The Sydney Fish Market is an Australian institution, made all the more colourful by the characters who inhabit the auction floor, the once-immigrant families firmly attached to seafood retailing like limpets, and businesses that circle the biggest seafood retailing venue in the southern hemisphere.
Unilever Food Solutions talks to two big market movers and shakers, Fishtales’ John Susman, a purveyor of all things from the brine, and premium fish supplier and oyster expert Frank Theodore from De Costi.
SUPPLIER SUSMAN ON WHAT’S HOT
“There are plenty of fish in the sea, so we don’t just have to have a monogamous relationship with salmon, snapper and tuna!” suggests Susman. “Mixing it up is not only fun from a culinary and dining perspective but is a proper, working approach to sustainability – even if a species is certified sustainable (and let’s not forget that in Australia seafood sustainability is actually law thus making third-party certification somewhat moot, but that’s another story) if you only eat one species all the time, you are indeed making the process of sustaining that species and the environment more difficult. So what about trying a few of the more abundant, fast-growing, lesser-known fish?”
While we all drool about sardines grilled over coals in the tavernas of Greece and the trattorias of Italy – did you know that it is the largest single fishery in Australia with more than 40,000 tonnes of sustainable quota, most of which is left uncaught and the other mostly used in pet food and fish feed.
A leather jacket shouldn’t be something you only think about wearing in winter, but more a perfect, easy to cook whole fish which has sweet, mild and firm-grained flesh, making it great for curries, crumbed, pan fried or roasted whole, says Susman. Its simple bone structure makes it easy to serve and eat whole – no fiddly pin, belly or dorsal bones to get stuck in your teeth.
Mirror dory may not have the rock-star status of its cousin John, but neither does it have its price tag, says Susman. At a fraction of the price, a late spring, crisp skin mirror dory fillet with salad and chips is as good a feed as you could have.
It seems that every groovy chef worth their Olsson’s sea salt is madly shaving mullet roe (bottarga) over their pasta/salad/fermented kim chi these days, but how many are using the flesh?
Ocean-caught sea mullet, when handled well, is a superb eating fish. High in oil, it has the tolerance for heat and spice, it’s only the ones that don’t get out of the estuaries and lakes that have a fat, flabby flavour and texture.
Even though there have been plenty of “hero” prawns brought to market over the years, (think Skull Island tiger prawns, Spencer Gulf king prawns, Crystal Bay banana prawns) it is the humble school prawn that delivers flavour, texture and value beyond any of the “rock stars” above, Susman says. Prolific through summer and autumn but available year-round, these sweet flavour bombs are ideal for cooking whole – dusted in spiced flour and fried they are the ultimate bar snack.
DECOSTI VETERAN PICKS UNDERACHIEVERS
Three-decade veteran Frank Theodore says the argument about using sustainable, affordable fish has to also meet consistency and supply on pub, bar and club menus. One of the most exciting things he is seeing at the moment is Walker Seafoods MSC-certified sustainable albacore tuna, which can come in at under $3 a portion.
“It’s from Mooloolaba, a hot little spot on the Sunshine Coast. Also known as white tuna, albacore is ideal for all those pokes (the raw Hawaiian fish dish) which are popping up all over the place,” Theodore says. “It’s sashimi grade, you can eat it literally raw. It’s about $17kg, no bone, and no waste product. Portion it, see it into the pan, or get this same fish for carpaccio or ceviche. It’s brilliant.
“I’ll tell you another little secret,” says Theodore. “There are a lot of underrated fish that a lot of the better restaurants are using.”
Luderick (otherwise known as blackfish and a favourite of rock fisherman) makes an ideal fish for fish and chips, he says. “It comes in at the $15kg mark. It’s a fresh, local coastal and estuary fish that makes beautiful fish and chips and you can put it on a plate for under $2 a portion, and that’s for a premium product.”
Like Susman, Theodore likes leather jacket as it has a sweet delicate flavour, and the bones are easy to deal with. Cook it like a flounder, eat it one side, flip it and eat the other side.
“It’s from a trap-caught sustainable fishery in South Australia. I can access lobster or top-end fish but leather jacket is in my freezer at home, it’s my Plan B fish. You can buy it in a foodservice pub world skinned and ready to go at $8-12kg.”