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A Fin Romance


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A fin romance

There are plenty more fish in the sea than salmon; here are ways to savour them.

We have nothing against salmon. It's pretty in pink, it's deliciously oily in a healthy omega-3 way and it's versatile: it roasts, grills, barbecues, steams and pan-fries. It is just about all things to all fish-lovers, yet this trait is what makes it a little over-rated and overexposed.

Almost 600 species of fish pass through the Sydney Fish Market during the year - so isn't it time we lashed out and tried something else?

What's stopping us? Probably a mixture of ignorance and fear. We look at barramundi, skate and leatherjacket and don't know what to do with them. Let's start by categorising them by the ways they can be cooked.

Oily Anchovy, mullet, bonito, kingfish and many more - ask your fishmonger. Ideal for grilling, barbecuing, searing, pan-frying, they love heat and oil, herbs and spices and big flavours. Some species can be eaten raw as sashimi or carpaccio.

Poachable Trout, ocean trout, rainbow trout and, okay, salmon. They will sustain long cooking in liquid - wine, court bouillon, stock - in a fish kettle without falling apart. You can also steam rainbow trout, silver perch and snapper.

Firm-fleshed Swordfish, leatherjacket, garfish and deep sea bream. These also can be treated to heat and spice - there is some crossover with the oily varieties - and braised.

White Snapper, whiting, john dory and ocean perch. These are the subtlest flavoured fish, and respond well to deep-frying in batter, pan-frying, poaching or braising. Their flavours are sweeter and more delicate, so should be left to speak for themselves.

Broad-flaked Blue-eye (which is not a cod but a trevally), barramundi, coral trout and red mullet. They can be seared in a pan and finished in the oven; they also steam and poach well.

The best way to learn about fish - other than cooking them yourself - is to pester your fishmonger and ask questions. A good fishmonger will be happy to pass on his knowledge and won't mind cleaning and filleting the fish you select. Pretty soon you'll be doing it for yourself.

We asked 10 chefs who specialise in seafood to nominate a favourite fish each - preferably a cheap, easily available fish from an unendangered species - and tell us how they like to prepare it. They might inspire the rest of us to cast our nets a little wider.

Martin Benn, The Boathouse on Blackwattle Bay


Most people use it as bait fish - but you can do really good things with it. It has a nice oily texture and flavour, it is not as strong as mackerel and is more palatable.

Have your fishmonger fillet a small bonito, then rub the skin side with olive oil and salt. Put the fillets on a hot plate or barbecue grill, lightly burn the skin and cook for 1-2 minutes only - the other side should be raw. Remove and set aside.

Whisk sugar and salt through about 100mL of rice wine vinegar until they dissolve, then add mirin, light soy, fish sauce, lime zest and 2 tbsp grated wasabi and mix well. Whisk in 150mL of olive oil.

Boil 200g of soba noodles until soft, strain and refresh under cold water. Drizzle with a little of the vinaigrette, divide into four serving portions, slice the bonito into 4mm slices, dress with some rocket leaves and the rest of the vinaigrette, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Carmelo Cipri, Swordfish


It's full of flavour with thick, flaky meat. It's good chargrilled or oven-roasted.

Roast a fillet - about 180g - on a bed of pre-roasted sliced desiree potatoes and kumara for 10-15 minutes at 190C (it depends on how thick the fish is). Serve it with a salmoriglio sauce: chopped fresh parsley and basil, oregano, mint, crush some garlic into them, then crush in some cherry tomatoes, pitted black olives and mix through some extra virgin olive oil. Squeeze lemon juice over the fish.

George Colosi, La Perla


It's a beautiful fish. I buy a big one, six to eight kilograms, cut about a dozen cutlets out of it and just barbecue them.

I make my own little sauce: lemon and fresh herbs (thyme, oregano and parsley) in a little extra virgin olive oil. When I turn the cutlets, I put some on top and then some more on top when I serve.

Genevieve Copeland, Lotus


I love cooking skate because of the texture - all the lines running through it, and because it pan- fries nice and crisp. It's perfect with burnt butter and lemon.

