it is added to. Salads, sauces, fish, vegetables, even egg dishes come alive under its spell in a way previously unimagined. Steven Snow up at Fins in Kingscliff is a big fan too, weaving it into his cooking to great effect.
Lime and chilli are gloriously compatible flavourings anyway, and frequently found together, especially in Thai and Mexican cuisines. That delicate dish ceviche is a perfect example, marinated and to be sure ‘cooked ‘ in lime juice, ignited with a touch of chilli. Coriander is often the third partner in the proceedings, cool and floral. Visually, too, these fruits are beautiful and no more so than when piled up altogether in a market, vibrant still lifes you might need to paint. Charmaine Solomon is lyrical in her description of a basket of deep-red chillies she once saw at a road stall in Kashmir. ‘The morning sun shone through the translucent pods, illuminating them like a pyramid of miniature lanterns.’
Chillis and limes are summery ingredients, lending themselves to the sort of food I like to eat while evenings are still light and balmy, and when seafood and fish are all I mostly crave. That most famous of Thai soups, for example, hot sour prawn soup or Tom Yum Goong, can be done on a single gas ring or hotplate, the simple prawn head-and-shell stock enlivened with bruised lemon grass, kaffir lime leaves and chillis before the raw prawns are tipped in and finished with fish sauce, lime juice and coriander.
You can substitute a chicken stock for the prawn stock and slices of chicken breast
for the crustaceans for a poultry version just as gorgeous. You could whizz together avocado, lime juice, a little grated onion and chopped garlic, green chilli and coriander
to made a guacamole then layer it in a glass with cooked prawns, tails still on, for a stylish starter. Drizzle thick slices of tomato with lime juice, a little ground cumin, crushed fennel seeds and finely chopped chilli and a slug of macadamia nut oil, a spicy salad to go alongside fish – or poach chicken breasts before shredding them through a dressing of finely chopped garlic, red chilli, heaps of lime juice, fish sauce, honey and soy sauce all mixed together until you are happy with the proportions, adding sliced capsicum, spinach leaves and coriander. Fold a blend of lime juice, chopped chillis and tequila through freshly cooked and drained ribbon pasta. Sear scallops and spoon over a blend of lime juice, finely chopped garlic, red chillies, parsley, a whisper of balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper and your best extra virgin olive oil. Dice two mangos and toss through one small chopped red onion, a seeded diced Lebanese cucumber and a finely sliced red chilli then add a slosh of olive oil, lime juice and some shredded mint, glorious with grilled barramundi. Bake baby lime cakes and finish with a sticky chilli glaze then serve with thick cream.
Or take the easy option and buy my current crush, the Brookfarm oil. It has won Silver awards twice at the Royal Sydney Show: it is chilli and lime, captured in consummate proportions, in a bottle.