Something you might not know about seafood is just how much their environment impacts the way they taste. Deep-sea means cold water - as cold as three degrees Celsius - which is why fish from the depths tend to be rich in fats… They need them to keep warm!
You can often spot deep-sea species by the size of their eyes - they’re large in comparison to their heads, with large pupils, for seeing bioluminescent prey. Today, we are exploring a selection of our favourite species from the deep-sea, and the best ways to cook them!
Bigeye Ocean Perch
This classic two-person fish looks as good as it tastes, with a vivid orange-red blush across the skin when fresh. Living in depths of 250-800m off the coast of south east Australia, Bigeye Ocean Perch has a fine, delicate flake to the flesh and a broad, sweet flavour. This is an ideal fish for steaming, either whole or filleted; try using aromatic flavours such as garlic, ginger, and soy to highlight its inherent sweetness, like in this Sydney Seafood School recipe.
No longer the ugly duckling of the Dory family, the Mirror Dory remains one of our go-to winter species. Caught in Australia’s South-East Fishery, Mirror Dory live from 50-600 metres deep, with large protrusible mouths that enable a diverse diet. They come into their peak in winter, when the fillets thicken, the roe develops, and finger-thick seams of fat are deposited between the fillet and the bones.
Due to the abundance of this species and the ease with which it can be caught, this is typically a low-priced fish. On a day when John Dory fillets sell for $40-$50/kg, Mirror Dory will retail for closer to $15/kg. Thanks to the fat, the fillets pan-fry or roast particularly well. Try roasting a tray of winter veg and place the fillets on top for the final few minutes - a classic winter one pot wonder.
This recipe uses similar flavours and method – just replace the fillets with this tasty deep-sea species!
This species, which ranges in the deep ocean from southern Western Australia to New South Wales, displays all the classic deep-sea fish traits. Big pupils set in prominent eyes, vivid orange-red skin, and a large, opportunistic mouth.
The Alfonsino uses this large mouth to take advantage of the variety of prey available to it, such as prawns, crabs, squid, and small fish. This diverse diet makes for a wonderfully neutral flesh that lends itself to a variety of cuisines. Excellent raw, baked, grilled, steamed, or fried, there isn’t much this fish can’t do.
Replace Snapper with Alfonsino in this recipe for a hearty winter meal.
Royal Red Prawn
There is no doubt that Australians love their prawns. King, Tiger, School, and Banana Prawns are all readily consumed, year-round, and fetch appropriate prices. Most Prawns like shallow, coastal environments and can often be caught by hand-netting in an estuary. What most Australians don’t know is that we are also blessed with a bounty of deep-sea prawns, including the Royal Red Prawn. This species prefers to live over muddy bottoms, between 200-1000 metres deep, with three distinct populations caught off New South Wales, Queensland, and Western Australia.
Their cold water environment imparts tenderness and sweetness to their flesh, and when very fresh, these prawns can be eaten raw or just blanched in hot water. They are also arguably the best prawn to use as a filling in the Cantonese classic Har Gow (recipe here) - roughly chopped raw prawn meat is lightly seasoned and folded into dumplings before being steamed. Delicious!
Giant Spider Crab
While there’s still a lot to learn about this mysterious, deep-sea crab, we do know that southern Australia is home to an abundance of this species. They spend most of their time off the deeper parts of the continental shelf, up to 1km deep, but come into warmer, shallower waters when moulting begins. Commercially, Spider Crabs are caught as a bycatch by deep-sea fishers; they are not currently targeted due to their historically low price in Australia.
Like all crabs, they taste fantastic. Sweet muscle meat with an unmistakable flavour combined with the briny cream of the ‘mustard’ gives you so many options in the kitchen. Use it how you’d use any other premium crab… It deserves to be the star of a dish, so give it the spotlight. One of our favourite recipes for good crab is the Sydney Seafood School recipe for crab pasta with preserved lemon.