Learn about the following species groups (including their most common members, as well as purchasing, storage and cooking information), or select a specific species from the species list on the right.
These distinctively-shaped fish live in coastal waters throughout the Indo-Pacific, with over 40 of the 68 species found in Australian waters. The Latin name for the family, Platycephalidae, comes from the Greek ‘platy’ (flat) and ‘kephale’ (head) and their distinguishing characteristic is their flattened, triangular-shaped head. Their long, tapered, flattened body shape is typical of a bottom dwelling fish; most lack the swim bladders which keep other fish buoyant, and so they lay camouflaged and partially-buried in the sand or mud of the seabed waiting for prey to swim or walk by.
The most common commercial flatheads in Australia are:
Tiger Flathead (Neoplatycephalus richardsoni) is the most commonly seen flathead in Sydney. Caught mainly off Sydney and the south coast of NSW, Victoria and Tasmania, it has distinctive orange-red spots. Tiger is unusual among flatheads in that it has a swim bladder and so can feed while swimming mid-water, not just resting on the seabed, it is also found further offshore than most flatheads. The closely-related Toothy Flathead (Neoplatycephalus aurimaculatus), has golden spots and is also marketed as ‘tiger flathead’, but is not as common.
Bluespotted Flathead (Platycephalus caeruleopunctatus) is covered in small pale blue or red spots. Typically smaller than tiger flathead, it is caught quite close to shore, mainly of NSW north of Sydney.
Dusky Flathead (Platycephalus fuscus) is the largest of the Australian flatheads. It has a dark grey-black body and is caught in estuaries or bays, close to shore, along the eastern coast of Australia.
Other flatheads occasionally seen in retail shops or harvested recreationally in various parts of Australia include:
Deepwater Flathead (Neoplatycephalus conatus) is closely related to tiger flathead. It is caught in the Great Australian Bight and is common in south-western WA.
Southern Sand Flathead (Platycephalus bassensis) looks quite similar to bluespotted flathead and the paler northern sand flathead; it is found mainly in bays and estuaries along the southern coast, including around Tasmania. Northern Sand Flathead (Platycephalus arenarius) and the larger Bartail Flathead (Platycephalus indicus) are found in warmer waters, both have a marbled pattern on their bodies and dark bars on their tail fins. Rock Flathead (Platycephalus laevigatus) has a heavily marbled pattern on its body and a smooth, rounded (rather than triangular) head; it’s found in cold southern waters. Southern Bluespotted Flathead (Platycephalus speculator), similar to the smaller bluespotted flathead, is found in colder waters along the southern coast of Australia, including Bass Strait and off south western WA; it is the most commonly seen flathead species in WA.
Flatheads are sold whole (gilled and gutted) and in fillet form. In whole fish look for lustrous skin with a slippery, mucilaginous coating, firm flesh, and a pleasant, fresh sea smell. In fillets, look for yellowish-white, firm, lustrous, moist flesh without any brown markings (dark veining may be visible in some species) or oozing water and with a pleasant fresh sea smell.
Make sure whole fish is scaled, gilled, gutted and cleaned thoroughly. Lay whole fish and fillets in a single layer on a plate and cover with plastic wrap or place in an airtight container. Refrigerate for up to 3 days or freeze whole fish for up to 6 months, and fillets for up to 3 months, below -18ºC.
Cooking & Serving
Flathead is widely considered to be the best Australian fish for fish’n’chips. The sweet flesh, which can tend to dry out sightly with most cooking methods, is moist, flaky and tender when encased in a crisp batter. It can also be steamed, poached, pan-fried or grilled. If baking or barbecuing, it is best wrapped in foil or banana leaves, to prevent it drying out. It has a slightly sweet flavour, low oiliness and medium texture with fine flakes. Its unusual long, tapered shape means that most of the bones are towards the head section of the fillet, and these are easily removed. Cut large thick fillets into serving-size portions to allow even heat penetration.