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Home Cook: Scott Hicks, filmmaker

Eat | Drink | Explore

Adelaide-based screenwriter and director Scott Hicks is famous for his films ‘Shine’ and ‘The Boys Are Back’, but behind the scenes he’s just as resourceful in the kitchen.

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A self-taught cook, Hicks applies his imagination and practical experience as a filmmaker at home in the kitchen to create a family meal from leftovers or a hearty winter dish such as osso buco, a traditional Italian dish of braised veal shanks and vegetables.

Hicks was born in Africa and migrated to Adelaide with his family at the age of 14. He gained a BA from Flinders University before working with established film directors Peter Weir and Bruce Beresford, then going on to become one of Australia’s best-known filmmakers.

His latest film Highly Strung, about the intrigue of the Adelaide-based Australian String Quartet and a local patron’s fulfilment of a long-held dream, is currently showing in cinemas, but Hicks has taken time out from the studio to give us a view into his kitchen and shares his recipe for osso buco.

In the kitchen I am …
Director and editor rolled into one. I’m in charge of both the “action” and the “cut”. If I need help, like with Christmas lunch, I hold to the Stanley Kubrick principle that collaboration is a lot of people doing as I say! Cooking is similar to shooting film, because it’s the opposite of an assembly line: everything has to be perfect all at the same time.

The fridge is nearly empty – what do you cook for dinner?
This is exactly the story of last night. As long as you can find an onion and a slice of bacon, there’s hope. Armed with these, you scrape together any other bits of vegetable matter: half a capsicum hiding in the back of the cooler, a limp sprig of broccolini, a lonely asparagus stem lurking, even that despised little tin of sweetcorn that’s been hiding in the pantry for years. Into the pan with it all. It’s a montage! Boil a cup of rice, toss it in with too much butter plus the last of those frozen peas scrunched up in the sad little plastic bag wedged in the freezer door… and presto, you have fried rice, with a dash of soy sauce for extra flavour. Failing this, call for some Thai takeaway.

Most useful cooking tool?
A pair of hands. You’re pretty well stuffed without them. You can prod, poke, tear, fold, taste, test temperature, turn – cooking should be a tactile experience, after all.

Three essential grocery items?
The same as the three secrets of French cooking which Chef Martha (Catherine Zeta-Jones) confides in my film No Reservations: Butter. Butter. And butter! The Japanese chef’s knife I’m brandishing in the photo was a gift from Catherine during the filming.

How did you learn to cook?
Trial and error – it was that, or starve as a student! I learned that frying or steaming was best to cook vegetables, and went from there. A few classes in Thai cooking have followed, together with years of cooking regular family fare.

Favourite restaurant?
The Pot Food & Wine on King William Road, Hyde Park. It has an enticing menu covering the range from comfort to challenge, and great-tasting large and small dishes. A personal favourite is their eight-hour slow-baked lamb with macaroni cheese. Excellent service combines hipster cool with old-fashioned courtesy and a good wine list. Its snug, convivial nighttime ambience becomes sunny open bistro for weekend breakfast. And it’s just 12 minutes’ walk from home!

Favourite recipe?
I made an osso buco last weekend. I usually do one or two each winter.

First you need excellent veal, about 8 pieces of shin about 50mm thick. Dust them with flour and sizzle them brown in a pan with hot olive oil.

Finely chop 3 average onions, a couple of carrots, and 2 sticks of celery and simmer them all in a hefty dob of butter till they soften, then crush in some garlic and a strip or two of lemon peel at the end. Make a bed of this in a heavy casserole or a slow-cooker, and place the browned veal side by side on the veggies.

Glug a healthy couple of glasses of white wine (or red) into the pan you browned the veal in, bring to boil and scrape all the good stuff into it, then pour it over the veal in the casserole.

Chop up a tinful of tomatoes, and pour that over veal, too. Toss in several basil leaves coarsely ripped up, a couple of bay leaves, maybe a good pinch of dried thyme if you have some. Grind some coarse pepper and salt over it all. Now heat up about a cup and a half of good stock and pour in to just cover the veal.

Put casserole into oven pre-heated to 180°C, or turn on your slow cooker to medium/high I guess, and cook for at least two hours, or maybe three, checking from time to time that veal is covered with sauce. Of course you can cook at lower heat for longer, too.

When ready, the veal should be really tender, falling off the bone in a dense creamy sauce. You can always reduce the sauce a bit by draining it off and boiling it down, or you can thicken with a little sifted flour if you prefer.

You can also add a little gremolata near the end of cooking to perk it up if you want – some fine-grated lemon zest and another crushed clove of garlic stirred in. I serve it with either tubes or spirals of pasta which can capture the sauce, or maybe some smashed or creamed potato and a medley of whatever steamed green veggies are to hand: broccoli, asparagus, Brussels sprouts.

You can feed around four with this, but any excess always works well again reheated or after freezing.

Buon appetito!

InDaily reviewed Highly Strung when it premiered at the Adelaide Film Festival last year (read the review here). The film is currently showing in Adelaide cinemas.

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