Dust it with flour, heat some olive oil in a pan until it's quite hot. Depending on the thickness - let's say it's 1 centimetre - place it presentation side down. After a minute, turn down the heat and turn the fish over, then throw in butter, parsley, chives and cook it one minute extra, no more. Serve it with a green salad and boiled kipflers.

Greg Doyle, Pier

Red mullet

It's used a lot in France. It's got a beautiful earthy flavour, great texture, and it's versatile (also sold as barbounia or rouget). You can pan-fry it, grill it and it's terrific in a fish soup.

Generally I pan-fry fillets - pick out the bones. Put a bit of clarified butter in a pan, bring it to a high heat, give the skin a light dusting of flour, put the fillets in, skin side down, for no more than a minute and a half, flip them over for 10 seconds, and sprinkle on a little Colonna lemon olive oil, pepper and salt and chopped parsley.

Serve them with roast cherry truss tomatoes - put them in a pan with some olive oil and garlic and roast them in a medium oven for 15-20 minutes. Squash them down a bit on the plate and sprinkle with torn basil.

Steve Hodges, Fish Face


You've got to get it in good condition - firm, glistening and shiny eyes - when you pick it up it should be like a board. Buy it whole or get the fishmonger to fillet it - ask for silver trevally.

We do it raw as a tartare. Dice the fish, then dice some shallots, chop some parsley, add some lemon olive oil, mix it through and season it lightly with pepper and salt. (Or make your own chilli salt - dry the chillis, pound them into a powder and mix them through French Fleur de Sel or any moist salt.)

Serve the fish with whipped egg yolk, more lemon olive oil on top and some crostini.

Peter Kuruvita, Flying Fish


A simple fish, farmed successfully in fresh water and probably fresher than most other species you can buy. It's easy to cook, hard to stuff up, you can eat the skin - and the bones are visible and easy to handle.

Dredge it in flour, then heat equal amounts of olive oil and butter in a pan until it froths. Maintain the froth by adjusting the heat and cook the fish for about four and a half minutes on each side until crisp. Serve with a green salad.

Steve Manfredi, Manta


For me they're one of the most under-rated fish, and I don't know why you don't see them in restaurants - except Faheem's Fast Food in Enmore where they do them in the tandoor oven coated in a dry tandoor spice. That gives you an idea of the flesh - it takes heat and stays moist, with the flavour of whiting but with firmer flesh. You buy them skinned with their heads off because the liver goes off quickly.

Roast them, barbecue them or stick them in the pizza oven. We pan-fry them in butter with some large capers, basting them with the foaming butter - the caper flavour goes right through the butter. At the end, throw in a handful of roughly chopped flat-leaf parsley and serve them with a bitter salad of radicchio de Treviso dressed with red wine vinegar and extra virgin olive oil.

Sebastian Tyson, Billingsgate

Mahi mahi

It's meaty and juicy but with a mild sweet flavour, and grills and roasts well.

We do it with a spice crust (equal quantities of toasted ground and sieved coriander, fennel and peppercorns) on one side of the fillet. Pan- fry it on the uncrusted side just enough to seal it, flip it over and put it in a really hot oven crust-side down for 6-7 minutes, then rest it for a couple of minutes. Serve it with a panzanella salad: stale white crusty bread in cubes with sliced red onion, ripe tomatoes, green pepper, torn basil leaves, extra virgin olive oil and vinegar. Give the fish a splash of olive oil just before serving.

John Susman, Seafood consultant and chef

Blue mackerel

Readily available and, as it's an inshore fishery, it's always going to be cheap (it is sometimes sold as slimy mackerel). It's easy to handle and cook and it's delicious. I prefer it as a fillet because you can draw the moisture out with salt and then barbecue, grill or pan-fry it.

I love it barbecued because it's oily and it gets that rich, caramelised flavour you pay a fortune for with pork belly in a restaurant. Serve it with a wedge of lemon and an ice-cold pale ale.

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